Read Time 9 minutes
In conversation: contemporary female art collectors
As discussed in Part I of this feature a few weeks ago, it’s not often we hear from female art collectors, and when we do they tend to be elite; the <1%. We wanted to shine a light on a handful of women we admire [including our own co-founder, Sarah] who just simply love art; whose passion is infectious and whose collections speak volumes about both their values and their aesthetic. Here they share their top tips for starting a collection, their dream pieces from art history, and some of the bittersweet experiences they’ve had whilst buying art
THE ART BUYER: SARAH WILLIAMS
As co-founder of Darklight Art, Sarah is responsible for helping others to start their own collections, as well as growing her own. For her, it’s not about the money. Sarah is a true people person – interested in the story behind the work and the connection between the viewer and the artist.
‘Honestly, it’s about connecting with a piece of work, the story behind it and why it resonates with you. I find it amazing that an artist creates something that a complete stranger feels so drawn to … I’ve met a few of the artists whose work I own and it’s always such a delight to hear about their practice and what the work means to them.
What was the piece that started your collection?
I think the first piece of art I bought was by French street artist Dran. It was a present for my now ex- husband. I didn’t have much money at that point so it can’t have cost more than a few hundred pounds. Sadly he now has it and it’s worth a LOT more than that. Maybe there’s a lesson there in keeping hold of pieces by artists that you really believe in?
Is it important to you that the pieces in your collection align with each other aesthetically?
I think that happens quite naturally. I don’t really think about it. I definitely have my own aesthetic and am drawn to certain colours [as you can tell from my Instagram]. But I never go out to buy something specifically to fit in with everything else.
THE FOUNDER: KATY WICKREMESINGHE
A leading voice in the arts and business sectors, Katy is the Founder of KTW London, a strategic cultural communications agency formed in 2014. In March 2021 she launched The Wick, a responsible content platform connecting the culturally curious. Katy is a Trustee of Dulwich Picture Gallery and Board Advisor to The Line, London’s first public art walk.
The first piece of art I bought was a Jonathan Yeo iconic porn leaves work. I first saw this work when I was with an old friend and mentor, Jonny – someone I was lucky enough to work with in his role as Curator of the Soho House Art Collection. At the time, I didn’t have the funds to purchase the original work I wanted, so I asked Jonny if I could pay in monthly installments. He agreed, and there began what I jokingly call The Wick’s Fondazione – a collection of established and emerging artists, comprising over 160 artworks…
I never set out to ‘become’ a collector, and in my mind still have a long way to go to reach what I deem heavyweight art collecting. Instead, it was an organic, fluid process that evolved as I evolved my learning, understanding and connection with the art world and artists. If it’s a journey you are planning, there are of course practical things to consider:
Finances – if you know you want to buy art, you might need to sacrifice something else in your personal spending. For me, I’d rather miss a few big nights out or forego other items I might be needing to buy, in order to make space for a painting.
Space – if you really love a piece, make sure that you have the space and capacity to hang it. I recently bought a Shaq Whyte painting, which is so large in size that I’ve been unable to hang it as of yet. But because I love the painter’s work so much, I have now bought two smaller works so they can form part of a wall hang in my new flat.
Remember that starting a collection is starting a conversation – it’s showing an interest in the most personal output and emotional viability that an artist can put forward. It’s a really exciting journey to be able to follow an emerging artist into an established space and to feel that you may have played a tiny part in that.
What are the three most important factors you consider before buying a new piece?
It’s only in recent months that I’ve started really thinking about the artists or artworks that I might want to acquire, and that’s mainly for practical purposes – hoping to avoid being completely broke[!] I come into contact with so many artists that I try and create wish lists or follow the paths of those I’m intrigued by. I buy art quite emotionally and without agenda; however, once I’ve stumbled upon a piece I like, I would usually look at the following three things as first port of call:
1. Where the artist has studied, and a sense of their wider body of work.
2. Have a think on the practical consideration of the work – for example is the canvas of the right size that could fit into my flat, or is it a piece I know I could look after and keep preserved in its natural form? [for example a piece of taxidermy or delicate sculptures need more looking after in terms of cleaning, light conditions etc.]
3. I truly believe that price and value are two completely different things. I have works from £70 which I value just the same as those worth thousands of pounds. Mainly because they evoke something in me personally. What I would say is be open to looking at artwork in unusual spaces and places as a well as galleries – I acquired one of my favourite works by Laura Gannon through a BFAMI auction, I’ve also bought off online spaces and the Art Car Boot Fair.
THE DRIVER FOR CHANGE: KAREN ASHTON
Karen Ashton is an independent curator, art consultant and founder of the fabulous Art Car Boot Fair: widely regarded as the UK’s most democratic––not to mention fun––art fair. The first Art Car Boot Fair took place in 2004 with a line-up of around 30 artists including Gavin Turk, Abigail Lane, Mat Collishaw and Fiona Banner. Its mission: to re-introduce some summer fun and frivolity into a thriving but increasingly commercial London art scene. Karen started collecting at a particularly young age as she recounts to us over email …
‘The piece that started my collection was a beautiful and delicate gold-framed etching I bought at my mother’s friend’s house clearance sale when I was eight. I’d just returned to the UK after living in Cyprus for four years, so half my life at that time. The etching featured a young girl wearing a huge make-shift backpack & holding a long staff and she looked like she was heading off on a bold adventure. I wanted to be her and head off on a bold adventure myself as I was having a tricky time adjusting from the freedom of my life on the island to what I was experiencing as oppressive English school life! Apart from teenage posters of pop stars and actors I think it was the only artwork I had in my ‘collection’ until I started collecting photography in my twenties …’
What does collecting mean to you?
I feel very odd about investment collecting … it’s not really a priority for me as I mainly choose work that speaks to me, encourages my eye or my mind to see and think differently – either has a familiar sensibility, or a familiar made strange.
Though it’s always lovely to discover that something you own has increased in its value. I love speaking to artists. Overall the opportunity to collect works by artists I rate highly is a joy and I have a very long wish list! I am not a planned collector, I’m unable to plan. I react, see something and if I can afford it I buy it, sometimes even when I can’t afford it!
I always love an element of subversive humour, archetypes slightly twisted. I know or have known most of the artists whose work I have on my wall, though I’m equally happy to view art in public spaces.
What are the three most important factors you consider before buying a new piece?
1. Will I rush to the framers and hang it on the wall within a month of buying it [very important]!
2. What connection does it have to other pieces that I own and the subjects that intrigue me.
3. Will my eyes rest on it and will I experience joy when they do.
What’s your fantasy piece from art history that you’d love to own?
The Kiss by Gustav Kilmt … it’s overtly beautiful in all its gilded Byzantine glory, has both a boldness and a delicacy and although much reproduced the original surpasses all expectations. Most importantly it has its own enigmatic quality, almost its own subconscious. People at the turn of the century saw it as pornographic despite both figures being fully clothed. The painting is daily gaze-able and transports the soul … I think I’d like to borrow it for a couple of weeks a year rather than own it!