Saturday 24 March 2018

Artist Pauline: I'm the Queen of Swap


What do Honda, PepsiCo and Pauline Bewick all have in common? Answer: Bartering. While trading of goods and services has long been an established fact of life for big corporations (the International Reciprocal Trade Association estimates that in 2011 over 400,000 companies earned nearly €11bn worldwide from bartering) and the Kerry-based art legend shows the practice is often a good idea for the rest of us too.

From the food she eats to her hair appointments Pauline finds a way to make a deal without having to use actual cash. In fact she calls herself 'the Queen of Swap'.

"Well, I got the name in the art school in Kildare Street in the 1950s," she tells me. "I would say to someone, 'oh your sweater is gorgeous – would you swap it for a pair of shoes?' And the idea caught on among my friends. We would have swap sales. Once a fellow even dressed up as a woman and stayed on for the sale – we nearly killed him! But it was a lot of fun – we all ended up having totally new wardrobes without any money changing hands."

Eventually Pauline imported the idea to Kerry, where she initially encountered some resistance, "but somehow or other we always laughed our way through it".

She once swapped stone slabs with a local man in exchange for a painting.

"I needed a surround for my garden and he had set his heart on a painting of mine," she tells me. Another time she swapped a sketch of Puck Fair in exchange for a door.

"People tend to do well out my swaps because of course in time the painting will increase in value whereas the door won't," she says. "But we both got exactly what we wanted. It's not just the monetary value. Some pictures are of great personal or sentimental value."

There was a time when people would fly down to Pauline's Kerry home in helicopters to pick to up paintings. The country was awash with money and artists' boats rose in the high tide of the boom. But those days are long gone and she says that since the recession hit, bartering has become increasingly big part of her personal economy. She'll trade paintings for antiques, and even prints for food. She's found it's something that people take quite easily to and now it's often others making the offers.

"Word got out and people come and they'll ask me if they can clean the house in exchange for a piece. And they do a terrific job."

Swapping with locals might be one thing, but going into a shop and trying it with the salesperson might test some people's embarrassment reflex. But not Pauline's, which has been obliterated by years of joyous bargain making. In Dublin city centre, she applies the same tactics as in rural Kerry.

Pauline is writing a book about her life and work and, because she is dyslexic, relies on two people – a man and a woman – to type the transcript for her.

"I work out the hours and what the equivalent would have been for a painting and we do it that way. It really works well for everyone."

Pauline says the trick with bartering is to be firm, but enter into it with a sense of generosity and fun.

"Parting with cash can be so much more painful than parting with a thing. We don't need so many things. I don't see it (bartering) as beating the economy as such, but as it happens that's exactly what it does."


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