You can buy a lot of paint with 10 grand. That’s what the winner of a new art prize, open to everyone in Australia, will receive.
The digital company behind the competition is bluethumb, an online marketplace connecting Australian artists with buyers. It launched in 2011 when Adelaide-based accountant turned entrepreneur Edward Hartley noticed a gap in the industry.
“Back in 2011 it seemed like you could buy anything online, except original art,” Hartley says. “How did emerging artists build a career when less than 1 per cent ever saw gallery representation?”
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Hartley convinced his brother George, an app designer, to help connect the digital and creative dots. “We wondered if one online platform could solve these problems by connecting art lovers with Australia’s best emerging artists,” Hartley says.
The pair has art in their blood. During their childhood, their dad, a painter, let them “help out” while working on his pieces.
“Despite this I felt uncomfortable in most galleries,” Hartley says. “It’s an old-school industry, with an elitist air, and [it’s] not at all transparent. Too often you walk into a gallery only for the dealer to size you up, estimate your bank balance and talk down at you.”
The brothers set to work and bluethumb was born. It now represents 2000 artists, and the site and app are an explosion of colour. The site attracts all sorts; many are first-time buyers looking for a one-off piece for their home.
“There are also savvy collectors snapping up art,” Hartley says. “Some of our artists have been finalists in the Archibald Prize [such as Sydney’s Kim Leutwyler], are collected by important international galleries, and paint portraits for royal families and international politicians.”
Others come from more humble beginnings. “I’m surprised not just by the achievements but also the tales of survival. Many artists are immigrants and have had amazing journeys.”
bluethumb also hosts an art competition themed “Raise Your Profile”. “It’s a great way to give back to the artistic community,” Hartley says. Any Australian artist can enter, so long as the piece is original and represents their style. The judging panel includes Leigh Robb, head of contemporary art at the Art Gallery of South Australia; Penny Griggs, General Manager of SALA (South Australian Living Artists Festival); Greg Ackland, principal lecturer in Visual Art, and studio head of Photography and Digital Media with Adelaide College of the Arts; and qualified art curator Gina Liano (who you may recognise from Real Housewives of Melbourne).
Entries close on September 30, and exhibitions showcasing finalists will be held in Adelaide and Melbourne during November. People who aren’t handy with a paintbrush also have a chance to win $5000 worth of bluethumb art by referring an artist to enter.