Monday, 1 June 2015

Why do some of us buy art?

This post has been prompted by Elizabeth Barton's post: Why don't people buy art?  and the comments that people made on it.  As someone who has reached the stage in life where there are numerous framed art works stacked around the house 'resting' because we do not have enough wall space for everything, this post set me thinking as to how I came to have so much: one or two 'real' paintings, quite a few limited edition prints, framed small quilts and larger quilts which used to hang on the landing but came down when we had the landing redecorated.  Not to mention all the things, including a lot of framed photos, which we have hung in the past.

Elizabeth's post was mainly about quilt art which here in the UK seems to be extremely difficult to sell unless you are a 'name' or on the road to becoming one.  I was very interested in the reasons she gave as to why people do not buy art and how it is not 'done' to discuss it and compare what you have in the way people do with other possessions.  Like the reader who said they bought a painting from someone who later became famous, we have one painting by a contemporary Cornish artist who now commands huge sums but we bought it over twenty years ago when he was little known and therefore affordable.  I was also interested in the people who said they had other forms of art work such as glass.  We once had a lovely collectors' piece of pottery by John Leach but a cat knocked it off the dining room table so I realised that cats and breakables don't mix!

Like several of the people who commented, I grew up in a house where we always had art.  This watercolour is the first picture I remember:

My paternal grandmother bought it for my parents and it hung above the sitting room mantlepiece in several houses.  It is a very New Zealand scene of pohutukawa trees beside a river and is by John Gully who was the great grandson of a famous pioneer artist, John Gully.  Eric Gully was born in 1900 and worked as a draughtsman and surveyor until serious illness forced him to stop working and he turned to painting. This painting was done in 1947 and I am pretty sure my grandmother bought it from the Napier Art Gallery's annual show.

I cannot remember my parents buying any art work during my childhood other than a print of a French street scene but we certainly did not have blank walls as Elizabeth mentions in her post.  Both sets of grandparents also had art on the walls including the paintings I wrote about in my last post. As children we used to be allowed to share out my grandparents' 'used' Christmas cards, (This was in the 1950s when reproductions of famous paintings were popular with people who had their cards professionally printed) and my father used to frame them with passpartout so that we could hang them on our bedroom walls.  That is how I learnt about people such as Constable, Reynolds, the Impressionists and the Dutch school.  I do not remember going through a 'poster' phase.  I think this is partly because we were home-based university students and did not have students rooms or flats to decorate.  Also I think the poster revolution happened a bit later.

It was when I first left home at the age of 22 that I realised you could buy art and hang it on the wall.  I moved to Canberra, Australia and within a few weeks I went to Sydney for a weekend and bought four prints from an up-market furniture store so that I had something to put on the walls of my room in a university hall of residence.  I had them framed.  Two of them have bitten the dust but we still have this one.

It is a linocut of a Sydney 'lace' house by Doreen Folkerts but I have not been able to find out much about her.

It was in Canberra that I bought my first 'proper' painting.  There is quite a story behind its purchase.  There was a branch of a Sydney Gallery which had a sort of auction in which they asked every artist who had exhibited with them to supply one painting that could be sold for $70 Aus (this was 1968).  There was a private view on the Friday evening where you could 'choose' the painting you wanted but you had to queue up for the sale on Saturday morning and your chances of getting the painting of your choice were determined by how near the front of the queue you were.  I was in a group of four so we got up very early and queued outside the gallery as though queueing for theatre tickets or a football match. After the private view we made a list of  four paintings, one for each of us but we did not all want the same one.  I think this was probably a good thing. There were only two people in front of us in the queue so we knew we had a good chance of getting what we wanted but there was a chance we would get something one of the others had chosen.  It was mid-winter so we had to wrap up warm and I think we took a flask of coffee with us.  There was also a complicating factor in that it was the day of the Hall of Residence's Ball (well it was 1968!) and we had all arranged to have our hair done.  Fortunately the leader of our group knew the gallery manager so she gave her the list of the  paintings we wanted, we all went off to the hairdresser and did not find out until the evening whether we had got what we wanted.

All worked out well and we still have the painting.  It is called 'The Way' and it is made of gesso and very thick paint with what appears to be a metal cross so I suspect it has a religious theme. The only problem is that I cannot decipher the artist's name. I was told at the time that he was a South Australian and a couple of years later, by which time I was in the UK, I heard that he had died and the value of his paintings had increased.  I think the signature may be in Greek.  Over the years I have scoured books on Australian art in the 1960s but have never found anything that looked as though the style and the signature  could be this person.  Now I have turned to the internet but I am not hopeful as the signature is almost illegible.  However, I am learning a lot about Australian art, a topic I knew about in the short time I lived there but have not kept up with.