I bought a painting recently.
It was something of a celebratory purchase - my business has grown exponentially in the last few months, I’ve launched a second business in the Middle East with a couple of business partners and my loved ones are well. It was also a congratulatory purchase – a ‘well done me’ for riding the waves of uncertainty, sticking with my vision and continuing to believe in what I’m doing.
But that’s not really why I bought it. I bought because when I saw it on Instagram, I knew I had to have it.
That’s right – I bought it on Instagram.
I bought a moment
Leonid Afremov was a Russian–Israeli artist based in Mexico with a unique painting style created by using a palette knife and oils. Throughout his life he promoted and sold his work exclusively over the internet with very few exhibitions and little involvement from dealers and galleries. Since his death in August 2019, his sons have continued to promote his work and share his legacy.
I’d been watching Afremov’s work for a couple of years - splashes of colour that popped up in my Instagram feed that would stop me in my tracks and get me scrolling through the 5 or 6 works featured in any one post.
I feel something I can’t quite explain when I look at his work – poignancy, joy, solitude, life. I can feel the rain on my sleeve as I hold the umbrella, the moment of pure stillness gazing out from the park bench, the cool of the water reflecting upwards as I stand on the bridge.
So when I bought Mysterious Rain Princess it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it. But it caught me in a moment, a moment that I wanted to hold on to. So I took the plunge and with the order done, I sat back to wait for what was to come.
What happened next is one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had as a customer in a long time.
Extraordinary experience lies in the details
There have been many reports on the surge in on-line shopping over last year with the increased appeal of shopping safely from home. Total U.S. online sales reached $73.2 billion in June, up 76.2% compared with $41.5 billion a year earlier.
As a (far-too) frequent on-line shopper, I know the drill. You place your order, you get an email confirming what you ordered, you get notified when it’s shipped and out for delivery and voila! your purchase arrives. (We have Amazon to thank for this.)
So what made this experience so different?
1. They made me feel visible
Purchasing on-line can feel risky because we buy sight unseen and hope that what we are buying will actually show up and be what we thought we’d purchased.
Within 15 minutes of my placing the order I’d received an email confirmation, a thank you and a “we’ll keep you updated as we prepare your order to be shipped from Mexico.” This communication continued right up until the day it was delivered – 6 weeks later - with a weekly progress email from Boris Afremov, Leonid’s son.
That did three important things:
It banished any thoughts I had been having about being scammed or questioning where my money had really gone.
It managed my expectations – in my head I said “oh preparing and then shipping from Mexico will take some time so I won’t be getting this in the next week”.
It made me feel visible – I felt acknowledged and seen. Immediately.
They had started to build the bedrock of any successful relationship – trust.
2. They made me feel validated
I was already engaged in Leonid Afremov's art but over the next 6 weeks, I was invited into the Afremov story. I loved his contemporary approach, not just in his paintings but also his belief in making his work accessible.
Whilst Afremov’s original oil paintings sell for upwards of $20,000 the family has created a range of authentic and guaranteed reproductions which sell from $149.00 on Instagram. It’s clever because it's targeted and relevant – the right product for the right audience – whilst staying true to Afremov’s style, vision and legacy of art for the world. In purchasing my reproduction, I felt connected to Afremov’s individuality and ethos. I also feel that I have invested in versus purchased something, and that something is so much more than a painting.
They validated the person I see myself as by making something ‘just for me’.
3. They made me feel valued
The day before my painting arrived, the doorbell rang and I signed for a package. At first I thought there must have been a mistake – my delivery was booked in for the following day. Also this package was way too small to be what I’d bought. I had a brief and sickening moment of doubt - when I questioned whether in the emotion of the moment, I had made a stupid mistake.
I opened the package to find this beautiful book with a note from Boris apologising for the shipping delay.
A Life in Colour is filled with Dmitry Afremov's (Leonid's other son) stories about growing up as his father’s art developed and features a whole range of paintings, some of which I’d never seen before. The inside cover is also signed by Dmitry himself. I was thrilled.
I remembered sometime later that there had been an email about a delay in the preparation process and that I would receive a small gift. At the time it hadn’t occurred to me that anything had been delayed so I’d forgotten about it but this in no way diluted my joy at receiving this book.
As it says on the cover, it was a life in colour and I was delighted to be invited into it.
They made me feel like my business, good will and patience mattered to them.
The mysterious rain princess
The big day arrived and so did my purchase. I held my breath as I uncapped the packing tube, slid the canvas out and gently unrolled it. Would it be as wonderful as I remembered it? Would I feel the same way as when I pushed the Place Order button?
Here it is – real, vibrant, paint-scraped-on-canvas to create a woman standing alone in the storm and the light.
In those first moments as it lay on the sofa, I felt everything that I’d felt 6 weeks before, and more. And it's all mine. I know exactly where I will hang it and I can’t wait to get it framed and on the wall.
Afremov may have passed on but his work lives on through his family’s commitment to sharing his legacy. It also lives on in the experience I had – from that moment of visceral connection on Instagram right through to gazing at it in my home each day and feeling its magic.
I thought I had bought a moment but what I got was an extraordinary experience.
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