P A I N T I N G P R O B O N O
Painting Pro Bono is an impartial, publicly accessible project through which I distribute my paintings for free. In January 2020 I decided to remove my work from the commercial art world, leaving my representative galleries in London, Barcelona and New York. You can read about my primary reasons for doing so by clicking here. Painting Pro Bono is the second half of that decision - the alternative to selling paintings for personal financial gain. There are a number of considerations that have lead me to pursue this course of action, but in order to simplify this explanation, I have narrowed them down to three basic categories, detailed below:
Quite simply, without an alternative way to distribute my work it would build up in the studio and become an ever increasing storage issue. Ultimately work would have to be destroyed and materials recycled or, in the worst case scenario, disposed of. Aside from personal inconvenience, I feel this would be a waste of time, effort, money, materials and potential, so it really isn’t a viable option. The only other practical solution would be to stop painting entirely, but I only mention this in the interest of acknowledging the logical. Realistically, such a course of action is not considered.
Making a gift of a painting, whether the recipient is a friend or a stranger, is fulfilling to me. I think most people find some satisfaction in performing an act of generosity. Doing so offers me a regular opportunity to increase those enjoyable moments of giving for myself and, I hope, offer the recipient of the gift a little happiness as well. I find satisfaction in the act of giving, and in perceiving the positive response it engenders in another person.
I also hope for this project to contribute to the expansion of my personal and professional network in a manner not influenced or restricted by the idea of financial gain. My network is predominantly comprised of artists and arts professionals – people with whom I share interests and enjoy communicating. If I may widen and expand this group or encourage further conversation with friends and colleagues, then all the better.
I am uncomfortable with the idea of making personal profit from selling my paintings. I get all I need from the making process and the satisfaction of the completed object. I have no specific desire to make monetary gain on top of that. However, I understand that a painting has the potential to do something else, and have a life beyond me, so sending them out into the world to benefit others is one way for that to be fulfilled. In the absence of a pounds and pence label, an alternative value structure is required. Vague as it may be, a painting’s ability to make some small improvement to the day to day life of another person is a way for me to ascribe that value. In this way I believe my paintings are doing a little good, and that is worth a lot to me.
The potential for my paintings to do good holds a further personal importance. A small, everyday pleasure improves one’s experience of life a little bit - I feel it when surrounded by my art collection at home. Seeing the work of other artists, many of them contemporaries and friends, is a ubiquitous contentment I consider profound to my experience of life and, combined with many other things, contributes to my ability to improve as a person. I believe this sort of improvement to be fundamentally important for us all, as individuals and as a species. Whilst I understand that positive effect this project could have may only be measured in the tiniest increments, in some cases perhaps not even perceived at all, it is positive none-the-less, and therefore worth pursuing.
The existential aspect of the project stems directly from conclusions I came to when working on Object Meditation, a group exhibition of abstract painting I curated at After Nyne Gallery, London in October 2019. The catalogue text I wrote for the show, which explains these ideas in detail, can be downloaded here. It has come to shape my understanding and approach to my work and offered me a renewed belief that following my own creative path and indulging my practice has a value that extends beyond the deep enjoyment I derive from it, and makes a small but important contribution to the world.
Painting Pro Bono is my own awkward carve-up of Pro bono publico, a latin phrase commonly used by legal professionals waiving their fee for working on cases they consider to be of social value. The direct translation of "pro bono publico" is "For the public good". Although clearly gramatically incorrect, I ascribe to Painting Pro Bono the meaning Painting For Good because I intend for the gesture and act of giving my paintings away publicly to be indiscriminately beneficial.
This is not the first iteration of the project. For about a year, between 2015 and 2016, I did something very similar and, having read back through my various notes from that period, I find the conclusions I drew then to be very similar to those I have come to now:
My hope is that (giving paintings away for free) will make others happy… in a small way give them the opportunity to own a thing they might not otherwise have expected to and maybe offer a little bit of materialistic fulfilment. I also expect to feel happy that my paintings are going out there and 'doing' something rather than sitting in a box their whole life. And finally, by eliminating any misplaced residing concern about making painting a financially viable pursuit, I can further shore up my oft repeated assertion that this is an activity undertaken purely for enjoyment and is not qualified by any other marker of success.
I am happy to return to this way of thinking now, with the experience of what it is (was) to exist as an artist in the commercial art world and a deeper, more complex understanding of the value of the project and the paintings themselves. This journey, circular as it may be, has been of great value. It's true that that I have wound up, more or less, back where I started, but what I have learned along the way has lent a weight, commitment and assuredness to my thinking and has cemented my confidence that this is the right thing for me to do.
Ask, and you shall (be in with a chance to) receive.
Painting Pro Bono is open to everyone. Whilst I would love to be able to give a painting to every person that wants one, regrettably that is not practical and so recipients are selected through a free to enter, impartial, randomised draw. The only costs potentially incurred by the recipient are postage and packing, although this too can be avoided if personal collection from central London is feasible.
How it works
- I make paintings available as often as I am able. Notification is by email alert to the Painting Pro Bono mailing list (sign up here) and by Instagram post (@tomrtwilmott). Each notification will be assigned a unique raffle number.
- Entry to the raffle is open publicly for 48 hours from the time of the notification. To enter a raffle, email firstname.lastname@example.org , quoting the unique raffle number in the email subject line.
- The winner will be drawn at random from the entries received, and announced by email to all mailing list subscribers. The winner will also be tagged in the relevant post on Instagram, if they use the platform.
- Unless they are able to collect in person from a central London location, recipients are required to cover costs of postage and packing. Costs within the UK are advised in the initial notification, but costs for sending paintings internationally will be calculated depending on the recipients location. Paintings will not be shipped until payment for postage and packing is received in full via PayPal or direct bank transfer.
- If a price on postage and packing cannot be agreed, a new recipient will be selected from the remaining entries.
- Paintings are despatched as swiftly as I am able to do so, but I make no specific promises in terms of timing.