Twenty five heads are better than one.

Since the beginning of 2017 I have been make paintings in limited editions. It begun with my recent project and exhibition, The Waltz, in which a set of 108 compositional variants were each made in editions of three. That is to say, I made each of those 108 paintings three times over. The outcome is that each one is exactly the same size, composition and colour, and made from the same materials. However each is inevitably slightly different from the others in terms of the manner in which paint naturally moves and settles. Brushmarks differ from one to another. Drips, how the paint pools, where it spills down the edges of the support, all these things serve to differentiate one painting from its two siblings. The paintings are numbered out of three, as the tradition of making a limited edition multiple dictates, and they will not be made more than three times each, again, adhering to tradition. Since then I have made a number of further paintings in editions anything up to twenty five.

Various editioned paintings in progress

Various editioned paintings in progress

I would like to explain a little about this, because it can come across as slightly confusing. Making artworks in limited editions is nothing new, however it is most common to edition artworks that can be mechanically reproduced to be entirely identical – prints, cast sculptures, artist’s books and suchlike. And often they are made by a third party. My limited edition paintings involve no mechanical reproduction whatsoever and are all made by hand, by me. As I said, within an edition they are all identical in size, shape, composition, colour and material, but the accidents of the hand and the natural behaviour of the paint serve to make each one slightly different from the rest. Again, there is a long existing president for artists to add to their editioned prints by hand, most usually by introducing colour, thereby giving each one its own unique element, but the bulk of the work will generally be undertaken by the printed image. Their hand colouring comes at the end as something of a final flourish. My approach is clearly different.

There are three distinct reasons I elected to work like this, and they stem from the most important forces driving my practice – my love of painting, my focus on accessibility and my desire to ensure that I can keep on painting as much as possible for the rest of my days.

As has been well documented, the number one focus of my painting is enjoyment. That is the reason I paint – I love the process of making a painting. This being the case, making two paintings is twice as enjoyable and making one. Making three is three times as enjoyable. Making four – you get the idea. If I make a painting I like, I can make it again and again and derive just the same pleasure each time. There is simply no reason not to.

Sometimes other people like my paintings too, which is of course very rewarding. My prices are set to be truly accessible so that if someone does like a painting, it’s relatively easy for them to buy it. The majority of my smaller paintings so far have been priced at £25-£30, which I’d like to think is a sum almost anyone can reasonably consider spending. Before I began making paintings in editions, it was not unknown for a number of people to express interest in one particular work and regrettably this would leave all but one person disappointed. So, by making paintings in editions I am now able to satisfy a number of the clients and collectors, which is of course a much more rewarding outcome for all parties. If there are more paintings out there and more happy recipients, then all the better.

Finally, there is the financial aspect. Needless to say, I intend to spend as much time painting as I am able. The more paintings I sell, the more money comes in to support my practice and my life. Selling paintings at £30 each certainly doesn’t make for a big income, but I am committed to my policy of pricing accessibly and have absolutely no intention of changing that. Therefore, making a single painting twenty five times over means I can increase the potential income, without the work becoming more expensive.

So, as you can see, these three points all serve to explain the benefits of making paintings in editions for me and for anyone else interested in what I make. It’s a win – win. Or a win – win – win if you like. However it has been put to me that there may be a downside to the approach – that the multiplication of a painting could possibly serve to ‘devalue’ it, presumably by denying it the traditional uniqueness that a hand made art object would be expected to hold. I don’t agree with this, and would question the use of the word ‘value’. In this context I assume it to be used in two ways – to describe the monetary value of the work, and to describe the value of the concept or work’s ‘status’. To address the first point, these things I make already have a relatively modest price. I don’t expect anyone buying my work to be thinking about financial investment, and if they are, £30 really isn’t too big of a risk. If it is, perhaps there are more important things to spend money on than paintings! My work does not exist in the ‘art market’ as such. It is not a commodity in the sense of any financial investment worth speaking of so I don’t believe that there being twenty five versions of a particular painting rather than one could possibly have any discernible affect here.

I feel the concern over concept or status is entirely about the individual’s perception of the work and the way in which the art object in general is so often revered or elevated above its intrinsic existence. In the case of my paintings the ‘concept’ (and I don’t particularly like to use the word in this context, due to its potentially pretentious associations), is very simply it’s aesthetic form. Shape, size, composition, colour. No amount of repetition can diminish this, and in fact I would argue that to be able to make a direct comparison between two or more ‘conceptually’ identical paintings in fact brings to the fore the beauty of the idiosyncrasies and natural behaviours of paint. These little differences only serve to highlight the unavoidable uniqueness of any painting, no matter how hard one may try to duplicate it. The ‘status’ of the work does not lie in it being more than bound pigment on wood or canvas, just because it is seen as an art object. I have no interest in or intention to claim that my paintings are any more than the sum of their material parts. In fact it is the very nature of their intrinsic corporeal features that give them a value at all – that of an object that can poke the viewer in the eye with a raw, sensory pleasure.

Thus this notion of ‘devaluing’ the paintings through repetition does not hold water for me. Unlike a word rendered meaningless through extended spoken repetition, my paintings do not diminish in duplication. In fact I would say it’s possible that quite the opposite is true. The more there are, the better they serve the purpose for which they are made.
Tom Wilmott
Instagram: @tomrtwilmott

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