Steven Sulley – Founder of Woodbury House
It is not unusual to see attention-grabbing headlines about pieces of street art that have sold for millions at auction. The evolution of the art form goes back thousands of years, but its recent explosion in popularity is closely linked with the countercultures of cities such as New York, Paris and London, with artists from this scene, such as Keith Haring, Richard Hambleton and Basquiat, bridging the gap between urban street art and the fine art adorning the walls of galleries and auction houses.
The interest these pioneers bought in the movement paved the way for contemporary artists to experiment with techniques, materials and styles, with one of the most important aspects of the street art movement undoubtedly being the use of stencils.
The growing demand for and popularity of street art, and particularly stencil art, offers a huge opportunity for those looking to invest. So, why has stencil art seen such a surge in growth, and what are some considerations when looking to invest in this promising asset class?
The Emergence Of Stencil Art
The use of stencils is all but ubiquitous among street artists throughout the world. The rapid development of street art as a movement in the ’70s and ’80s meant artists competed to place their tags and works in ever more prominent places in the urban landscape. Stencils made it easy for artists to reproduce their work, increase their visibility and quickly create a design without attracting the attention of authorities.
Renowned street artist Blek le Rat, nicknamed the father of stencil graffiti, was a true pioneer of the stencil, covering the streets of Paris with his iconic rat motif. Blek himself cites Richard Hambleton as a major inspiration, and Hambleton’s stenciled depictions of crime scenes on the streets of New York are considered by many to be similarly iconic.
The Banksy Effect
While these artists cemented the use of stencils in the aspiring street artist’s tool kit, it was Banksy who bought worldwide attention to stencil art. The “Banksy Effect” has raised the profile of the entire stencil art movement, contributing massively to its investment potential.
Banksy is, of course, one of the most prominent blue-chip artists in the world, and while his works are out of the price range of many looking to invest, his popularity has sparked the interest of investors and collectors and opened the doors to other up-and-coming artists. If investments in emerging artists are timed carefully, they have the potential for promising returns.
A Long-Term Investment
Street art as a movement was born out of social and political protest against the backdrop of counterculture movements, and this must be considered when looking to invest in a particular stencil artist. What is their narrative? What stories do they tell through their art?
This is particularly important because art is a long-term investment, and with many works of stencil art containing social and political messages, they must retain relevance years or even decades from the initial purchase. The most skillful artists bring discussion and debate to important, timeless topics through their work, contributing to resale value.
Education is the tastemaker in many aspects of life, and the same holds true with art. Acquiring an understanding of the history and context of stencil art will foster a greater sense of appreciation for works you might otherwise have overlooked and will help you when considering an artist you are looking to invest in.
There are three important factors when determining whether to make an investment in an artist, especially one who is still relatively new.
• Are they backed by a recognized gallery?
• Are they backed by a recognized museum?
• And finally, do they come with endorsements from an established art dealer, collector or family?
If an artist you are considering ticks all three of these boxes, you are likely to make a solid investment. While there are no hard and fast guarantees when it comes to reselling art, aiming for artists who meet at least one or two of these criteria will give you far more confidence in your investment.
In addition to this, it is important to establish provenance. While the techniques of stencil art mean works created in this way can be incredibly intricate and hard to imitate, it is always wise to be aware of forgeries, especially with simpler designs. Provenance is key, and the more documentation you have around a work, the better.
Buying from reputable auction houses, galleries and dealers, and from the artist directly where possible, is highly advisable. Documentation, whether images or videos of the artist creating the piece, letters or certificates of authenticity, all contribute to the provenance of a work and will make it far easier when the time comes to sell your investment.
Stencil art, as an art form that made its way to galleries and auction houses from the streets, can use a huge variety of materials, some of which make maintenance a rather challenging and expensive undertaking—both of which can affect potential returns down the line.
Works of stencil art that are recovered straight from the urban landscapes in which they were created can not only create additional provenance issues (as with Banksy’s Pest Control team refusing to authenticate works that were “committed illegally”) but may require costly repairs and restoration if recovered incorrectly. It is therefore advisable to opt for stencil art created specifically for galleries, especially works on canvas, to maximize the resell potential of your investments.
Stencil art offers a wide scope of investment potential, and the growing recognition and popularity of the medium have made it more accessible than ever. Given the rich history of the movement, it can be daunting for a first-time investor to know where to begin, but this does not have to be the case. Immersing yourself in the world of stencil art through collectors, communities and galleries will help you not only in recognizing potential investments but also in ensuring they maintain their value long-term.
The information provided here is not investment, tax or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.