THE NEW MASTERS
By: Jim Fitch
As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Summer/Fall 2007This is the fourth and last article in a series written to present fine art, more specifically, paintings by contemporary Florida regional artists as a valuable part of any estate, large or small, and worthy to be considered as investment. Previous articles are archived at www.aarf.com
1.The value of a painting will increase in proportion to the artistís ability to portray or interpret the historic period in which they live.
2. The value of a painting will increase in proportion to the artists standing in the eyes of his peers and the public.
The above statements are about as direct as I can get in identifying what it is that creates monetary value in most any work of art. They are also an over simplification because the causative agents that create value in a painting can only be identified or understood in an historic context. That takes some work. But... we have to start somewhere.
Number 1 is interesting and offers a particular challenge both for the artist and collector. Itís difficult, I believe, to interpret or portray what it is that will become the historic milestones of the time in which we now live until all events have passed through the sieve of history and viewed with hindsight. Perhaps that fact, rather than supply and demand, is the reason some artists work increases dramatically in value after their death. It takes time for history to examine the facts. One can only guess what events will come to be seen as highlights of the last half of the twentieth century in America. (I really wanted to say Florida but the proposition is universal.) Several things seem to be a sure bet. Our concern for the environment, racial equality, communication technology, and, maybe a wild card, the homogenization of American society with the dilution of Anglo Saxon culture.
In 1982 Dr. Roger Dunbier, a professor of geography at the University of California and gifted as a statistician, began to ponder the ways in which paintings acquire value. He observed that "Even though I had grown up in the art business, (his father was an artist) I had never given any concentrated thought to what constituted monetary value in fine art beyond the most apparent vagaries, realities, and cliches of supply and demand. (Dunbier referred to these things as Hype, Hoopla, and Horse Dookey.) In that year, it became apparent to me that in this country there existed nothing remotely resembling a comprehensive reliable informational system of any kind wherein independent unbiased estimates of value could be established." Dunbierís curiosity was focused more on the value of paintings by living artists, which are very difficult to track. After years of work and the compilation of much data he became convinced that value is directly related to visibility. The more publicity an artist received the more value that artistís work would eventually acquire. Itís an interesting theory and certainly provides a tracking mechanism one could use to make acquisition decisions. Itís as good as any system I know of and thatís why Iíve included it as number 2 above. Unfortunately Dr. Dunbier died before his findings could be proven. A Google search on his name will bring up much of his published work.
I promised, in article #3, to comment on the reason Iím bullish on contemporary Florida art as investment. Iíve already explained, here and in other articles, the value I place on the relationship between art and history. I believe the period in Florida history between 1950 and the present has been, and will be recognized as, a time of maturing culturally, economically, politically and spiritually here in Florida. All of those factors must be in place in order for a country (state) to have an art of itís own. They are in place now in Florida. Prior to 1950 they were not. Consequently paintings by serious contemporary Regionalists will be the means we use to "see" a maturing Florida.
I also promised to name names of artists who have, by virtue of their tenacity, longevity, and familiarity with the country hereabouts, earned the right to be called New Masters. I mention only a few; there are many more deserving of the title. This brief list focuses on those artists who have made commitments of 30 years or so to careers as Regionalists and with whom I have had a working relationship. Certainly all the artists previewed in these articles qualify. In no particular order I list Sean Sexton, Christopher Still, Charles Rowe, John Costin, Keith Martin-Johns, Ben Essenburg, Robert Butler, Greg Biochini, John Briggs, Phil Capen, James Couper, Jim Hutchinson, Guy LaBree, Ferdy Pacheco, Ernest Simmons.
If you purchase just one from each you will have an excellent beginning for an outstanding collection.
Sean Sexton, his self-portrait is included in this article, lives, works, and paints in Vero Beach where his family has deep roots. He could easily be presented as a cattleman or artist and he is surely both. One apparently feeds off the other. Sean undoubtedly gets his creative bent from his deceased grandfather Waldo Sexton who gathered up odds and ends from old buildings and turned them into Vero Beach landmarks like the Driftwood Inn and Patio restaurant. Waldo once billed himself as the owner of the worldís largest board. When addressing potential collectors I make much of the value of acquiring only "honest" paintings. Honest in the sense that the artist has a living, working familiarity with the subject chosen, presents them without compromise and with all the skills they possess. Time must not be a factor in the creation of an honest painting. Time conscious man struggles with the time/value concept but Sean Sexton has mastered it. He is true to himself, the creation, his environment and the creatures that inhabit it. His paintings are honest in every sense.
There is an environment just west of Vero Beach between the east coast and what is often referred to as the backcountry. There may be a name that the locals use to identify it but I donít know what it might be. It is unique. Descriptive words that come to mind are; yellow tinged with chartreuse, long tired shadows resigned to a brief existence, weathered but stubborn flora, and hot. Exactly what you see in a Sexton landscape. His still lifeís, rife with allegory, provide an outlet for his philosophical side. He admits that they donít sell as well as the landscapes but he does them for himself.
Recent prices received for Sean Sextonís paintings are;
24x24, oil on canvas, $2,500.00
16x20, oil on canvas board, $1,500.00
32x56, oil on canvas, $4,000.00
48x60, oil on linen, $7,000.00
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