COLIN RUFFELL ARTIST [INTERVIEW]
to coincide with ‘featured artist’ exhibition at Skylark One Gallery
“I have been a full-time professional artist for over 50 years. I know … I am amazed as well. But it is true. I left my last proper job teaching art in a secondary school way back in 1965. This is how it happened.
I couldn’t live on the teacher’s salary. Fran, my wife, and I had two small children and a rented council house. So I used to get out at weekends and knock on people’s doors to try and sell paintings that I would make during weekday evenings. The teaching salary was so poor that I found that I made more on some Sundays than a week in school. So when the headmaster invited me to apply for the job in the new school that would replace the current one, I didn’t apply.
But I lost the tied tenancy to the council house. Luckily, we got our first foot onto the property ladder for a very small deposit and all was well.
I painted using a palette knife onto hardboard panels, and sold them for a few pounds each. Here is a picture of me doing that a year later after the story was picked up by the Daily Mail.
I had been joined by two other artists and we grew more proficient as we learned about selling. Later in 1966 we were invited to exhibit in ‘Britains Best’ at Rackhams, a big Harrods owned department store in Birmingham. This is where we gave painting demonstrations and then sold our paintings to the furniture department for their room displays. That led onto a new business where we teamed up with G-Plan furniture people and toured the country selling to department stores and furniture stores.
We took a regular stand at the Spring Fair, which is a huge trade only show every February. But as that business grew we missed the direct feedback and profit margin that you get when you sell to the end consumer. So a couple of years later I also started to exhibit every Sunday on the Bayswater Road art exhibition along the railings north side of Hyde Park in London.
That spell exhibiting at the Spring Fair in February, and Bayswater every Sunday, lasted several years. I later handed my existing profitable furniture-store business over to an established art-dealer in exchange for a fifty percent share and guaranteed minimum. It was a very tempting deal, plus the prospect of international fame and fortune. And it gave me time to develop in other areas.
I yearned for change and more recognition by the mainstream art gallery world. They were very influential back in the seventies. So I started to woo small, established, art gallery proprietors with my work. The trouble was that the art gallery business requires that the artist and collector to be kept apart. That is because collectors like talking to artists and artists like talking to collectors. But the in-between middle-man has to keep them apart to avoid losing his control and percentage of sale price.
Then the international art-dealer lost a fortune in a property deal and went bust. I lost the guaranteed income, and a load of stock. So I went back to Bayswater Road for another spell. This time I changed my painting style, subject matter, and technique. It worked well and we gradually recovered from the financial catastrophe caused by the dealer’s bankruptcy.
In the eighties and early nineties I was painting and selling through a variety of outlets. I had collected hundreds of regular private collectors who continued to buy when I visited them in their homes. I had made friends with some great gallery owners, and had a series of annual exhibitions. Plus in the mid-eighties we came across the concept of Artists Open Houses. This was in its infancy and first started just around the corner from our house in Brighton. We joined a very small group and became the 7th house to open. The list grew and grew every year until nowadays there are hundreds of thriving artist’s open house exhibitions all across the country.
I joined the Fine Art Trade Guild as an artist Member. I did this to explore the emerging new method of inkjet printmaking. I was invited to form, and chair, a Committee that would evaluate the implications of the new technology.
In the mid-nineties we created our first online art gallery. This has continued to be a very exciting outlet. My website www.artpublish.com is where collectors can see my collection of several hundred print images that I make and print myself. Many other online art galleries have emerged and we artists can supply collectors from a massive worldwide audience.
In 2012 I joined the Skylark Gallery artist’s collective. We have two art galleries on the Southbank in London approximately half way between the Tate Modern and the London Eye. I like being a Skylark artist because we get a chance to meet art lovers from all over the world, and the business model is very fair to the members.
Whatever next I ask myself.”