Saturday, August 18, 2012


Until Recently I've written a column for The Adelaide Review called my collection where I visits the art collections of everyday Adelaideans; people who collect art for the love, not to show off or use their purchases as an investment but rather the pure and simple joy of building an art collection.

all images by Jonathan VDK


August, 2012
Knowing who you really are takes constant practice but falling in love with someone else can sometimes help. Collecting a bit of art doesn’t hurt either. Naomi Murrell and partner Dave Stace have both love and art woven together in the jewellery label that forms the centre of their lives. Together they create and the art they collect fuels their creation. When their world demands too much, their collection provides a place to escape. But, most of all, their art collection reaffirms a curious connection that’s been there from the very beginning.
“In a way it’s my job to find, and show people, other ways of seeing,” Naomi says. “So living with the work of other artists reminds me of the perspectives that they’ve found.” Since the beginning, Naomi has been the point of origin for the label’s creative vision. “The art we collect does influence what I create but so does everything else. It’s like being a filter that takes everything in and refines it down to what’s essential.” Turning chaos into harmony is difficult in any medium but turning that harmony into a thriving business demands a different set of tools. “There’s only so many hats you can wear without going crazy,” Dave says. “I’ve always focussed on the strategy of the business.”
With these equal and opposite roles, together, they make it work. But in contrast to the madness, Naomi’s illustrations and jewellery display a delicate clarity that offers the eyes relief from the chaos of the mind. As items that mark Naomi’s pursuit of a unique aesthetic they are often treated as collectables by customers who recognise themselves in her work. “Those connections are what makes it worthwhile,” she says. “Often you find that the people who really connect with your work are actually kindred spirits.”
The same is true for the art that Naomi and Dave collect. Their first acquisition was a black and white illustration in pencil and gouache by Anna Creasy. “She’s actually moved to Canada,” Naomi says, “but we’ve been great friends for years now.” Creasy’s image is similar to Naomi’s own work with its elegant femininity but is distinctive in its mood. “She’s not just a pretty girl. She’s got an attitude,” Naomi says. “I also like my girls with attitude,” Dave quips.
Since that first step their collection has grown to include illustrative works by Melbourne-based artist Kat Macleod and local talent Matt Stuckey as well as a selection of limited edition prints. “When you look at the collection as a whole it all goes together even though it wasn’t planned that way. I think that’s how you know that you’re really collecting work you love… we never think of it as an investment.”
When a collection belongs to two people you would imagine there might be difficulties in deciding on new acquisitions but Naomi and Dave have no such trouble. “It’s kind of weird,” Dave explains, “we’ll be at an exhibition and when we tell each other which piece we like the best it’s always the same one. When you like something it’s instantaneous. Something just resonates and you know it’s going to continue that way.” And so it was when Naomi first noticed Dave. They were on the same train heading for a design conference and she asked to borrow a magazine. They spoke, something resonated, and soon they realised it was going to continue that way.
When it works, the love between any two people is a creative partnership but when those two people run a business based on creativity, that love flows all the way through. It comes out in what they make and the art they collect so that when they look back it’s easy to understand who they really are and why they connect. The art collected fuels the art created but it also reminds the artists where they belong and that they’re not alone. After all, creating can be a solitary endeavour so when two people can use art to share an understanding, they’re lucky. It’s one of the best things art can do.


June, 2012

A good work of art only gets better with time. Like a relationship, it slowly deepens without you noticing. One way that art does this is by perfectly capturing your feelings at a particular stage in your life, so that every glance from then on brings back that time, those people and that place. Sometimes it’s as much about how you found the artwork, as it is about the work itself. That’s why a good gallery is more than just a clearing-house for art; it’s a point of orbit for an entire community of artists and collectors. Since opening in 2010, Magazine Gallery has been just that for many people. Now, as Magazine enters a new phase, its owners are creating fresh ways for their community to collect art and stay tethered to this time, this city and each other.
For Josh Fanning and Farrin Foster, starting an art collection was a natural extension of their relationship with Adelaide and its young artists. “When you collect an artist’s work,” Fanning says, “you get to know them over time and you start to realise that you’ve been contributing to them being an artist all along. It’s the sort of thing you can’t appreciate from a one off buy.” Their earliest acquisition was Pentapus by local artist Shane Devries who combines a mastery of traditional technique with a joyful imagination. The couple discovered Devries’ work at his first showing back in 2010. Since then Devries has shown nationally and his skills are becoming highly sought after
in animation.
As the couple’s hunger to contribute could no longer be satisfied by their own collection they started the gallery and soon enough the art was spilling onto the street. The murals at the front of the shop and the eastern side of the Morphett Street Bridge are proof of Fanning’s passion for public art. “I’m proud of them as an organiser because the city’s street art is a collection we can all share.” When it comes to acquiring for his personal collection, Fanning has a few simple rules. “I just count the brush marks,” he says jokingly but, in a way, he also means it. “Skill goes a long way. When you look at a really impressive painting and think, ‘I can’t do that’ it gives the image a lot of energy that you can draw from.”
For Foster, the reasons behind collecting are obvious. “It’s just communication. The reason I’ll buy a piece of art is the same reason I’ll buy a book or a magazine, because the artist is saying something that I like.” Following this, it makes sense that the gallery now displays more than just art. A select range of quality magazines from around the world combined with a cafe menu makes Magazine Gallery a place to stay and relax. “Buying art is really personal,” Foster says, “because it means you own a little bit of someone’s history. To do it properly you need to stop for a moment and take it in and the store creates that opportunity for collectors but also for people who wouldn’t normally buy art.”
But even with delicious cakes a gallery can’t make art better than it really is; it can only give you time to take in its subtler qualities. Sometime the image that jumps out at you can get pretty tiresome when it’s still trying to jump out at you six months down the track. Good art reveals itself over time and the best never reveals itself fully. When you find an image that does this, you’ve found a safe time capsule for your memories. You can drop your feelings inside, secure in the knowledge that when you return it’ll be waiting there, better than before.

May, 2012
I believe in luck and that some people have more of it than others. One such person is Greg Hanisch, owner of Central Art Supplies at the Central School of Art in Norwood. I’m making this claim based on the way that most of Greg’s stories tend to reach an oddly favourable outcome in a way that often provokes that feeling of “why can’t that sort of thing happen to me?” In the game of art collecting, a bit of luck can go a long way and the stories behind Greg’s collection are testament to that. But, to be fair, it’s not just luck because Greg’s position and expertise do give him a considerable advantage. In Greg’s own words “you make you own luck. It’s something you create”.
Unlike most art suppliers Greg owns and runs the shop on his own, so his customers know they’re going to see him personally, which is handy because Greg knows everything about the materials he sells. As a result, Central is the supplier of choice for emerging and established artists alike and it’s these relationships that have allowed Greg to build an art collection that rotates constantly between his home and the shop. But occasionally luck plays its part like the time Greg found a painting that had been gathering dust in the school’s corridor. Left years ago, the study of a nude was gradually being nudged towards the school’s skip until its quality caught Greg’s eye and he decided to mount it in the shop. Before long someone identified the artist as Fleur Elise Noble who studied at the Central School before she was swept away by a string of international career opportunities. So, when a girl suddenly appeared in the shop and demanded to know why Greg had the work, he didn’t guess that it was Noble herself. “Oh, I’ll get it down for you,” Greg offered. “No,” she said. “It looks fine there. You keep it.” Ever since, that painting has caught the eye of every customer who enters the shop. Of course Greg insists that his feeling of ownership towards that particular work are no more than that of a custodian, which is a nice thing to say but it doesn’t make him any less lucky.
But perhaps Greg’s best story of lucky art acquisition begins around 1889 with a young Hans Heysen who, at 12 years of age, was a long way from becoming one of Australia’s most renowned artists. At the time old Mrs Heysen was ill, so Hans and his siblings were farmed out to friends and family who stepped in to help. It turns out that the young Hans Heysen stayed with Greg’s grandmother. During his stay Hans completed a small, dark oil painting of the Torrens River that became his gift to Greg’s grandmother as a token of thanks for her hospitality. Years later, the painting was passed down to Greg, not because he asked for it but because “nobody else wanted it! I guess they figured I was the arty one in the family,” Greg said with a wry smile.
What is, perhaps, most interesting about the painting is that it predates Heysen’s excursion to Europe where he acquired the techniques that made his later achievements possible. Therefore, being technically naive, we are offered a glimpse at what the young Heysen was able to teach himself. For anyone interested in the question of ‘what is talent and to what extent is it owed to nature or nurture?’ early works like Greg’s Heysen are hard to come by and highly sought after. But Greg mostly values the work for its connection to his family, which goes beyond the measure of art history.
For all Greg’s luck his art collecting is actually guided by a few principles that tend to make all the difference. His taste is toward modernism and interest in irregularity or quirkiness but, probably most importantly, what Greg looks for is technique. In cultivating a taste for art nothing carries as much weight as understanding the nuts and bolts of how a work is actually constructed. It affords the viewer added appreciation for the techniques that have passed down through hundreds of years, marking the growth of civilization itself. Such things can be difficult to comprehend, let alone appreciate, in this age of instant imagery. The notion that an artist develops their abilities over an entire life span becomes more foreign every day. It’s easier to believe in luck. Even if it’s not true, luck tends to make for a better story because, whether we’re making art or collecting it, luck is just a clever way of making it look easy.

April, 2012
Creativity is arguably the will to act upon one’s imagination. We all have an imagination, at least we do when we’re children, but not all of us have the time, resources or supportive surroundings to make the most of it. If you’ve been clever enough to make it all the way to adulthood with your imagination intact then you’re doing pretty well. Now you just have to make it through your career.
But when rationality is the key to economic success our imaginations often have trouble finding a place in our careers. Sadly, it’s usually up to us to build a home for our imaginations, a place where they’ll be safe and well fed. Some of us do this by reading books, some of us customise our bicycles and some of us collect art.
Gaby French is naturally creative but judging from her appearance at work you wouldn’t guess it. While her colleagues’ workstations display everything from family photos to sporting memorabilia, Gaby’s desk is spartan in comparison. No photos, no trinkets, nothing. It’s not that a corporate setting doesn’t allow enough room for personal expression, it’s just that Gaby doesn’t want those two worlds to collide.
“I wanted to bring this into work,” Gaby said, holding a postcard size artwork, “but I knew it would just remind me of all this,” she said while gesturing to the walls of her home that are covered in art. There’s a lot of it, almost like a special layer of insulation where walls keep the weather out and the art keeps the imagination in. 
“I spend a lot of time at home, so I’d probably go stir crazy without it. I also enjoy making art. Part of me wonders what might have happened if I took it more seriously… I guess collecting art is how I scratch that itch.”
Sam Evans’ work stands out in Gaby’s collection. “I first discovered Sam’s work through his street art, which you can see all over town. I looked him up online and he said I could visit his studio, so I did. When we met he gave me a painting! Now we run into each other pretty regularly at exhibition openings.”
Gaby’s collection now holds dozens of works by Sam Evans that together display the artist’s progression over time. But with Evans that progression is particularly pronounced because the characters and situations he depicts have a way of suggesting a secret inner narrative that runs through all his work and ties it together. Like scenes from a tragic comedy, Evans’ images convey an air of parable about them that makes you listen. The more you see his work the easier it becomes to hear. It’s this journey that the one-off art buyer misses out on.
For the last six months that journey has extended to Europe as Evans travelled to Berlin before heading down to Portugal for the winter. Gaby and plenty of others have been able to follow his trip via his blog where he updates the various exhibitions and installations he leaves along the way. But unlike other artists’ blogs, he offers an insight into the creative process through the people and experiences that inform the work, making for a richer picture come exhibition time.
For fans of Sam’s work his blog offers a way to keep pace with his adventure but for Gaby it’s also a good way to stay in touch with a friend. 
“We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well but I still don’t know what’s coming next. That’s one of the things I like most about Sam’s work, it’s full of surprises, just like Sam.”
You can follow Sam’s journey via

March, 2012
Australians have a fear of showing off. We don't like doing it and when others show off we like it even less. Arguably there are benefits to this polite mediocrity but there are definitely costs, especially in the arts, an area of life that relies on showing off. Although most of us own art we seem to feel more comfortable showing off holiday snaps or photos of our cats before we reveal our art collections. It's a minor taboo but, like most taboos, it's fun to break. I guess nobody wants to come across like a snob but if we've all got art it seems silly to hide it away and pretend it doesn't exist. Nick Newland isn't an art collector; he's a chef who collects art. Working behind the scenes at The Greek on Halifax can get pretty hectic. Each week they seat almost a thousand people, every one of them expecting a high standard. So, like anyone whose work is demanding, it's good to have something to escape to. For Newland it’s his collection. Computer games also help.
"It's not a massive collection or anything but I'll keep going with it. It's the sort of thing that can grow slowly,” Newland explains. For Newland it began with family and music. His mother is an artist. His sister, Sophie Newland, studied painting and glass at UniSA. But Newland's own collection started with a print (woodblock) by Romiro Rodriguez who he discovered through his cover art for the band Tool. But his latest and favourite acquisition is a painting by Melbourne-based artist Jeremy Piert.
As you enter Newland's living room the fox eyes grab you. Staring out from a flame of red fur, the animal fixes you with a stare that's strangely human.
"I can't stop looking at it,” Newland says. “My mum commissioned it from Jeremy for my 30th birthday. He knows I like foxes, so in a weird kind of way it's a portrait."
Originally from Adelaide, Jeremy Piert's work often subverts the imagery of corporate branding and recently he's found a poignant tension between those brands and the mysterious innocence of animals. But Newland's fox, titled Never More has no brand. It's a painting that marks the connection and understanding between people in the real world. Principally that connection runs between Nick Newland and Jeremy Piert but when an image is shared, its connections grow. Art can do this unlike anything else. As more people share in an image and its connections broaden, so too does the shared sense of understanding between that audience. But, like most commissions, Never More was never exhibited and might have remained hidden for a long time.
"I wouldn't buy it if I didn't want to look at it everyday,” Newland explains. “I'm not really interested in what it's going to be worth in 20 years. I don't go to heaps of exhibitions but when I do I always look at the work. That's the point, right?" Well, you'd think so. While some consider their mere presence at exhibitions to be contribution enough for their reward of free drinks, most of us understand the pleasure of actually collecting. The problem is that once the works disappear into peoples’ homes they're never to be seen again besides close friends and family. That's why there's really no way to tell who are the scenesters and who are the people who actually care about art enough to live with it. One solution is a little more showing off.
Jeremy Piert next exhibits in a group portraiture show at the Poimena Gallery in the first week of April.

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