I’ll Take It – The Art of Collecting

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Before relocating to Singapore, I vigorously culled all of my possessions. Boxes of pantry staples and utensils went to my just-moved-out brother, and my clothes and sentimental trinkets to my sister, who seemed a more responsible recipient. Furniture was deleted piece by piece on Gumtree (save for an antique dressing table which wasted considerable space in Tom’s house, until he eventually took matters into his own hands). Carrying my fifth garbage bag of essentially useless stuff to a charity bin, I tried to remember how I’d managed to accumulate all of it. Why do we have an inherent desire to acquire things? On Monday evening, I found myself wine in hand next to an old friend, fascinated by three professional Collectors from Western Sydney who have mastered this “addiction”, narrowing it into a useful and professionally legitimate hobby that keeps art alive.

Meet David Capra, a softly spoken artist who fondly shares the early memory of his Ukrainian grandmother safety-pinning Franklin’s catalogue clippings to the curtains, and stealing his school canteen stickers to decorate the bath tiles. I can sympathise with David; my artistic parents (seemingly for no apparent reason other than to freak people out) attached a chair and cat statue, upside-down, to our living room ceiling in Mount Druitt. Since then, David has inevitably succumbed to his artistic destiny, and now indulges his penchant for sausage dogs and Wizard of Oz collectables. What sticks with me most is his reason for why buying art is essential, not to quell the thirst of the collector, but for the encouragement it provides to the artist. To buy a work is an investment in the creator as well as the piece. I make a mental note to test his latest fragrance, “Eau De Wet Doggue”.

I’ve seen some excellent Indigenous work both in galleries in the NT and in Sydney (I still regret not purchasing a beautiful Tjanpi Desert Weavers’ Lizard from The Artery in Darlinghurst) so I enjoyed the photos from Robin Gurr’s house, which is decorated tastefully in earthy tones with an assortment of Aboriginal art, painted chairs, ceramics and tribal masks. She donates many of her pieces to public galleries, and does a fantastic job of justifying what she calls a “publicly sanctified greed”. She also makes a compelling argument about how purchasing art allows it to continue, an idea which is important to her because she wants to live in a place that celebrates art, and allows it an environment in which to flourish. She adds that many of her pieces have been uncovered in junk shops or bought cheaply, and recommends supporting local art at whatever level possible.

We also hear from the sharp mind of the third collector, John Kirkman. The personal connection he shares with the artists he purchases from is imperative, and he speaks passionately about the talent that has emerged from Western Sydney. While all three artists agree on the vulgarity of having your house up on a slideshow for everyone to see, I am grateful for the intrusion I’ve been offered, and immediately identify John’s home in the Blue Mountains as my favourite. Gumball-pink floors are the first big tick in my book, but I also find the balance in his eclectic collection between variation and intention visually appealing. I get the distinct impression that if something were to be moved but a fraction, he would notice.

As for the line between collecting and hoarding, I lament the missed opportunity to ask the panelists for their thoughts. All of their collections seem intentional and of significant worth; are these the key elements of “collections”? When asked what item they would grab in a house fire, John’s answer I feel should be disqualified as he actually picks two, and I can’t remember what David chooses (although if I were him I’d take the piece of highly-flammable paper, given to him by an artist who repeatedly wrote out “I must paint and draw” as an up-yours after being told to sit before the Sydney Harbour Bridge and make art). Someone morbidly suggests that Robin should take her hand-painted chair on which to sit and watch the rest burn, which does sound artistic if not slightly insensitive.

After the discussion, I have the chance to catch up with Nadia Odlum in her studio. With paints still strewn across her desk (I remember sleeping over at her house at the age of about 12 amongst the same precariously placed glass jars of murky water and paint-soaked brushes) she eagerly shows me her recently discovered boat-detailing tape, which has been perfectly integrated into a few of her newer pieces. She kindly allows me to photograph some close-ups of her work, and though it takes me significantly longer than I’d like to set up my new tripod (and I realise on the way home that in typical amateur fashion I have neglected to use flash entirely) I am thankful for her willingness to share her creativity with me.

I wander around the gallery space and am mistaken by one student as a “proper” photographer, who subsequently redacts his request for me to photograph his work. This makes Nadia and I laugh; I am enjoying the unique opportunity to appreciate and measure progress as I learn independently outside the parameters of my comfort zone, whilst giving others the distinct impression that I know what I’m doing as they nervously dart out of my supposed frame.

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Screen Printed Costumes by Linda Brescia

Next we visit some more studios on level 1, and I fall in love with Hannah Toohey’s – I’m not sure what to call them – “critters” (?) made from quills and bones and other wild materials. I find her idea of celebrating imperfection clever and lovely. I also enjoy the screen-prints by Linda Brescia, staring at me with stretched skin and questioning eyes. While there is merit in enjoying one’s own interpretation of an artwork, the connection between the artist and their piece goes such a long way in explaining the purpose and ideas behind it, and I’d love to know a little more about this costume in particular.

I think about what I’d save from my hypothetical house fire, and the framed section of the Nepean River Nadia painted and gifted to me on my 21st birthday springs to mind; one of the few possessions to survive the Great Cull of 2015. I am excited to see her full collection in Paddington come May, with pieces that do warpy things to your eyes, and explore the language of lines that we instinctively follow in our urban environment. If you want to check out some of her past exhibitions (and I highly recommend that you do, it is Art Month in Sydney after all) you can go to www.nadiaodlum.com to find all the inspiration you need to start your very own addiction. Sorry, collection.