Question from Patrice Erickson:
Is it preferred or not preferred to sign and date paintings on the front of the canvases rather than on the backs? I have always signed and dated on the fronts. On a recent visit to a high end gallery I noticed that none of the paintings were signed this way. I asked the gallery director about this and she simply said none of these artists do, however they signed on the backs. Does this have to do with how well known the artist is?
Patrice, I think this is a question of aesthetics and preferences. If a signature on the front of a surface interferes with the artist’s intent, the artist might prefer signing on the back. As far as I know, this was the case with Mark Rothko and is the case with Ellsworth Kelly. A signature would look very much out of place in Rothko’s ethereal canvases or on Kelly’s flat, all-over colors.
At the same time, Jackson Pollock easily incorporated his signature into his webs of paint and many other contemporary artists do the same. There is nothing wrong with signing the front and many, many highly regarded artists embrace this tradition.
One thing I know for sure: Sign it somewhere! Like the gallery director mentioned–signing on the back (verso) is an option. You’ll drive future curators and historians crazy without the signature and date.
Image (c) Patrice Erickson, Behind the Trees
I selected this image of Patrice’s because her signature is so large compared with the size of the canvas. And she has made it in a lighter color so that it very much stands out in the dark foreground. This is neither good nor bad, but the signature becomes a design element when you do this. It doesn’t fade into the background, but stands out as part of the composition.
Where do you sign your art?