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Painting up a storm in the business of art

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Ballito artist Natasha Barnes has sold her work around the world. Some of her most memorable sales have been to collectors in Iraq, Korea, Angola and Panama. Picture: Supplied

Sometimes while watching TV, Natasha Barnes sees her artworks. "It’s a big thrill when it happens. I’ve even seen them on the sets of sitcoms and adverts in South Africa," says Barnes.

Her work hangs in hotels and restaurants across the world, but the 49-year-old Ballito artist and accomplished chef is happy to have fortune before fame.

Barnes, who is the author of "The Culinary Adventures of a Travelling Cook," paints primarily in acrylics. She began her career as a professional artist in 1998.

“I used the art fair platform to commercialise my name. It takes hard work, but you also have to have a certain amount of luck. Fortunately for me I was picked up early in my career by a publishing agent and he propelled my work to international stature in a very short space of time. I was also fortunate enough to have met my American art dealer in the early 2000s and through her I was able to enter the vast US market which is very tough to break into.

“From there my name and work spread around the world and today I sell on every continent. I’ve sold paintings to some pretty remote areas and across all cultures, my paintings are very popular in the Far East, and today, this is one of my biggest markets.

“Some of my more memorable sales have been to collectors in Iraq, Angola, Korea and Panama. I paint a vast amount of work for the hotel and retail sectors in the Middle East and USA.

A painting by Ballito-based artist Natasha Barnes.

“Most recently I had a sell-out show at the prestigious London Art Fair, that felt good. Some of the other fairs I’ve participated in over the years are Aqua Art Miami, Affordable Art Fair, and in the USA Art Hamptons, Art Palm Beach, Artexpo, Sofa Chicago, Spectrum Miami, Art Fair Bangkok and Art Expo Malaysia.” This year Barnes will show at four fairs in New York, Dubai, London and Hong Kong, all before June.

“I’m frantically working towards them. Then in April I am having a solo exhibition at Imbizo Gallery at home in KwaZulu-Natal. Curator Isabel Roos is a big player in the art business here and we are having a wonderful event opening on April 14 at 11am at the Lifestyle Centre in Ballito. It will run until the end of May. “It really gives South Africans the opportunity to see the work in person and the opportunity purchase what I’d normally send abroad,” she said.

Offering insights into her industry, she says: “I mainly supply only a few quality galleries on each continent, and then represent myself at art fairs through my gallery (Turner Barnes) in partnership with Soo Turner from London. We’ve been working together for 12 years.

“Art is about relationships. If you can establish and maintain that level of trust you are 99% of the way there. I’m still working with everyone I started working with 20 years ago. There’s enough of the pie to go round, it’s important to establish the artist/ gallery partnership. Artists will go further if they stick to and support the galleries. It protects both the artist and the gallery trade.”

In addition to fine art, Barnes does a vast amount of work that she licenses to department stores like John Lewis, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Ikea. They use her artwork on homeware products and for wall art posters. One of her pieces once went into 19 million catalogues.

“I usually work 12 to 15 months in advance, so I’m already working towards products for the Spring release in the UK in 2020. They send me the colours for the next season and ask me to produce the artwork for the department stores.

“The paintings are released as prints – in Christmas 2016 I sold 3 000 units through Laura Ashley.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it’s a more decorative approach to my work which I run as a separate line completely. I earn royalties from this.”

In South Africa she has started a homeware brand, Private Collection Original, producing scatter cushions, tablecloths, place-mats and accessories for the home with her artwork printed on to the products. The entire brand is made and sourced in KwaZulu-Natal in an effort to bring the talent home.

Barnes is proof that location is no boundary to success.

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