A place to hang on the web
Sean Dodson meets a survivor of the dotcom crash whose virtual gallery sells original art works from his spare room in Camberwell.
Published in The Guardian, FEBRUARY 12, 2004
Paul Wynter is a dotcom survivor, a tenacious and passionate believer in his idea. So much so that he has been prepared to wait seven years for his internet company to make a profit.
A site called Londonart.co.uk might sound salubrious but, in fact, the company office is far from the recognised dotcom clusters of the capital. It is nestled in a quiet residential street in Camberwell, south London, where Wynter, 41, lives with his wife, three children and cocker spaniel Flash. In a converted children's playroom, Wynter and his full-time staff of three sell original works of art on the internet.
LondonArt sells an average of 25 paintings and sculptures a month, with an average price of £800. The site takes a 35% commission and while piles of bubble-wrapped paintings prop up against the patio door, the company doesn't own a single one. LondonArt is merely a broker.
On Monday, LondonArt began hosting a week-long exhibition — including £2,000 in prize money -themed around Valentine's Day. The Art of Love is being held in Cork Street, considered by many to be the heart of the private gallery system, and it pulls together more than 100 artists who regularly exhibit on the site. The exhibition also includes a poetry competition, with first prize judged by the poet laureate, Andrew Motion. But it is the temporary move to Mayfair that marks the transition of http://Londonart.co.uk from struggling internet start-up to insurgent art world upstart.
Wynter established LondonArt in 1997, but it took a year to sell a single painting. "Because I've always painted and been interested in art and knew lots of artists," he explains, "I thought it would be easy to put art on the internet. The easy bit was finding the artists because I rented a studio in Brixton which I shared with other artists. They were all struggling to get their work shown in galleries and I thought a site like this would help."
In fact, it's been a difficult haul for online galleries. LondonArt's big rivals Britart.com and Eyestorm.com were forced to merge last year, and others have struggled to find online buyers. Wynter was himself nearly consumed by the dotcom crash. The company took £400,000 in external investment and moved into offices in Clerkenwell in March 1999, then a hotbed of dotcom activity. The money soon burned away, but instead of packing up, Wynter moved the company home. He has since bought back the vast majority of the shares he sold to investors.
The most expensive artwork sold on the site was a painting by Rachel Lumsden for £4,500. The cheapest works are photographs selling for as little as £20. The most expensive painting is listed at £40,000. In all, LondonArt displays nearly 10,000 works of art by more than 850 artists.
The site works because it gives artists who struggle outside the gallery system an opportunity to sell their work. More than 100 pieces were entered for The Art of Love, for example. The site also provides an
outlet for buyers, who may live far from art galleries or not have the time to peruse. The site offers a full
refund if you don't like the art you've' ordered. Returns are less than 1%. "Artists want exposure but are not always good at marketing themselves," says Wynter.
"I represent a lot of artists who live outside London, who can't promote themselves around London — which you have to do if you want to be picked up by the big galleries."
"The course of true love never did run smooth," wrote Shakespeare. But as Paul Wynter will tell you, if you stick with what you love long enough, it might just come right in the end. The Art of Love is on at the Arndean Gallery, Cork Street, London W1 until February 14.