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The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction

Participants of Cabrillo’s Artwalk Divide Over Giclee Prints


A fixture of S.B. for nearly 50 years, the Santa Barbara Artwalk is in the middle of an intense internal debate. In seeming conflict with one of the long-standing tenets of the Artwalk — that the artists must create all the art in their own local studios — a group of painters and visual artists have come together to petition to be allowed to sell prints of their artwork — specifically giclee prints — alongside their original paintings. This has caused quite a stir up and down the Sunday Artwalk on Cabrillo Boulevard, with accusations of discrimination and infringement on 14th Amendment rights coming up against fears of a flea market-style Artwalk rife with cheap prints manufactured in China.

For the non-artistically-inclined reader, a giclee print is merely a print of a piece of art produced by an inkjet printer. Giclee is French, from gicler meaning to spurt or spray, a description of the action of the little inkjets. Giclee prints are most often high-quality prints; the printers themselves can cost close to $1,000 on top of the archival (gallery quality, fade-resistant) inks needed to make a print a viable long-term artistic acquirement.

Santa Barbara Artwalk
Click to enlarge photo

Curtis C. Schott

Santa Barbara Artwalk

The Artwalk artists in favor of giclee prints are a group of four headed by Mick Lestrade. Although there is no set group of artist pitted against the giclee contingent, The Santa Barbara Independent spoke with seven artists who were firmly against the idea of allowing prints, many of whom wished to remain anonymous for fear of becoming de-facto spokespersons and also out of a desire to keep the Artwalk as drama-free as possible, leaving an advisory committee to handle disputes.

In a phone conversation, Jason Bryan, senior recreation supervisor for Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation who liaisons with the advisory committee of the Artwalk, explained how the walk has a long-standing tradition of originality. The artists themselves, over the course of the last 50 years, have developed the rules and regulations of the show and review them as necessary during monthly committee meetings.

“What makes the Artwalk unique” Bryan said, “is that it is a non-juried art show. You could make paper planes, and as long as you make them yourself and live in Santa Barbara County, you can be in the show.”

The prohibition on reproductions is an old rule that has sought to keep Artwalk unique from the commercial establishment. This is unlike regular galleries which sell prints alongside original pieces, Bryan explained. Photographers at the Artwalk are allowed to sell editions of their work; digital artists are also allowed to sell editions of prints. Ceramists and metal workers, though, cannot send out a mold to have the actual finished product produced by someone else. Nor can painters sell reproductions of their work.

Part of the attractiveness of selling prints is that a painter can work for weeks on a painting that only sells once while they can produce prints at a lower cost point and sell them over and over again. “We get requests all the time on changing rules,” said Bryan. He explained the process as starting with a discussion at the advisory committee meeting. The committee consists of two members elected by artists and one at large member. If a proposed rule change gets past the advisory committee, it requires a municipal code change. Then it goes to recreation management. “In this case, the petition didn’t get past the first hurdle,” Bryan continued. “They looked at pros and cons and decided it was not in their best interest”.

This upsets Mick Lestrade, a painter who has been a regular at the Artwalk for 20 years. He is alleging that he is being discriminated against and that the advisory committee is more interested in politics than art. When asked why he wants to sell giclee prints, he answered, “Because this is the 21st century. Many people ask for giclee prints, and we cannot sell them. It is discrimination! We do not have an equal opportunity!” Lestrade, who has been trying to sell giclees for 10 years, said that the people who “run the committee decide to live in the 1960s. It’s stupid.”

The bone of contention for Lestrade and his gang is that photographers are allowed to sell limited edition prints of their work. They argue that they are being discriminated against and the counter argument is that photography and painting, like the proverbial apples and oranges, cannot be compared.

As a way around the restriction on reproductions, Lestrade, after much negotiation with the Advisory Committee, sells his mixed media work (which uses prints) alongside his paintings, as long as the prints are irrevocably changed. This is easy for Lestrade to do as his style incorporates paint splatters which ensure that no two pieces are the completely alike. (For the record, he was given a citation on September 18 for showing prints of paintings to customers that he had taped behind his paintings at the Sunday Artwalk.) Other artists, however, are concerned that they cannot be as efficient at making prints one-of-a-kind.

There is truth to the fact that photographers and painters use completely different media. Phil Gerlach, a photographer and Artwalk regular of 20 years who still processes his own prints in the dark room, argued that, “The magic of Ansel Adams happened in the dark room.” He explained that photographers use the dark room to make original, unique one-of-a-kind prints which they sell in limited edition batches. The photographer’s dark room is the equivalent of the painter’s studio and, in order to be allowed to sell their work at the Artwalk, each photographer must process their own film in their own studio located in Santa Barbara County. Digital artists who create their art entirely on the computer and make prints of it are also allowed to sell prints and are subject the same stringent rules as darkroom photographers. It is the nature of that medium.

The concern voiced by Gerlach and many others is that were painters to start making prints, it would be nigh impossible to ensure that all the prints are printed at the artist’s studio, by the artists, and with archival inks. Although the city conducts surprise studio visits to ensure the originality and local-ness of the art work, the city does not have enough money to check all studios and the artists do not want a “policed” art show.

According to Jason Bryan, both sides offer valid arguments, but nothing will change yet. He also said that, as art becomes more commercial and inkjet printers become cheaper, questions about reproductions will persist. This leaves neither of the groups very satisfied. Both say they want what’s best for the show and each other. “I want everyone to be successful,” said Gerlach “but we must stay original.”

The artists disagree, however, on what original looks like. If he could sell prints, Lestrade said, he would put his “heart and soul” into making beautiful paintings to sell as prints. Several artists suggested that the painters make smaller and quicker paintings to sell at a lower price which could be a temporary solution. “It is a great show,” said painter Neal Crosby. “If you are selling prints, where is the magic, the sacredness of the original art and the integrity of the show?” Either way, all artists hope to keep the show “great.”

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