Art house: A painting or print should be much more than just an accessory in a room
Love at first sight is a powerful experience. Sometimes it lasts, sometimes it doesn't and only time will tell. The best plan is to let the romance settle and not to rush into anything.
The same principle applies when you're buying a painting, at least according to an art collector that I met at a gallery opening a few weeks ago. "I would never buy a painting on impulse," he said. "The painting that first catches your eye can be one that you'll tire of very quickly. The good ones keep coming back into your mind, niggling at you like a stone in your shoe. They won't let you go. Those are the paintings that will hold your interest over time."
So first, you find your heart's desire and then you walk away from it. But what if someone else buys it in the meantime? The art collector shrugged. "It happens. You just have to let it go. There are other paintings."
The crux of the matter is that buying a painting takes a bit of confidence. It's an important decision, not just aesthetically, but also financially. An original painting is a relatively expensive purchase. "When people haven't bought art before, they can be very insecure about it," says Summer Obaid of the online gallery, Fine Art Seen.
The artworks that they sell are painted by artists across the world and mostly come as ready-to-hang canvases stretched on wooden frames. They generally don't require further framing. Prices range from €100 to around €5,000, but most of her customers pay between €300 and €700 for an original painting. "You'd pay that for a sofa, but that's a purchase that most people would take fairly seriously too," she says.
If your budget is less than €100, you'd be better going for a limited edition print and there's a damn fine collection at Dublin's North Brunswick Street Studio, Damn Fine Print.
As well as providing an investment, paintings and wall-mounted art can lift the look of your home immeasurably and provide interest on every wall, be it in pride of place over the fireplace in the living room or as some light whimsy on the wall of a downstairs wc. A walk around a gallery outlet that sells the sort of thing you like has been the traditional route of purchasers in search of local artists, but online opens up the world.
Buying art online is not for everyone, but it has some big advantages. The price of a painting from Fine Art Seen includes delivery to anywhere on the globe and if you don't like it, you can send it back within two weeks at no extra cost. Just don't throw out the packaging until you're certain you want to keep it.
Artfinder, an online gallery that offers an equivalent service, has similar terms of business and an emphasis on original paintings that sell for less than £500 (€576). Both galleries are UK based, but represent artists from many countries, including Ireland. Online-only galleries seem like a good deal for artists too. Fine Art Seen charges a commission of 30pc, which is much less than most physical galleries and seems typical within the online-gallery business.
But how do you choose a painting you haven't actually seen? Fine Art Seen offers an advisory service, based on an online questionnaire which helps you to define your taste in very simple terms. Do you like abstract art or landscapes? What is your budget? What size of painting are you looking for? What room do you plan to put it in?
As part of my research for this article, I completed the questionnaire and asked for recommendations for a medium-sized (50 x 100cm) abstract painting for my living room, within a budget of between €300 and €500. I also sent in a snapshot of my living room. The curators came back to me with a list of 12 paintings. The top five had been photo-shopped into my living room. This was quite a revelation for me.
If I had chosen a painting without first seeing it in the room, I would have gone for a square one (probably because the wall is square). Once I saw the options in situ, I realised that an oblong landscape-shaped painting looked very much better in the space. That's not something I would have known without using the service.
In general, Fine Art Seen's advisory service is really useful, but one of the questions gave me pause for thought: "Is there anything else in the room that you need to co-ordinate the painting with?" On one level, this is a sensible question. If you've got a room decorated with antique furniture, Javier Pena's abstract portrait of Jimi Hendrix (€822) might look out of place. But it might also look stunning.
For some people, art is purely decorative. It's something to fill the gap on the wall and it needs to match the décor. Other people (I'm one of them) feel that a painting should lead the decorative scheme, rather than follow it.
I'm not a fan of the school of decoration, often seen in show houses, where the dominant colour in the painting on the wall is the exact same shade of red as the cushions and throw on the bed. It looks like the painting was chosen to match the throw (and maybe it was). My issue with this look is that it's very superficial and therefore not satisfying in the long term. For me, a painting needs to be meaningful as well as beautiful. This is a simple emotional connection. You can love a painting because it reminds you of your summer holidays or a pet that you had when you were a child, or because the colours make you feel happy. You really don't have to be an art critic to experience meaning in art. But if the painting on your wall means something to you, you will get more pleasure from it over time.
That said, if you've chosen a painting in moody shades of blue with a tracing of gold running through it, bringing out the same colours in the soft furnishings and accessories - that too can look amazing. You just need to let the painting lead the way. Always.
For more info, see artfinder.com, damnfineprint.com, fineartseen.com.