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A visit to an English private art collection

Updated: Jan 29

I met Martin at an art fair in London back in 2017. He purchased one of my paintings some months before, and since I told him that I would have exhibited my art in the UK, we agreed to finally meet each other. It was a lovely encounter and we remained in touch since then. When I decided to study the dynamics of collecting art, I immediately thought about him: since he’s one of the biggest art collectors I know personally, I asked him if he could speak about his art collection and his passion for art, and he kindly answered. The interview below is worth reading!

Would you like to introduce yourself?

Hi! My name is Martin and I'm a retired computer systems analyst from Manchester in the UK.

How many artworks do you have in your collection?

I have 695 pieces in my collection. (I know exactly because they're all carefully documented). Most of them are limited edition original prints but there are also paintings in various media, drawings, sculpture, photographs and fine art ceramics.

Which was your very first art purchase and why did you fall in love with it?

Back in 2010 there was an exhibition of seascapes by L. S. Lowry and Maggi Hambling at a local gallery. I went and really enjoyed it. All of the work by Maggi Hambling was for sale. I've always liked her as a personality (very strong and self-assured) and her art, which is dramatic, colourful and energetic with very free and fluid gestures. I couldn't afford most of it (paintings started at £9,000) but I could just about afford the prints. They really focussed all of the best elements of her style so I picked two that seemed to me to be particularly beautiful and best captured the dynamism of waves at sea and bought them. I had frames made for them that look a bit like driftwood and hung them above my bed, where they've remained ever since.

A few weeks later I started browsing the internet for other affordable art and found a really charming and characterful print of an owl by Tracey Emin. So I bought that as well. That's when I consider I got bitten by the art collecting bug.

When and why did you decide to build an art collection?

There was never a specific moment when I decided to build a collection. I just started buying art and after some time I realised, I'm collecting art, so I must be an art collector now! That was maybe two or three years after I started buying. I've only ever made two conscious decisions about collecting art in general. The first was probably in about 2015 - I thought I would sell my entire collection and start again but specialising, probably in women's art or art from Cuba or Africa, but I eventually decided just to carry on buying art that I love and be more selective about it. I also decided a short time later that I would leave my collection to a British art gallery, so I started buying with that in mind and became more selective still so that the standard of work would be appropriate to add to a public gallery's collection.

Which kind of art you cannot resist (i.e. a peculiar colour or style or medium etc.)?

I love art that makes a real impact, the kind of art that jumps at you, grabs you by the collar and screams in your face "LOOK AT ME! - that, I cannot resist. I also love art that's either full of contrasting or even clashing colours or very monotone and quiet. And I really like quirky things or things that are very whimsical and naive - they appeal to my sense of strangeness and sentimentality (I don't mind admitting to being sentimental!). When I started buying I didn't think I'd buy much figurative work because it didn't appeal to me back then but over the years I've found I've bought more figurative work than anything else - must be because I love people so much.

Where do you prefer to buy art (galleries, art dealers etc.)?

I've bought most of my pieces from the internet, which can be risky: sometimes things that look really good in a photo on a website can be a disappointment when they arrive and you see the real thing; although the reverse can be true as well: something that looks merely interesting on a website photo can be spectacularly good when you unpack it. I rarely buy from galleries - they tend to have a huge markup on prices so I don't trust them that much. Art fairs can be good - you can see a lot of work in a relatively small space in an hour or so - and prices tend to be better than in gallery settings, I've even had times when dealers at art fairs have given me a discount without me asking for one! My favourite, and the best way to buy, I think, is to buy direct from artists.  You know exactly what you'll be getting, you can negotiate the price if you want (I almost never do because I know that artists need the money) or terms to pay for the artwork over a period of time rather than all at once (although most galleries will do that), you know that all the money goes direct to the artist so you're supporting them and their work, and you can build a relationship with the artist as well, which is the best part - I've made some good friendships with artists over the years.

Is it true that collectors create a personal narrative with their collections? Which narrative lays behind yours?

It's not true for me. I really don't know about other collectors, because I don't know any others.

I would have asked if you do regularly meet other art collectors and if you give each other suggestions and opinions about artists and galleries, but I guess you just answered...

No, I don't know other collectors. I've never been interested in connecting up with them, only with artists. It's not something that's ever occurred to me to do. I've got a very strong sense of what I like and don't like so I can't imagine being easily influenced by other collectors, but it might have helped to have some guidance early on when my eye wasn't as well trained and developed as it is now - I bought lots of pieces early on that I will probably sell as my tastes are very different now and, frankly, some of them aren't very good quality. I've done all my art collecting very quietly really and educated myself simply by going to lots of art galleries to see the best art available and looking at lots of art for sale on line.

Some pieces from Martin's art collection:

Photo 1: Left - print by British artist Simon Dixon, Right - print by British artist JJ Adams

Photo 2: Painting by British Artist Lee Ellis

Photo 3: Top left to right - drawing by illustrator Quentin Blake, print by British artist Antony Gormley, drawing by Quentin Blake Bottom left to right - drawing by unknown artist from the Gond people of India, print by Tracey Emin - drawing by unknown artist from the Gond people of India

Photo 4: Close up of Tracey Emin print in photo 2

Photo 5: Two wave prints by Maggi Hambling and a print of her portrait of British film maker Derek Jarman

Photo 6: Left - oil painting by Spanish artist Rafael Romero Masiá; Right - Watercolour painting by Irene Raspollini

Photo 7: Doll's House by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, clay figures by British artist Alex Robinson

Photo 8: Fabric sculpture by British artist Karen Suzuki

Images courtesy of Martin M.D.

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