Portia De Rossi's New Venture Is Bringing Blue Chip Art to the Masses

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Portia de Rossi

“Every time Ellen and I bought a piece by one of our favorite artists, we’d have this tremendous feeling of guilt that only we got to enjoy the work,” says de Rossi.

Portia de Rossi is out to democratize high-end art collecting with General Public, her latest venture launching Thursday.

The art-meets-technology brand offers “synographs,” a word the actress trademarked to describe textured prints of original paintings, for sale via e-commerce. “When people think of printing, they think of a poster in a Plexiglass frame, like the Van Gogh in your dorm room,” says de Rossi. “We’re 3D-printing on canvas, wood panels, metal, any of the different things used in the original work, so it’s a real hybrid.”  

De Rossi, who appears in the upcoming fifth season of Netflix's Arrested Development, started working on the project 18 months ago and hinted at it in an April 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, explaining that she decided to leave ABC's Scandal during season six to "change gears to focus on art."

“It’s been a long time in the making,” she says. “Basically, we had to invent something first, working with Fujifilm to develop the technology to print richly textured paintings. It was a challenging but exciting process to work with these engineers and tech guys to perfect it.”

The idea came out of de Rossi’s shared love of contemporary art with wife Ellen DeGeneres. Together, they have been collecting abstract works by Cy Twombly, Ellsworth Kelly, Joan Mitchell and others for more than a decade. “Every time Ellen and I bought a piece by one of our favorite artists, we’d have this tremendous feeling of guilt that only we got to enjoy the work,” says de Rossi. “I wanted to be able to share that experience with as many people as possible. Also, when Ellen started her lifestyle brand, I wanted to include a line of art that represents her taste, not just the furniture, lighting and rugs. It just hasn’t been easy to find really great pieces that reflect our personalities until now.”

The curation piece was an important part of building the brand's identity, she says. “There are online galleries democratizing the art world, but they are selling original works in the thousands. And unless you really understand what a good painting is, you can get lost. I wanted to present collections I felt represented the kind of art currently available in the blue-chip fine art market,” de Rossi adds.

“Our artists have had education in art. When painters really love art and are educated, elements of the best of the best filter through," she says. "That’s what I’m looking for, the painter who draws inspiration from centuries of art, and creates something uniquely theirs but has historical context.”

General Public is offering works in four style categories: colorfield (evoking the 1950s era Abstract Expressionists using bold bodies of color); found art (portraits and still lifes found everywhere from the Paris Flea Market to the antique stores of Birmingham, Alabama); public domain (old master works reworked by contemporary artists); and studio marks (characterized by scuffs, strokes and incidentals artists leave behind). Artists who are selling reproductions of their works include Sarah Bird, Kali Sanders, Molly Snee and Seb Sweatman. Edition numbers vary by artist, and prices average around $800.

De Rossi says she's had no trouble convincing artists to work with Public Domain, which she believes reflects a cultural shift in the marketplace. “The whole idea of authorship and reproduction has been shaken up," she asserts. "A novel isn’t not good because there are thousands of copies. Music isn’t more special if one person gets to enjoy it. Artists who are on board are potentially going to create a new category in the art market since it’s not a traditional print, and it’s not an original painting, it's somewhere in the middle. These artists have grown up with technology — they see a printer and scanner as another pencil and paper.”

Although General Public isn't exactly accessible to all the general public just yet, de Rossi is hoping as the technology develops, she can offer lower price points: “I truly believe if people want to own a work, they should be able to.”