Named after artists’ ink- and paint-stained fingers, Bluethumb is a gallery that gives artists a higher level of control than some other online models.
Launched in 2012 by Adelaide-born brothers Edward and George Hartley, Bluethumb allows the artists it represents to photograph, price and describe each piece themselves, while it handles the day-to-day logistics of marketing, shipping and returns.
“We saw that in 2010, eBay sold £200 million of art in the UK, and we thought that was the worst way to sell art – as [eBay] wasn't designed for it,” says Edward. “George was a failed musician, and loved what SoundCloud had done for independent musicians. We decided we’d create a similar type of home for visual artists.
“We were always going to run a technology company, it was always our dream, and seeing that gap in the market was the trigger point.”
Earlier this year, Edward and George opened a physical gallery. Surrounded by residential buildings on Collingwood’s Cambridge Street, the former factory’s white walls, high ceilings and skylights help the exhibited pieces shine.
After meeting Bluethumb team’s canine counterparts, Grungle and Frankie, at the door, you can browse the collection IRL – it comprises the site’s bestsellers and includes pieces from Brisbane-based Franko, who specialises in pop art and abstract pieces; and Sydney painter Marnie McKnight, whose abstract piece Moonrise Over Mermaid Beach greets visitors in the entrance.
“The premise is really supporting the culture of Australian art,” Edward says. “You don’t have to be Australian [to sell your works] but you do have to be living and working here.”
You can buy pieces using the QR code underneath each one, or scour the full collection online using a touchscreen computer, then place an order with staff on hand for queries.
The works are displayed across three levels: ground, where the gallerists and other staff have their office; a mezzanine space, currently home to works by the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, an indigenous collective that represents more than 400 women artists from remote communities in Central Australia; and a glass-cased third level, which can also be booked for meetings and to commission works with the gallery staff.
The gallery not only holds exhibitions but also serves as a space for artists’ workshops. “We’ve got an incredibly active closed Facebook group with over 3000 artists that we’ve grown over the years,” says George. “It’s a whole community.”
There’ll be quarterly shows, too – but you can also just pop in for a browse during the day.
Five of this year’s Archibald prize finalists are listed on Bluethumb – including lawyer-painter Amani Haydar, and portraitist Kim Leutwyler – and more than 20 regional arts centres are represented by the site, most notably the Papunya Tjupi Arts Centre (the birthplace of Western Desert dot-painting), and the Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Arts Centre, which was established by relatives of the famed 20th-century water-colourist, Albert Namatjira. Bluethumb enables these communities to sell pieces throughout the entire year, particularly during the summer off-season, when flooding and extreme heat prevents buyers from visiting the regions themselves.
52 Cambridge Street, Collingwood
Mon to Fri 10am–4pm
Sat & Sun by appointment