Julie Taylor. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Julie Taylor. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Julie Taylor - founder of online gallery www.gunsandrain.com.

It was a roundabout path that brought entrepreneur Julie Taylor to her current role as founder of Guns & Rain, an online gallery and sales portal specialising in African art and showcasing emerging artists from the region.

In many ways this project was the perfect fit for an Oxbridge-educated anthropologist who made her mark as the communications lead for sub-Saharan Africa at Google. Guns & Rain is Taylor’s way of combining her disparate spheres of knowledge and experience with her passion for art. She says she also saw in it an opportunity to support African artists.

“In 2008 I visited Zimbabwe, where I grew up and where my family lives. It was a dark year in Zimbabwe’s history. I learnt that some artists were literally not eating for days at a time,” she says. “With a gallerist’s permission, I posted some images of artworks on a blog site — and three works sold overnight to international buyers. I realised then that the Internet had the potential to change artists’ lives.”

In 2014, Taylor left Google to pursue Guns & Rain full time.
Her early successes, however, didn’t mean she was in for an
easy ride. There are dozens of competing online art portals, and selling a high-end, high-value product — especially one as personal as art — was always going to be an uphill battle.

But there are at least some constants in the online sales arena: buyers want honest, comprehensive descriptions and information about what they are buying, and great customer service. “This is really important, and it’s surprising how few businesses get it right.”

The Internet is a vibrant and unintimidating space to start learning about art and, in time, buying it too.

Taylor has worked particularly hard at the specifics
of exhibiting art online, including curating virtual exhibitions.

And she has found “real life” exhibitions a necessary booster to her online presence. In November she exhibited in Paris at a show called Also Known As Africa. Later this month, she will be exhibiting at the Art Africa Fair in Cape Town.

The result is a multichannel sales approach. “I’ve sold over Skype and Instagram to collectors in Switzerland and the US,” she says.

Taylor believes artists from the region are “hugely underrepresented online”. She says: “I know that the demand for online art will grow only as people’s comfort levels with digital channels increase.

“The Internet is a vibrant and unintimidating space to start learning about art and, in time, buying it too.”

Selected artists exhibit for free on Guns & Rain, and Taylor takes a commission of between 25% and 40% on art sold via the platform. Traditional galleries can charge around 50% of a sale price.

Guns & Rain buyers are both professional collectors and individual buyers, and are based around the world. The prices of work that is available on the platform range from under R10,000 to over R40,000.

“Art is a complex good, especially to sell online, and the art market is a complex place, but I feel bullish about the progress that has been made and about the future,” Taylor says.

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