EK Interview: Barry Friedland

Empty Kingdom recently had the honor of interviewing Barry Friedland of Thumbtack Press.  Thumbtack Press is a fantastic place to get art, it’s quality and affordable, I’d go on about it, but that would spoil the interview.  Read on and find out for yourself.

When did Thumbtack Press come to be?

TTP was conceived a few years ago and I purchased it last year as part of a wider life reinvention experiment. Not to be too corny, but Thumbtack Press has always been inside of me. I’ve worked with a lot of artist friends (that sounds weird, I mean a lot of my friends are artists and I’ve got to work with them) and been able to apply my years of business experience for them on the side. In the end, I’ve always been more of a looker than a reader – I just needed an outlet for my passion.

What is the mission statement of Thumbtack Press?

Can I say it like a list? I mean our aesthetic is, by definition, one that is dynamic and ever changing. I think Thumbtack Press needs more of a manifesto than a mission statement, but if someone had a gun to my head and I absolutely had to give a mission statement it would include some combination of these points:

– First and foremost the artist is first – I started this whole thing as a way to help artists. I think of TTP as a safe haven for artists in this mental digital world.

– We’re an indie art label, we’re not trying to get Sony and Pepsi involved here.

– TTP is like a digital gallery of the best lowbrow, illustration, and character art in the world. The world.

– We’re fostering a new tier of collectors whose taste for art is perhaps more developed than their budgets right now. Artists now have access to these collectors in a way that’s never been done before, and the great thing is that it goes both ways: Artists reach a new market, and enthusiasts become collectors.

How did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt was born in 1884?

Wikipedia is the Nutella of the Internet. I use it everyday.

Where are you located? 

As Common said, the city of wind.

What do you think the effect of the Internet and digitization on physical art?

Honestly I think the biggest thing not just about the capital “I” Internet but about all the digital platforms like Tumblr and Pinterest and everything is the barrage of images. People are being exposed to images that they wouldn’t have been before. Artists are making a lot of those images and even though some people say proper art is dead it’s the artists that drive so much of the viral whatevers these days. The question is how much of it is crap or pushed by marketeers trying to get their commission fees, you know?

How have you used Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social networking sites to your advantage?  How do you think they have been a detriment to the creation of real world relationships and close-knit community (if at all)?

Social Media is a tricky thing, I mean you can have a trillion ‘likes’ and followers and reblogs and everything and it won’t mean a thing about your influence or your voice. We’re on Twitter and FB and Tumblr, but we care a lot more about the voice we’re putting out. We want people to know that there are real people here, and this isn’t some robotic art money concept, it’s people who love art trying to get the good stuff to the fore.

How do you judge the quality of artists?  How do you decide they are good enough to showcase their work?

What do you look for in an artist whose art you’re going to sell?

We definitely care that the art isn’t too commercialized. We turn away a lot of commercial artists because we’re going after an aesthetic that’s unique, something distinctive.

But really we look for stuff that we look at and go “Holy shit” and want to send on to everyone we know. We look for stuff that’s never been thought up before, or weird takes on common things. And we never ever underestimate humor.

Tell us about gicleé.  Why did you choose that as the media for the prints you sell?

Gicleé is ridiculously cool. The process is all but perfect, it’s efficient and it consistently turns out images almost as clear as the originals, with the same sort of archival inks and papers and everything that last forever.

From an art economics standpoint, gicleé is a game changer because so many quote unquote limited editions are printed digitally on gicleé the same way our open editions are.

What are the long-term goals for Thumbtack Press?

Long-term is the key goal because we don’t want to do the same thing everybody else is doing. Sure, we could go magazine and pop-up gallery and t-shirts and iPhone skins – or we could embody this aesthetic we’re pushing and do what’s never been done before. TTP is really a tiny speck of a much bigger long-term cultural movement ongoing everywhere.

We’re going to be unveiling more specifics on what I mean by that, but for now I think it’s enough to say that Thumbtack Press is the only place in the world – online or offline – doing what we do, how we do it, and we’re going to expand that project dramatically. What you see now is embryonic.

What up and coming artists do you want to plug?

Oh man there are so many good artists in the store it would be unfair to pimp one or two.

What benefits do artists get from being represented on your site? 

Hopefully a lot – remember that I got into this whole thing because I saw so many of my artist friends getting effed over. I saw that there is a way to sell art without screwing people over.

So when an artist gets into the TTP store we do much of the marketing for them at our expense and are always working on ways to get them more exposure. It’s not like we’re a PR machine or anything, but of course it’s mutually beneficial to get the word out for them as much as it is for us. Also I mean we’re a site with over a hundred talented, some quite famous, artists – ideally new TTP artists are as excited about being affiliated with us as we are to have their work in our store. We don’t just sell anybody’s stuff.

What websites or artists have impressed you?

You mean besides Empty Kingdom?  This is tough but off the top of my head let’s see: Mark my words one day I WILL own a Ray Caesar piece, Peter Mars deserves a shoutout for carrying the torch for pop art post-Warhol, Dine, Johns, Lichtenstein, etc., and I was just introduced to Scott Rhea, whose underwater photos are out of this world.

Lifelounge, Boooooooom, and Boing Boing are some of my go-to big sites. I like the curating of sites like The Fox Is Black, and Nate Williams in Argentina is doing god’s work for illustrators everywhere via Illustration Mundo.

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to submit their portfolio? 

Just make good stuff! Most of the work people send us we won’t put in the store but we hate the fake exclusivity that drives prices up elsewhere. All are welcome, but we just can’t put everything we get in the store. We really try to curate according to a specific aesthetic, and I think the breadth of the aesthetic is clear if you look at the store as a whole. We’re not more interested in any one medium over another, we’re not more interested in goofy work as opposed to, say, political work. We’re open to anything as long as it blows people away. I’d say send whatever you have and let’s talk.