Ever wonder how artists become well known? Think of the artists you like, no doubt a look comes to mind, a signature style that identifies them. Take for example the modernists Chagall Rothko or Pollock and I’m sure certain images are married to the names. Not only are these artists popular, likable, controversial, what have you, but they are branded. A branded artist, how can that be? Matisse = Adidas. Picasso = Nike. Doesn’t that go against the grain of the supposed purist strivings of artists? In the marketplace their styles amount to a brand, something most artists would never admit. Many artists would say their art’s their most heartfelt voice, how could it possibly be reduced to a brand? This is how:
I think from the gallerists’ viewpoint it’s really hard to market an artist whose styles are all over the place. One style, one name. The notion is an artist must become known for a recognizable look, and if something’s working (i.e., selling and maybe even getting written about), why fix it? Selling art is the extreme sport of the sales arena. Why complicate things more? Or at the least make a logical progression, changing over time, like Mondrian’s twigs becoming grids. Never a complete departure in a different direction.
Which puts some of us in a bit of a quandary. In my little ‘career’ I’ve had 5 so-called signature styles, or let’s say modes of exploration, each one of which I most certainly could have mined for a lifetime. I explore these veins thoroughly, and then move on, generally in 6 year waves I’ve noticed, give or take. Restless. It’s an organic process, not a strategy. I would say I have effectively anti-branded myself. In some cases, like my ‘downtown’ period (1993-99), I went out of my way to do so. I did everything in clusters of three, and then completely changed everything: treatment, subject, scale. Micro periods within a period. Why should an artist confine him(her)self to one look their entire professional career asks my gemini soul? I know artists still investigating the same mode they stumbled upon in art school 30 years ago. A famous artist once told me No steve, it’s not repetitious, it’s just taken further and deeper. Different strokes for sure.
So I’ll just have to get known for each phase.
pictured top row: mark rothko 1947, 1952, 1955, 1957, 1968
pictured bottom row: steve sas schwartz 1983, 1987, 1995, 2004, 2012