Several of my earliest works have resurfaced in the secondary market, this year. Very few are being sold by serious art collectors. Mostly, they're just people trying to make an unrealistic, windfall profit on a minor work bought ten years ago for a few hundred dollars. Looking to make the $12,000 to $18,000 paid for the best of my early works, they're upset when dealers and auction houses suggest a price closer to $5,000 – which is still, in every case, an appreciation of over 1,000 percent. Such sellers often email me to complain.A lot of my early work was not particularly good. I started exhibiting very early in my career, before my work was fully developed. I also painted a small number of decorative pieces, such as the one pictured above, for shops, restaurants and small businesses that were never intended as serious pieces. I did them to pay rent, eat and buy more art supplies. I don't even consider them to be part of my oeuvre, such as it is.When such works turn up in the market, nowadays, I'm not concerned about them affecting my reputation or the prices paid for newer, better paintings. It can be unpleasant simply because some of the people selling the works are former acquaintances who contact me after being absent from my life for a decade only to ask – no, insist upon! – my help to sell the works. "After all," one of them told me, "It's in your best interests too, you know!".Actually, it isn't. What's in my best interests is to be undistracted from making new and better work.
I told one woman that a work she bought for a few hundred dollars would probably fetch $3,000. "But that's pathetic!" she snarled. I pointed out that a thousand percent profit on any investment was a huge rise. The price she originally paid me for the painting didn't even cover my costs, let alone time. Still, it was almost as if she felt personally entitled to a percentage of everything I had ever accomplished. I appreciate the support of people who bought – who continue to buy – my work but whether they bought ten years or ten days ago, they all got a bargain.Nearly every consumer product, from cars to furniture, depreciates sharply as soon as it's purchased. Even in Sydney's hyper-inflated property market, 1000% is more than most people make on their house values, especially after maintenance, utilities, rates and taxes are taken into account. Most artwork increases in value by about 10% a year and not every piece is high value, even when it's from a high value artist. The trouble is, mass media has focussed on the money – rather than the emotional and spiritual fulfillment – to be gained from collecting art. Now every second-rank stock broker and mergers-and-acquisitions specialist sees himself as the next Charles Saatchi, with neither his taste nor his shrewdness.A former advertising tycoon, Saatchi has a lot to answer for. He doesn't just buy art low and sell it high. He works the media to increase the value of both the art and the artist., often financing shows at carefully selected venues in New York, London or Tokyo that, I'm sure, he regards as 'consumer-driven'. An example was an exhibition of works by young British artists he called Sensation. He published a hard cover coffee table book, Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection and used it as a catalogue. He created controversy around the show. Images of key works were printed again and again in mainstream media, building popular awareness and recognition – in other words, brand value. Then he cashed in. Saatchi doesn't always get it right. He's rumoured to have damaged the careers of a number of artists by cashing in too fast or too soon, flooding the market with their work. Others, like Sandro Chia, he simply dumped, as if in a tantrum. Endless numbers of philistine, self-promoting hacks, media manipulators and con artists have followed Saatchi's example: they see it as a formula for making a lot of money with little effort but more respectability than, say, scalping sports tickets or hustling pyramid scams. Over the past couple of decades, the perception of art collecting has become somewhat akin to investing in state lotteries. Art's value is only about who wins on what and for how much. The art itself is, by and large, neglected, even by the artists: Never mind the quality, feel the width (buyers of paintings are a bit like Benny Hill: they like 'em big!)