Portia de Rossi Tells Us All the Details of General Public, Her Innovative New Art Company

Thanks to Portia de Rossi, now you don’t have to be an art collector to, well, collect art. The actress is launching an innovative consumer-art company, General Public, a collaboration with artists that features Synographs™ (or textured prints) for the time- and cost-conscious consumer.

Synographs are created with 3-D printers to imitate the artist’s articulations; the artist’s work is aesthetically the same as what the General Public customer is purchasing.

De Rossi, who is married to Ellen DeGeneres, has embraced the idea that art isn’t exclusive to the elite. “The art collection that Ellen and I have is a big part of why I wanted to start an ‘art publishing’ company. I feel guilty that only Ellen and I get to enjoy our works! I figured there must be a way to share paintings with people who want the same experience that we are privileged enough to have,” she tells AD. “Living with extraordinary art is incredible.”

In honor of de Rossi’s launch (as of May 10, General Public will be available online and in RH Modern galleries), we chatted with Portia about her new endeavor, her own preference in art, and what’s currently hanging in the couple’s home(s) now.

Architectural Digest: Tell us about the idea for your new endeavor, General Public. What about it is different from other art brands?

Portia de Rossi: As a lifelong art lover and collector, I recognized the gap in terms of quality and price between works shown through a gallery and works that are readily available. Even if the customer has taste, he or she doesn’t necessarily have the time or passion to visit art galleries and learn the art market. Most people are left with the choice of purchasing a black-and-white photograph or a black squiggle on a white piece of paper.

Until now, technology has not enabled painters to re-create paintings with all the dimension and texture of the original. I set about to work with technology companies to develop new technology to make a textured print. I call it a “Synograph,” the synergy of art and technology. General Public’s styles, sizes, and prices vary. The styles range from abstract to representational and even portraiture from the 1850s. We have four collections: Studiomarks; our contemporary collection, Colorfield, which is a nod to the great Abstract Expressionism movement; Found Art; and General Public Domain. On average, the price for a framed Synograph is $1,000.

Portia de Rossi’s favorite General Public work: an abstract by artist Seb Sweatman entitled Makeba.

AD: What do you want to achieve with General Public?

PdR: Our motto is: “Support Artists, Not Art.” As an artist myself, I have watched every other art form use technology to cut out the middleman, democratize art, and empower the artist. For example, the printing press and the internet have revolutionized writing; the phonograph and the MP3 have revolutionized music. And yet painters’ careers are still controlled by gallerists. I want painters to have the ability to sell editions of their paintings to maximize their profitability. I also want the folks who really appreciate these artists to be able to own and enjoy their works – and not just the wealthy few. A novel isn’t any less brilliant because there are thousands of copies in circulation. My goal is that the Synograph shakes up the antiquated idea that scarcity is how we should value art. It should be valuable because it’s good, not because it’s rare.

AD: Who is General Public’s customer – and why is he or she more attracted to a Synograph than other works?

PdR: The General Public customer enjoys design and has an eye for iconic pieces. Ours is a customer that knows a little or a lot about art but has limited time or interest in shopping the galleries. A Synograph is almost identical to an original painting with all the texture and articulation created by the artist – which means that one is able to enjoy the work just as the artist painted it and intended it to be enjoyed. It’s more valuable that its “poster” counterpart.

AD: Who is more interested in art, you or Ellen?

PdR: Ellen collected photography before we met, but I introduced her to paintings. Ellen’s style is a little more minimalist than mine. I can’t get enough emotion in my paintings, and Ellen likes precision and restraint.

Ellen DeGeneres’s favorite General Public work: A composition by artist Molly Snee entitled Rooms 1-9.

AD: What art do you have in your homes now? Who are the artists that you like?

PdR: I’m a big fan of postwar and contemporary art. I studied it at school and pored over art magazines as a kid. Now, I’m fortunate enough to have some of my favorite painters in our collection. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol were the first artists I wanted to collect. As my understanding of the art market increased, I started collecting lesser-known contemporary painters. My all-time favorite painters are Cy Twombly, Jenny Saville, Christopher Wool, Joan Mitchell, Wade Guyton, Elizabeth Peyton, Lucian Freud, Anne Truitt, and Alexander Calder, Martin Barre – and the list goes on.

AD: Do you have General Public art in your homes? Do your friends have General Public art in their homes?

PdR: We have Sarah Bird’s Forest Still Life in our living room in Beverly Hills and the same artist’s Laine in our house in Santa Barbara. I do have orders from patient friends – perfecting these prints has taken 18 months! But, we are finally ready to launch. My favorite General Public work is a big, messy abstract with enormous brushstrokes called Makeba by Seb Sweatman, and Ellen’s favorite is a delicate, deliberate compositional work called Rooms 1–9 by Molly Snee.

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