Art Sale Top Seller: Mat Ollig

What does it take to be a top seller at the annual MCAD Art Sale? We asked Mat Ollig, one of the best of the last two decades, to talk us through his experience and share his secrets.

Mat Ollig ’10 is an oil painter living and working in Northeast Minneapolis. His large, multi-faceted paintings are a result of his continued fascination with memory, reality, and perception funneled through the lenses of history and oil painting. Ollig’s influences include the movements of Cubism, Postmodernism, and Relational Aesthetics, as well as the work of artists such as Gerhard Richter, Mark Rothko, and Alexander Ross.

What medium do you primarily work in?

Oil on canvas.

What has MCAD meant for you in terms of launching your creative career?

MCAD allowed me to become a full-time artist. Without the education, guidance, and networking MCAD gave me, I'd probably be an accountant or something.

What does your primary artist practice look like?

I'm an emerging artist, but I do have work in numerous private and corporate collections, as well as a piece in the Weisman Art Museum's permanent collection.

Can you describe a memorable sale or moment from the Art Sale?

One year, I sold so much work that I ended up scrounging small studies from my studio just to have something in there. I ended up selling all of them!

What do you love about making art?

Obviously the fame and fortune! 

But honestly, I love how it brings people together. My work is designed to elicit conversation and introspection and get people to tell stories using my work as a catalyst for conversation.

Have you ever purchased anything from the Art Sale? Describe your favorite piece.

I bought a couple small pieces a few years ago. They were figurative screen prints. The artist said they were "bad" because of some flaw only they could see. I look at them every day and enjoy them. 

As artists, we sometimes cannot see how good something is because we are unable to distance ourselves and view them without a critical eye.

Is there any Art Sale work that has inspired you? Describe it!

The work of Gregory Euclide was being sold at the Art Sale as dimensional pieces in shadowboxes, which inspired me to create dimensional prints of my multi-panel paintings. 

What Art Sale advice would you give to young MCAD artists?

  • Staple your business card on the price tag, and sign your work. (On the back doesn't count)
  • Talk to the patrons about the work they are looking at. 
  • Sell the work by not selling the work: it's better to talk about what the work means, the process you used, and how you felt making it (even if you have to make it up). Also, ask people what they like about it and what other work they have. 
  • Have a variety of price points. Your best work should be the maximum, and small prints or studies should be the minimum, with everything between. Don't make your prices all the same, and try to vary the prices. Also, make your prices include as few zeros and possible—ie. $95 not $100, $1,150 not $1,200, $35 not $30. 
  • Have a portfolio of other work you've done on your phone ready to go. While they might not want a piece off the wall, they may want to commission you for a painting. 
  • Keep business cards on you and follow-up with people if they give you theirs. 
  • IKEA frames are cheap and help sell prints. You can also "frame" paintings using thin strips of wood pin-nailed to the edges of paintings to make them look neater. 90% of all artwork sold will be re-framed by the buyer, so don't worry too much, but a clean edge will make them look more attractive. (I mask the edges with tape before I paint. After the painting is varnished, I peel the tape and voila! Clean edges!) At the very least, use grey or black gaffer's tape to give the edges a clean look (not duck-tape). 
  • Shellac makes a wonderful varnish for oil paintings. It's cheap, dries in minutes, and gives a nice gloss finish to make the paint look "wet." (I use shellac between my paint layers as I paint, and also as a varnish). 
  • Document your work BEFORE the sale. Once they're gone they're gone, and you need them for your portfolio. An added benefit is that you can also use those photos to promote your work online before and during the show and show other buyers what has sold if your wall starts to become bare (you might get a commission out of it). 
  • Be friendly and have fun! I've had the same painting not sell for three art sales, only to be sold the first day on the fourth sale. Don't worry if it doesn't sell right away. Eventually the right buyer will come along. 


Additional Top Sellers

*Note that the term "Top Seller" is defined both in sales and number of pieces sold.
**Ollig will not have works for sale at this year's MCAD Art Sale; only current students and graduates from the past five years are eligible to participate.