Wednesday 25 April 2018

Painting by numbers: how to start an art collection

Think owning an original is only for the ultra-rich? Think again - anyone can get in on the game with a bit of insider information

Brave art: Mark Dunne with a Dan Leo painting
Brave art: Mark Dunne with a Dan Leo painting

Caomhan Keane

As the Celtic Phoenix rises from the ashes once more, her flapping plumage has trapped thousands of us in homes we thought were temporary.

And with soaring house prices making the prospect of owning our own homes seem more remote than ever, our featureless rented accommodation might just become our long-term lodgings.

But while you might not own your own four walls, there's no reason why you can't own what's hanging on them. Binning the Salvador Dali posters and ditching the vile Ikea canvases might be just the thing to turn a house into a home.

Only problem is, for many, it seems like the art world is designed to be as inaccessible as possible. Entering silent galleries, you feel like all eyes are on you, waiting for you to ask a stupid question that exposes you as the neophyte that you are.

"Going back to the Renaissance, collecting art has typically been about peacocking your wealth," says Greg Spring, a curator at Hen's Teeth, who will be presenting a new exhibition of limited edition prints from August 1 at the Fumbally Exchange in Dublin. "So there's a degree of snobbery and insincerity within the art world. The affordable art movement offers people a realistic way of entering the market."

The exhibition is designed to showcase the rise of affordable artists working in Ireland and is expected to attract young art buyers who are starting out on their journey. So what should you be looking out for if you're a beginner?

Affordable art is typically considered anything below €5,000 and most galleries offer works from hot-to-trot artists from as little as €80, which can still feel like a lot for xennials raised on two-for-a-tenner posters from HMV. Olivier Cornet, of the Olivier Cornet Gallery, urges potential buyers to do their homework.

"Find out which galleries are reputable," he says, "which ones are working directly with artists and nurturing their careers. Then visit them."

VUE, Ireland's National Contemporary Art Fair - which takes place in Dublin in November and is free to the public - has a vetting process, so any gallery included in it is a gallery worth visiting.

"Don't be afraid of stating what your budget is. Be straightforward. I know it's intimidating, but gallerists are just happy to see you, even if you're just browsing. They want to forge a relationship with you so you remember them when you are ready to make a purchase." You can set up an Instagram account specifically dedicated to affordable art, saving images you like and showing them to the gallerist who can recommend similar work in your price range. "All major galleries and artists are on social media. See how other artist's respond to their work. See if they have been featured in the Irish Arts Review or in the national newspapers, or how their past work was received."

Some people suggest spending a year discovering your taste before you purchase anything. "Go to the museums, like IMMA or the recently refurbished National Gallery," says Ian Whyte, Managing Director at Whyte's Auctioneers. "Study the form and get some idea of what you like yourself."

Auctions are free to attend and he encourages people to do a dry run before actually bidding on anything, so they get the hang of things. "All our paintings are online before the event. Look them up, see which ones you like and then come along and ask our experts any questions you might have."

Whyte's have held quite a few affordable art auctions of late, with work such as a Jack Yeats print available for as little as €200. Such limited edition prints are a brilliant way to start collecting. "They're relatively inexpensive," says Greg, "and are the perfect way to explore what lights your fire without breaking the bank as you formulate your taste."

If you're still not sure, some galleries allow you to rent art for a trial period. Katie Tsouris founded the online gallery, Artfetch, in Ireland in 2012 before selling it to the UK based Rise Art and joining their team. "The option to rent is really designed to help overcome the daunting final decision to purchase. You can rent something for a month or longer to see if you like the piece and enjoy living with it. People usually end up buying it, but if it turns out you don't like it, you can send it right back."

Olivier urges us not to let our heads get turned by a pretty picture. "If you find something beautiful straight away, you may have resolved it and may never look at it again. A work that retains its mystery is a good thing. When you are unable to resolve it, you will go back to it and pick something new up every time."

Mark Dunne, 34, works at a start-up in Dublin and has about 40 works in his collection. He was exposed to the thriving local arts scene in his home town of Kilkenny through the Little Ghost Gallery and began collecting the artists displayed there, such as Mr Steve McCarthy, Phil Evans, Dan Leo and Mick Minouge.

"It has to catch your attention pretty quickly," he tells me. "I never do it for the money. I'm not going to stick it in a vault waiting for it to accumulate."

He started collecting limited edition prints, three for €40, throwing a nice frame on them and putting them up and down on his wall until he tired of them and re-gifted them. His original art though, he never tires of and, by attending openings, has cultivated enough of a relationship to ask some of the artists to hold the No1 print of a painting for him.

He has spent over €1,500 at Dublin's Hang Tough Framing. "Not only will it preserve the piece, but a nice frame adds to the overall aesthetic and impact when hung on the wall."

And if a piece isn't working, he suggests simply rearranging how it is displayed. "When my girlfriend moved in with me, she didn't like a series of paintings I owned. But when we moved into a different flat together, and it was hung in a different manner, she grew to love it."

"Buying art is not for any one demographic or type of person," adds Katie. "The only requirement is wanting to find and buy art you love - and there is no measure of intelligence associated with that."

Hens Teeth Presents New Masters at the Fumbally Exchange, August 1-6.

Ones to watch

Mr Steve McCarthy

It’s your man off the telly! Best known for his work on Jameson Whiskey’s recent limited edition bottles, his illustrations are immediately identifiable, intricate and trippily terrific.

Dan Leo

A graffiti artist who does incredible work on canvass and has recently moved on to tattoos. As his style changes and evolves, Dan promises to keep intriguing those who collect his work.

Denise Nestor

The detail she captures in her pencil portrait photographs is simply outstanding. Her portraits of John Hawkes, Daniel Day Lewis and Matthew McConaughey have all been featured in the New York Times, while her series featuring sleeping woodland animals is simply exquisite.

Leah Hewson

She may be part of a family tree whose most famous branch features a man named after a hearing aid but as our own Niall MacMonagle says “she’ll follow her own star,” thanks to her twisted, trippy works that distort childlike imagery with delightful effect.

Irish Independent

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