Framed group portrait by Abigail Varney, digital print 2013.
Full collector disclosure - this one isn't "mine"... I bought it for my partner and it hangs on our wall at home, so I guess it's "ours"?? Guhhh, OK, it's His.
In a bit of a panicked state back in 2013, it was rapidly approaching my partner Nick's 30th birthday. While listing off things he loves in my head (art, dressing up, attention, being immortalised, his friends, a bit of a project) I had a lightbulb moment; I would make him the star of his own photoshoot featuring his closest friends, doubling as a small party. Ding!
First things first, finding a photographer - Lucky for us the year before I had met and befriended incredible young photographer Abigail Varney. Abi works mainly in fine art landscape / street photography, portraiture, and shoots the occasional wedding to pay the bills. Having studied at Melbourne's Photography Studies College, completed an NYC internship with Mary Ellen Mark, had a hand full of exhibitions, and some very impressive portrait commissions under her belt (but not yet the jet-setting-rockstar artist she will surely become), Abi was at the perfect point in her career for me to approach her with a commission and not feel like she might regret getting involved. Also, we got along really well so I knew she'd be the perfect fit for the unconventional shoot I had in mind.
The second lucky-for-us was that Nick at the time was building a bar with a 400 capacity band room and a ten meter stage to boot. The venue (Howler, in Brunswick) was nearing completion, so as a long shot I asked his boss if we could use the band room as our backdrop. In an incredible act of generosity, he said yes. (Looking back, that was an immensely trusting leap he took there, thanks Brendan!)
I'd had a little bit of experience in styling and wardrobe (and quite frankly couldn't afford to pay a professional to do it) so I came up with an easy to follow theme loosely based around the Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet gatefold artwork. There was no lighting at the venue at that stage, nor was there much else of use to us really, so it was a case of all hands on deck to help in the set up. We dragged in the huge table, props from where ever we could find them, hooked up a couple of work lights, and set about making the scene look genuine with the pizzas and booze until Abigail arrived.
I'm not sure how many frames Abi took, it must have been like herding cats for her, I'm almost certain that at least one of us was blinking, blurry, or absent in every single shot - except this one. Thankfully, one is all you need right?
I realise this particular way of collecting artwork is a bit more involved than usual. It isn't like a Pinterest scenario where you can have a crack at DIY-ing along at home, and I know that it's pretty rare to have access to a band room, set, or costumes, or outrageously gorgeous friends(!), but I highly recommend it none the less. There's an endless array of emerging photographers out there, especially those willing to work outside the box, it's a win, win really. All you need do is ask.
Artwork - Nick and Friends, 2013, digital print, framed.
Price - Arrround $600ish inc frame (excluding pizzas etc.)
Purchased via - Abigail Varney
Find out more:
Michael Joseph's Beggars Banquet
Howler Bar and Theatre
Nick and Friends, by Abigail Varney, digital print 2013.
That Night by Stephen Baker, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 40x40cm
I've titled this post Lucky Me because this artwork didn't exist two weeks before I bought it, and it possibly would never have existed if I hadn't been trying to get someone else to buy it.
I work at a gallery in Brunswick called Tinning Street Presents and in 2014 we were exhibiting Stephen Baker's second solo show with us. I'd only been curating for a year so I was still pretty fresh to the whole business and was jumping out of my skin to make people happy (I still am, obviously, but with more of a poker face).
You'd think that being a curator you'd be buying your artists work left, right, and centre, but the opposite is true. You spend so much time with the artist and artwork in the lead up that you think too much about it second guessing your judgement along the way - do I only like it because I've looked at for so long and the artist is so, so, SO nice??! This thought process usually goes on until it's too late and the work sells from under you. Or you realise you have no money. Whichever comes first.
In the case of Stephen's exhibition, I knew I loved the work and I was prepared to buy, the only problem was that people started contacting me and wanting to buy pre-show and I got caught up in a whirlwind of sales (what a problem to have right?!). During said whirlwind, a buyer wanted a particular pair of paintings to go together, sadly for him one of them had already sold. I knew Stephen was super organised and had motivation to paint a little more, so I mentioned the situation to him and he was happy to make an additional piece for the show. What a winner. I thought I was a curatorial winner too.... Well, as the case may be and I've since learned, some buyers are full of hot-air, good intentioned hot-air, but hot-air none the less. The buyer decided to go with just the one after all, and with only a couple of hours before opening night the new piece sat on the wall, the only painting sans dot. Other buyers didn't know it existed yet, now was my chance, I had to take it, I loved the work and how could I ignore the chain of dumb luck that had brought it to me? I couldn't.
Artwork - Stephen Baker, That Night, 2014, acrylic on canvas, framed.
Price - $420
Purchased via - Tinning Street Presents
Find out more:
Tinning Street Presents
That Night by Stephen Baker, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 40x40cm
As an artist, I try to show my work at least two or three times a year. This past year I realised I haven't done much by way of getting out there, and my last solo exhibition was three years ago. So when the opportunity to be involved in the Hawthorn Arts Centre Art Swap cropped up, I jumped on board for this reason. I make art, I want people to collect my art, and I collect art - perfect.
The idea of blindly giving away artwork is fraught with anxiety inducing variables, and it's the sort of thing that would usually have me shaking my head with a dismissive smirk, but as this particular swap was application based, and the curator was one that I trust I was more willing to go with the idea. Still though, making the commitment to enter was a nerve-wracking experience, not knowing if what I put forward might be too valuable to me and I'd resent the experience, or even worse, if it wasn't enough and I'd be the reason for some poor other artist's disappointment. After much deliberation, I decided to enter a painting which I on one hand had worked really hard on, but on the other, I wasn't quite satisfied with. The painting had been sitting in my studio with no real purpose until I dusted it off (at the beck and call of getting involved), gave it a brutal cropping and a new frame, at which point I was extremely happy with it. It seemed like the perfect piece to present, having once been destined for the dreaded over-paint, now a resolved piece; and all due to the motivation to be in the swap. I thought I owed it that much.
How the swap worked was really quite simple and was surprisingly giddying. Once selected by the curator, all works were delivered to the gallery, several days later the artists were invited to attend and the actual swapping was to take place. The day was held in a kind of art studio / conference room at the Hawthorn Arts Centre. Only the artists and organisers attended. The room was set up with chairs in one half (like AA meetings on TV), and hidden to us with use of partitions down the centre, were the artworks. A Perfect Match jokes aside, how we managed to sit there patiently and socialise without peeking is beyond me. We all took a random number, two by two our numbers were pulled from a hat and we were permitted a couple of minutes to duck behind the partition, view the works and tag the one we wanted to claim. By the time we got to halfway the room was incredibly tense and people had begun to quietly woop or sigh as the odds lessened. Myself, I couldn't stop giggling. It was much more fun than I had expected to have in a room full of strangers.
By the time it came to my turn, I have to admit, there were a couple of pieces that I was sorry to see had already been taken, c'est la vie. Having said that, I was absolutely thrilled to bits with spying this ceramic basketball planter by ceramicist, artist, and jeweller, Kirsten Perry. I had a funny feeling that perhaps others had missed it on account of it at first glance looking like an actual rubber basketball with the top cut off. But then again, perhaps I was the first one that the work had appealed to. I'll never know.
All in all the experience was a highly entertaining and social way of obtaining a new piece for my collection, as well as some unexpected motivation to look deeper into how I value my own work and the emotional strings that are attached.
Lessons Learnt - Getting in-there and involved with contemporaries, is actually quite rewarding (why don't I do it more often??). Thinking outside the box in regard to obtaining artwork can be a good way of keeping costs low, and experiences high!
Artwork - Kirsten Perry
Price - Swap/Trade
Purchased via - Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre
Find out more:
Town Hall Gallery
Hawthorn Arts Centre
About the art swap
Kent Wilson, Curator
In 2012 a local gallery had their fundraiser bar takings stolen, and to recoup some of their losses they listed an artwork for auction on ebay which had been donated to them by local artist Andy Wear. At the time I didn't know who the artist was or what the artwork looked like but I was willing to put in a bid purely as a donation to the gallery. I think the auction was only at about $100, and was drawing to an end when I made, to my surprise, the winning bid.
This is one of the most unexpected and most controversial artworks I've been involved with. Essentially, the piece is a conté drawing on paper from one of Australia's most celebrated visual artists Sidney Nolan, and it has been pan-fried by contemporary artist Andy Wear.
The drawing was given to Wear's Grandfather by Nolan himself (it's said to be a sketch of him). I'm told Grandfather Wear didn't really care for it, or art in general. Eventually it found it's way to Wear, who wasn't that phased about it either but saw it's implied potency and the power of it's projected value (*maniacal laugh in the distance). He also claims to have had a dream which seeded the idea for frying the work.
You'll never get a straight answer out of me as to whether I think it's right or wrong to alter another artists work, I did buy the piece though so I am obviously leaning toward one side in this case.
Messing with another artwork is not a new idea, in fact it sits quite comfortably in the Neo Dadaist movement, but it never ceases to get debates roaring. The 1953 "Erased de Kooning Drawing" by Robert Rauchenberg is now considered an historically important piece and is owned by the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art. Some six decades later, it surprises me that Wear's actions were met with such excitement; in one opinion piece Wear was sighted as a "dickhead", it was suggested he would have done the art world more of a service by frying his own testicles, and that the artwork was destroyed along with it's monetary value. To me, these sentiments are all faulted in one way - the artwork in it's original form is only seen as worthy of protection because we are told it is, similarly it is officially destroyed and worthless only when we are told it is. You can sense where I'm going with this so I'll leave it there, bar this thought; We readily accept blurred lines between realism & abstraction, performance & painting, installation & sound art, to name just a few; why not between representative art & conceptual art?
The once unwanted sketch combined with a process (frying) and a preconceived set of rules (Sidney Nolan is a national treasure) have produced the physical embodiment of a conceptual artwork. This to me, is a new kind of valuable.
From my point of view as the current owner, in this incarnation of the Fried Nolan, taking into consideration how I purchased the piece and at what price, I can safely say that I am immensely happy with it. It is visually gorgeous with it's textures, golden hues and bleeding lines. It has a rich and lively story. It was a bargain, and of charitable nature in each step of it's journey so far, and it reminds me that art cannot, and will not be pinned down by popular culture to die a slow and boring death.
Lessons learnt - Sometimes art makes us uncomfortable, this doesn't mean it's bad (or good). One soul's trash is another soul's treasure. Value is relative.
Artwork - Andy Wear / Sidney Nolan
Price - $120
Purchased via - Ebay / Brunswick Arts
Find out more:
Erased de Kooning Drawing
Watch Andy fry the drawing
Fried Nolan articles:
Arts Hub, Daily Telegraph , News.com.au , Moreland Leader
I'm lucky to have started my art career at the dawn of the digital age, the use of photographic slides to document and share your artwork was still common but it was only a few years before digital photography and the internet opened up sparkling streams for artists to float their work worldwide. Having experienced both of these scenarios I feel like I have an appreciation and understanding either way, but I, without a doubt in my mind prefer being an artist of the now.
I'm not even going to begin to scrape the surface of what the internet has done for artists (or what it has taken away), I'd just like to narrow in on the social media side of things, and even closer in... Instagram. I'm not assuming you have an account, but I'm pretty sure you have a grasp on the general idea, people share their photographs, you can look at them if you want to. Selfies and food pics aside, what you might not know is that visual artists have taken up the network as their own, it has become a vast and buzzing database of realtime worldwide creativity. Artists post their works in progress, shots of their studios, as well as the processes and final pieces. Not only are we getting a more in-depth understanding of the artist as an individual, as a human, but we are gaining access to a direct line of communication with them. I personally treat my account as a library, cataloguing artists and groups I admire, pouring through the images at my leisure.
Once you go ahead and choose a thread to tug at by searching for things you legitimately want in your 'library', bit by bit the web will light up before you revealing a previously unimaginable network of art, artists and artworks.
Erik Jones is an New York based artist I came across in this way. One follow here, one follow there, and eventually the path led me to his account. I knew nothing of him, I liked his work, I started to follow, no big deal.
After about six months of having Jones' work regularly pop up in my feed, I became familiar with his style, his processes and his musing. By the time he announced his Dipped series print release, I had no hesitation in handing over my money, I felt like I was part of it already. What an immeasurably valuable tool for an artist, AND for a buyer!!
The series I purchased is a set of five high quality, A5, double sided, spot gloss prints. Each print is signed and dated, and rather than being editioned (limited to an amount of reprints) the prints have a time limit and are only available during 2016. I haven't come across this way of doing things before but I think it's a great way of retaining a sense of exclusivity for the buyer while allowing the artist to expand sales when needed.
I plan on getting my favourite of the five prints framed (pictured below) and I've already gifted two. Overall, I'm happy to be directly supporting an artist in a viable and sustainable way while receiving the artwork that I would otherwise not have been able to afford; or been able to find for that matter.
Lessons learnt - Social media is a valuable sales/buyer tool. Hashtags aren't just for hipsters.
Artwork - Erik Jones
Price - US$36 (print set of five) US$22 (postage to AUS) = US$58 / AU$78
Purchased via - Erik Jones Art Website
Find out more -
Instagram (Erik Jones)
Instagram (one of my favourites - Death of a coworker)
This piece was one of the very first and only pieces I've ever bought from a gallery in a traditional sense. I'd gone along to the opening of a friend's exhibition at Fortyfive Downstairs in Melbourne's Flinders Lane, and while not expecting more than a wine or two, I ended up not only purchasing an artwork, but a work by a completely different artist to the one I'd gone to support (sorry friend!). As many multi-space galleries do when exhibiting more than one artist, there was a joint opening and Christine Larsen's just happened to coincide with the one I was attending.
As Larsen's first solo exhibition, it was pretty polished and was thematically strong under the title Encrusted. I was immediately attracted to this piece (pictured) but it didn't really enter my mind that I could own it.
At this stage, in 2011, I had exhibited a couple of times as an artist myself but I hadn't yet experienced what buying 'off the wall' felt like or how it actually worked for that matter. I picked up the room-sheet to check the titles etc, and lo and behold at around $400, the prices were less than half of what I had anticipated they would be. Initially I had thought the works must be prints, the blacks were so black and so consistent, and the prices seemed low, but now that I knew (thanks to the room-sheet, always read the room-sheet) that they were original works and they were in my price range, a whole new world opened up before me.
I said a shy hello to the gallery attendant and asked her if I could buy it. She said I could. No surprises there, although a big part of me thought maybe I had misread the price and that I would be laughed out of the gallery thinking that I could even afford to be there. After agreeing I'd pay it off over a month or so I walked away thinking "What even happened? I'm a buyer? I buy art? I can do that??!"
Looking back after a few years of handling the gallery end of things, I have to remind myself of how intimidating the gallery situation can be. When people sidle up to me clutching their sheet of paper like an urgent piece of evidence and nervously ask "how does this work?", I remember the feeling; an unknown social situation, not knowing if it's even happening, not knowing if you're getting yourself into something you can't carry through. But more importantly I also remember the air gathering under my feet and the feeling I was becoming part of the artist, a true form of support, and I focus on this, this is the part of the experience the buyer should remember.
Lessons learnt - Always read the room-sheet. The gallery attendant is your friend.
Artwork - Christine Larsen
Price - $400 (approx) including frame.
Purchased via - Fortyfive Downstairs
Find out more -
As the first post, I feel a certain self-applied pressure to make it an important, all encompassing, explanatory, and meaningful one.. But in the spirit of this blog I've decided it's best to just go with my gut (you'll be hearing that expression a lot).
This photographic laser print was purchased at an exhibition titled 35ppm, put together by Melbourne indi publishing house Bloom Publishing. The title of the exhibition came from how many laser prints their printer (which they had dragged in and set up in the gallery) could pump out per minute.
The show was held at Tinning Street in 2015 and featured 30 A3 black & white photographs by Australian and international photographers. Of the displayed works each piece was available to purchase for $20 and was printed on the spot with a limit of 10 sold per image. They also published a book of the works. Very clever.
When artworks are priced at $20, you kind of have this feeling wash over you... is it greed? I don't know, but it feels good and urgent and you have to use all your strength to not shove everyone out of the way and buy the lot.
I knew absolutely nothing about Katarina Soskic, I actually didn't find out her name until much later. My choice was based purely on how her photograph made me feel. The sheer exuberance of it. This sounds like a bit of a cop-out as a reason to buy an artwork but I'm here to tell you, it's as good a reason as any. Perhaps it's a better reason than most now that I think of it. We have an internal databank of feelings and experiences which are triggered by images (among other things), and while this image may not be for you, it is most definitely a trigger for me. It hangs in our kitchen in industrial Brunswick, and damn, does it make me feel free!
Lessons learnt - Buy it because you like it. Cheap isn't always bad.
Artwork - Katarina Soskic
Price - $20 (plus custom frame = $120)
Purchased via - Tinning Street Presents / Bloom Publishing
Find out more -
35ppm the book
Tinning Street Presents
Nicholas Blackmore Framing
The Humble Collector.
By sharing the unique stories of how I came to own the art I do, I hope to show you that not only is buying art for your home exciting, enriching and painless, but it's undeniably rewarding for all involved.