A blank canvas represents something both daunting and thrilling to the painter. A blank wall waiting for just the right piece of art can be a similar proposition.
West Branch Art Gallery in Stowe helps fill in that spot, offering a service in which the gallery can virtually place paintings and sculptures in a room without ever pounding in a single nail.
Tari Swenson co-owns West Branch with her husband, sculptor Chris Curtis. Swenson, an adept hand at Photoshop, is able to get folks to email her a digital photo of their rooms — or their properties, if they’re looking for some outdoor art — and she can digitally insert what she thinks would look good in the space. She even inserts shadows into the proper places.
“I kind of have a knack for this,” Swenson said.
She wasn’t just speaking about her facility with Photoshop. Swenson has something of an eidetic memory when it comes to art, and is able to take a look at a room — its dimensions, colors, materials, lighting — and go through her mental catalog and find something that will fit in the space.
The service is free, and while many of the paintings she chooses are ones that West Branch has on hand, if she can think of a different painting located at another gallery, she’ll “co-broke” with the other gallery and split the sales commission.
“I just started placing paintings digitally so people could show their husband, wife, designer, friend, and keep the conversation fun and ongoing, without feeling obligated,” Swenson said. “Now, for instance, they know that 48 by 48 is too big, and if they go somewhere else, that’s fine with me.”
Last week, Swenson demonstrated her process with a pair of rooms in two different houses hundreds of miles from Stowe.
Room one is a dining room, well lit by windows and skylights, with a lacquered wooden floor and a large stone hearth. Neutral colors dominate, and natural light streams in from different angles. Swenson inserted a photo of a painting she likes, and thought the homeowner might like, too, and sent it back, starting the volley of emails between gallerist and client.
The first one was too wide, so like a virtual Goldilocks, she continued. Another one was too small, another one made the white wall look too yellow, and another one looked nice but wasn’t by an artist the homeowners were fond of. In the end, Swenson and the owners decided on a colorful landscape, with cool blue water and air, and swirls of green and brown from the trees.
“I think this one’s just beautiful,” she said.
Swenson helped another homeowner with art selection for a decidedly different space — the rumpus room of a Boston family, with a mauve-colored L-shaped sectional sofa and a rubber play mat with a pile of kids’ toys on it. The first order was to Photoshop the toys out of the picture; too many colors competing for the gallerist’s eye.
Through the process, the homeowners became interested in a particular artist, Rebecca Kinkead, a University of Vermont graduate who works in layered, dripped and scraped paint and wax. One painting in particular caught the homeowner’s eye, but it had already been sold.
So, armed with the dimensions, room look, and consumer aesthetic, Kinkead made a commissioned piece that would fit perfectly in the room.
Said Swenson, “In a perfect world, you match the two (client and artist) together, and it’s a magical moment.”