How can you tell if an artwork will sell?

Honestly, if I knew the formula on how to figure out which paintings will sell and which ones will linger in my racks, I would probably be able to make a living just painting. As it is, I still have to teach drawing and painting classes full-time at a local college in order to pay the mortgage.

It is amazing how wrong I can be on which paintings will find a lovely home with a satisfied collector. It’s a good thing I’m not a betting man.

In Kevin Grass's "When Good People Do Bad Things" painting, the realism artist explores how well-intentioned people often harm themselves when they make mistakes.

Kevin Grass, When Good People Do Bad Things, acrylic on panel painting, 19.5" x 29," 2012.

In When Good People Do Bad Things, a bearded older man sits in the foreground, extracting a tooth from his own mouth with pliers as a large building is consumed by flames in the background. It is a disturbing image, to say the least! The couple who bought the piece love it and have visited with me at several art fairs. They are contemplating having me do a commissioned work that is more customized for their own lifestyle, and the main hold up is trying to winnow down which imagery to include that would best represent them. Meeting this lively and well-educated couple, you wouldn’t guess that they would be drawn to such a sinister image as the first work they would collect from my art!

Similarly, another collector was initially attracted to one of only two dragon paintings I have painted since I was an adult. (I liked the theme a lot when I was a kid.) I mostly created the dragon paintings because our son was fascinated by them at the time. Then this collector decided that he had too many dragon pieces at home already and selected a completely different work for his collection: my Vampire painting.

Only this Vampire piece does not depict the fanged undead beings from folklore. Instead, it shows a realistic scene of two female figures, with one cutting the other one’s forearm with a knife, drawing blood. The work is about some of the unhealthy relationships that a few women have, where what should be a friendship seems to suck the life blood from the more giving person instead.

Realism artist Kevin Grass's "Vampire" painting is about people who take delight in harming others.

Vampire, acrylic on panel painting by Kevin Grass, 22" x 30, 2008.

The painting was inspired by a real-life situation, and was a form of art therapy to show the abused person just how unhealthy this relationship had gotten. The fact that it shows a more universal truth is just a plus. Because of the indication of violence, I did not expect this work to sell, but was satisfied that it helped the person for whom I created it to visualize the problem and thus be able to deal with it. That a collector had such a strong connection to the piece that he took it home with him was a bonus!

My Consequences painting shows a male figure in a basement pointing a gun at himself in a mirror. On the other side of the wall, the viewer sees three young children playing outside, with the rays of the setting sun marking the path where the fired bullet would travel if the gun were discharged. This painting lets viewers think about the consequences of suicide and the far-reaching consequences it can have on family members and the community when someone commits such a self-centered act in times of desperation.

Kevin Grass's "Consequences" painting is about what might happen if someone goes through with the threat of committing suicide.

Consequences, acylic on panel painting by Kevin Grass, 34" x 20," 2011.

The collector who purchased Consequences has eclectic tastes in art. His extensive collection includes everything from Hello Kitty images to a pietá where a life-sized Virgin Mary holds a Jesus figure who is a junkie. He has since purchased two other works concerning completely different themes. With him, it is the emotional connection to the work that counts. If it is strong enough, he will find a space to hang the piece, even if it seems that he is out of room in his house museum, such as hanging my sizeable Inheritance painting under the ceiling over his dining room table.

On the other hand, there are paintings that I thought would sell easily that are still on my own walls. My View of the Santa Maria della Salute, Venice was inspired by the paintings of Canaletto after a visit to Venice. It updates this iconic Baroque landmark with contemporary touches, such as the vaporetto stop and a motorboat. Several people have come close to purchasing this memento of Venice, but declined in the end. I still enjoy this piece because it is simply beautiful and reminds me of a wonderful place but cannot help wondering why someone has not snapped it up.

Kevin Grass's "View of the Santa Maria della Salute, Venice" painting emulates the vedute pieces of the Old Master artist Canaletto.

View of the Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, acrylic on Panel Painting by Kevin Grass, 40" x 24," 2013.

My Love Wins! painting is an intentional homage to the Northern Renaissance master Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait. At art fairs, educated people easily recognize that it’s an updated version of this famous work, paying tribute to the fact that now marriage equality has passed in the United States, as the couple in this marriage ceremony is two attractive men.

Kevin Grass's "Love Wins!" painting celebrates marriage equality in the United States.

Love Wins! acrylic on panel painting by Kevin Grass, 36" x 48," 2015.

My wife Michaela was convinced that Love Wins! would be perfectly placed in the home of a famous gay married couple, so she reached out to Elton John to see if he would like to look at the work, since he is an avid art collector. Unfortunately, she was only able to get as far as his art curator, who politely told her that he primarily collects photographs and would not be interested in seeing the work. As the gatekeeper, it seems that there’s no chance that Sir Elton will have the opportunity to make up his own mind about that.

Michaela then set her sights on trying to reach out to Neil Patrick Harris and his husband, who live in Haarlem. After securing their physical address, she could confirm that a book of my paintings, as well as VIP passes to Artepo New York – mere blocks from their home – were delivered there via FedEx. We hoped that there was a slim chance that they would come and see the piece, since this couple has also been known to collect representational art. Sadly, Twitter revealed that NPH was on set on location during the art fair, so even if he had wanted to, he could not have come by to see the piece then after all. . . 

Love Wins! is an excellent painting with a positive message about an important milestone in contemporary social history. I still haven’t figured out why no one has fallen in love with it yet.

Another work that I thought would be an easy sale is Sugar Baby. This smaller still life depicts a charming doll chained to a Dr. Pepper bottle surrounded by butterflies. She is holding the key to the lock to indicate that she can set herself free any time from her dependence on sweet soft drinks. It is a pretty picture that has a relevant message, so I thought it would be an instant hit!

Kevin Grass's "Sugar Baby" painting is about America's obsession with soft drink addiction.

Sugar Baby, acrylic on panel painting by Kevin Grass, 24" x 30," 2016.

The upshot of this blog is that it’s anyone’s guess as to which pieces collectors will purchase. When I worked with gallerists in the past, they often told me: do lighter, more positive pieces. When I did those, no one was interested in them. When I was told to make works larger, for no good reason, I got stuck with big paintings that are more difficult to store.

Now I paint the things that capture my heart in some way. Whether it’s a social message that hits close to home in some way, or I capture a beautiful landscape because it moves something in me on a deeper level, those are the kinds of images that I go back to in my paintings. If the work reveals something significant about our time somehow, eventually someone will come along and see the same truth as well. That’s the person that should own the piece in the end.

I hope you’ll help me find good homes for all my paintings. I would much appreciate it if you can aid me in spreading the word about my art by sharing my blog posts, or my Facebook or Twitter pages, or even links to individual works that you like with your friends. You can share them to your social media easily by clicking the appropriate links above the blog post or next to each painting. Thank you!

--- Kevin