Fall in love with art: enjoy collecting paintings | Paint

ssome people are art collectors. I’m not one of those. I’m not rich enough and, even if I was, I’m not interested in those kinds of takeovers. I’m just someone who loves pictures and buys as many as I can. Of course, this – mostly – depends on my money at any given time. But not exclusively. After all, when my passion first overcame me, I was about as broke as a wage earner could possibly be.

It was 1992 and I was a trainee reporter in Glasgow where I rented a small room from which I could see everything I owned, which was mainly a pile of letters from my bank telling me I was overdrawn. I can’t remember if the idea of ​​traveling to the Jura to write about Julie Brook, an artist who lived and worked in a cave on the uninhabited side of the island, was my idea or my editor’s, but how? also, I was crazy I really wanted to do the story, mainly because I knew George Orwell was writing there 1984. I had a little less knowledge of the work of my interviewee. Apparently she liked to build stone structures on the beach in which she would then build a fire, with the idea that when the tide came in, it would seem for a moment as if flames were rising from the sea itself.

I came by ferry. Julie had walked over to Craighouse to meet me and we chatted in the hotel bar, and she showed me some pictures of her land art, which was dramatic indeed. Then she took me outside, where some huge oils stood against a wall.

Small painting of eggs in a basket on a bookshelf
This small painting was collected for five euros at an antique fair. Photo: Sophia Evans/The Observer

This was when it happened. As I stood in front of a painting of two salmon, my heart began to pound. “I’d like to own this,” I heard a voice that sounded quite like my own. “But I have no money.” Julie must have felt my desire, I think, that was extreme. She didn’t hesitate either. “Pay me in installments,” she said. That’s what I did, for the next 18 months.

It was all very crazy. Why did I buy this huge canvas if I had nowhere to hang it? In fact, why was I spending money I didn’t have? But while I could hardly justify what I’d done, I didn’t regret it either. I was… relieved to have the painting in my possession, a sense of satisfaction that only grew as I transported it to Glasgow and drove it to London in a rental car a few weeks later (I was moving again). When friends noticed about it, their disbelief (“did you buy this?”) only caused an insane kind of pride. Better my salmon than any number of Top Shop dresses.

For a while this was the only art I owned. But when I was in my thirties, finally more flush, I started buying more. An abstract print by Victor Pasmore (he was less fashionable then, and his prices less vague). A tiny oil from an old-fashioned newsagent, the window of which was covered in tinsel, by no one you would ever have heard of. A portrait of John Aldridge, one of the (very much) lesser known artists associated with Great Bardfield in Essex. Anyway, the feeling was the same. When a vaguely affordable picture appeals to me, the tips of my fingers seem to tingle and burn. I am like Raffles, the gentleman thief, in the presence of a diamond tiara.

Rachel Cooke's sitting room only has images of women's heads.
Rachel Cooke’s sitting room only has images of women’s heads. Photo: Sophia Evans/The Observer

It’s still possible, if you’re smart, to get great stuff for the price of a few easyJet flights (I’m including the taxi to the airport). I have a drawing by Edward Burra which cost me less than £200; I bought it from Abbot & Holder on Museum Street in Bloomsbury, where I’ve been very lucky over the years (Tom, who now runs it, is very knowledgeable, but also very nice and non-intimidating). I haunt online auctions and sales – for the latter I recommend Liss Llewellyn, who specializes in 20th-century British art – and I prefer galleries outside London, such as Zillah Bell in Thirsk, Yorkshire, where an archive of work of Norman Ackroyd, master of the aquatint.

But my collection is not about big names. For me, value has nothing to do with fame. There’s something exciting about hanging a photo you’ve cut and saved to buy next to a photo you paid £50 for at a street market, and find both equally beautiful; it’s like having a secret. I do own some photos of fairly well-known artists (although I won’t name names here). But one of my most cherished finds – a delicately beautiful engraving from 1939 by an artist whose name is illegible from Rachel’s tomb in Israel/Palestine, Hebron, where I lived as a child – I bought for £40 at an antiques fair in Suffolk. Friends who attended will testify that I nearly passed out with excitement when I handed over the money.

The judgmental cliché goes that a person can spend money on things, or he can spend it on experiences. But a painting is both. Ben Nicholson thought people should put a picture on the wall and “eat their meals every day for a month”. Only then would they know what they thought; whether it was dead or alive. I think he was right. A painting seems to change when you live with it. Like someone you have known for a long time, he will always be able to surprise you.

You might move it to a new place; perhaps the light will shift and fall on it in a new way; maybe you find yourself staring at it unexpectedly while trying to remember what you went up for. In any case, you will see it again, and suddenly interest and affection will arise in you. Before you know it, you are back in the first flood of love, delighted by the absolute rightness of your own taste; by what your eyes and heart once whispered to you, and now tell you insistently again and again.

How do you do that

Many art history or art appreciation courses are offered, including those at the Courtauld, the Royal Academy of Arts, University of Arts London or the National Gallery. Most are online.

For more hands-on activities, To create is a charity that gives underprivileged and vulnerable people access to art. Action space is for artists with learning disabilities and the Association for Cultural Progress through Visual Arts runruns educational arts programs for diverse communities. Most local art schools also offer evening classes.

If you want other deep dives into the art world for inspiration, Russell Tovey and Robert Diament’s Talking about art podcast is enthusiastic and approachable, while The Great Female Artists podcast tells some shamefully overlooked art stories.

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