Friday, 18 July 2014

Signatures - Artists v Experts

In the art world an artist’s signature is a very important thing. Art students are told it is vital. “Experts” cry out about its importance. Read any  “business advice” for artists and you will read somewhere about how important a signature is. I suppose a signature can be an interesting thing to see, and a verification that the piece of art you are looking at really IS a Matisse or a Picasso or whatever.  I mention those two because they are two of the most recognisable artist signatures:

Also easily recognisable are signatures by  Monet,  Renoir, Pollock, Degas, and my favourite – Oscar Kokochka – who just signs his pictures “OK”:

However, others are harder to recognise – try these ones for a bit of fun:
(answers at the end)




Now these are all famous artists of the 20th and 21st centuries and you’ve got to imagine that all of these guys spent time practicing their signatures, in the hope they’d be famous one day, but really their efforts are disappointing. Didn’t they know that a good signature is vital to all pieces of art, according to all experts? A good signature is necessary to help your pictures look professional, to be easily recognised by “experts”, (and to use as your website banner).

But, I am told you aren’t supposed to use the same signature you use to sign cheques – which means you have to have TWO signatures. Well actually possibly more for when you’re signing drawings and prints instead of paintings. Perhaps just using your initials is a good idea, but not everyone has a great set of initials like Oskar Kokoschka . I was thinking of changing my name to Vladimir Gorbachev – not for any political reason but I just feel like out-doing Oskar and having V.G. written in the corner of my paintings.

Actually I am jealous of artists with good signatures.  Some (like a number of those mentioned earlier) just use their surnames or their initials and this looks pretty cool.  Van Gogh of course only used his first name (that’s Vincent, not Van) - I have taken to just doing my initials (except when I forget) and I’m going to try a couple with just ABSE written in the corner – however I am worried that this means that somewhere down the line my work will be attributed to the Association of Boat Safety Examiners. One of the worst signatures I’ve seen recently was by a painter who put his initials – preceded by a copyright symbol! Given that most of his (very very very bad amateur) paintings were painted straight from other people’s photographs this raises another interesting point!

Another thing artists use is a monogram. Usually a superimposition of the initials of  both first and second names. This was common centuries ago, and painters who generally used monograms included Durer, Michelangelo and Leonardo. Whistler just drew a butterfly, and many painters appear not to have signed their pictures at all, for example, the Mona Lisa (but has anyone looked on the back?).

Interestingly advises that “no work of art is complete” without a signature. Gosh, if only they’d told Leonardo. Maybe he didn’t have the internet. But reading further I am told there are RULES about signatures *gasp*. I have to sign in the same media in which the painting was done – otherwise people might later on think it’s a forgery. Shit that means I have to sign my name in about 14 different media for each damn painting! Screw that! I am also advised to “date your art” “Don’t sign over varnish”, “emboss your paper work” etc. Aargh. Elsewhere I am advised that “all serious artists sign their work on the back”. Elsewhere again I am advised that a signature should be “clear and legible”. Someone go and tell those guys!

Actually, the best advice about signatures I have read is by Picasso, who said that the act of signing a picture was the act of finishing a picture – the act that delineated the time to stop. And that’s another thing…

[i]  David Hockney
[ii] Salvador Dali
[iii] Damian Hirst  (Not "D Shit" as you might have thought)
[iv] De Kooning
[v] Roy Litchenstein

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