Here’s the conundrum; you want to adorn your walls with interesting, unique art that makes your heart sing. Fine art or photography that stops you in your tracks, starts a conversation, changes the whole look and feel of a room, commands a space, finishes a space, takes a place from house to home, injects personality and flair and encourages the sort of mental and emotional response that only art can provoke.
And it would be wonderful, wouldn’t it, to cherry pick this art from the very best galleries in the world – I’d love the original Herb Ritts Batman (Back), below, or a sculpture by Don Brown, above, or a painting by David Hockney, preferably from the 1960s/1970s era.
But I’m guessing that the majority of us here aren’t billionaires and so how do we, the non-super-yacht-owners, get our hands on fine paintings and photography that’ll make our stomachs flip with excitement? Where can we find the more affordable art?
I’m not talking mass-produced prints, here, or those framed quotes done with a curly font, because you don’t need my help finding those. They are around every corner and you can pick them up incredibly cheaply. I’m talking about unique art, pieces that have had some heart and soul poured into them, paintings and photographs that say something or make you feel something, even if that feeling is “uncomfortable”.
And this art could be an investment – work with the potential to increase in value over the years – but it should also, on a purely emotional level, mean something to you. Something that feels special and looks special and hasn’t just been chosen to match the colour of the dado rail, that will bring joy into your living space and add the sort of edge that nothing else really can.
So here are the places I browse the most when I’m on my habitual hunt for art. But a note of caution to start with; I don’t think that buying art can be rushed. True, when you see something that grabs you then you almost always know that it’s right (gut instinct!) but it might take weeks or months of trawling for that to happen. To get to grips with what you like and what you don’t like. I almost think that art creeps up on you – fine if you see some prints in a shop and think, they’re pretty, and you buy eight of them and make a gallery wall, but I think if you’re after a more eclectic and considered look and a collection that reflects your tastes then it takes a bit of time.
Not always, but often.
First stop: the internet and in particular, the websites Affordable Art Fair, Degree Art and New Blood Art. All of these sites have huge, huge collections of art ranging from graduate work to the more pricey, investable pieces from artists whose work has risen in value, such as the award-winning Sophie Derrick (see photo above). The sites are easy to search, enjoyable to browse and quick to buy from – I ordered a gorgeous little painting from Toni Cogdell (via New Blood Art, photo below), paid for it by Paypal and had the painting in my hands a few days later.
Then there’s social media, which I suppose is a more accidental way of finding art and artists you love. I found the brilliant Holly Delaney through Instagram and possibly wouldn’t have found her otherwise, as she tends to sell from her own website rather than using one of the art platforms.
Holly paints abstracts onto gold leaf and the look of the paintings change according to the light; she’s incredibly talented and I love that we found each other by chance.
As well as accidentally stumbling across artists you like, keep a look out on other people’s Instagram stories and posts; some of the big interiors accounts talk about artwork quite regularly and often tag the artists so that you can follow the proverbial trail.
And actually, Keeping An Eye Out is one of the best ways of finding art that you love, especially if you don’t know where to start and don’t have any confidence. Make a mental note of things that interest you, no matter how obscure the situation. I recently bought an amazing photograph from Akseli Valmunen, a very talented Finnish photographer, because I’d spotted one of the limited print run in an airport lounge!
I saw it, tracked down the photographer and ordered my own on the same day. Strange but true. (Note to the world: getting art sent from abroad, especially when it’s framed, is a massive palaver. An oil painting from Malta recently came in its own huge crate, big enough to contain a dangerous zoo animal, and the shipping costs were quite heart-stopping. Worth factoring in, if you find a piece from somewhere more far-flung.)
Antiques fairs and flea markets can be great places to find lovely art, though you often have to look past the gazillion gilt-framed portraits of scary-looking ladies in Victorian dresses with their jet black eyes and severely scraped-back hair. Lots of stuff is a bit battered, but sometimes (shouldn’t say this but will) a bit of vintage wear and tear can do wonders for a mediocre painting. A bit stained, slightly worn at the corners, kind of faded in places – ooh it lends it a right air of sophistication! Ha.
And I don’t mind a gilt frame, if truth be known; I’ve seen some excellent use of antique/vintage frames with very modern or graphic art inside. I think that you can make a bit of a statement with an unexpected frame. Which brings me onto one of my easiest and cheapest art suggestions, which is finding things you already own and framing them well. I’m not talking about framing your pressed flowers or nana’s tapestry featuring her border terrier named Scott (although actually these both sound great) I’m talking about film posters and festival fliers and anything striking, cool or heavy with nostalgia. Got an original Back to the Future poster? Frame it well and you couldn’t get a better piece of kitsch art to hang in the living room. Collected dozens of roadside diner menus from along Route 66 (me)? How brilliant would they look reverently framed and placed in a Georgian kitchen? Who knows. They could look shite. I’ll keep you updated.
My last source of great and individual art is partly down to luck because I have quite a few artists in my immediate friends and family group. My brother is incredibly talented (unashamed family plug: dancrilly.co.uk, examples of his work above and below) and in fact my whole family, except me, is arty. So I’ll be the first to admit that I have it easy when it comes to finding art in my immediate vicinity.
But taking the family connections out of the equation, if I keep my ear to the ground then I hear of plenty of local gallery events and art competitions and open studios and so on. It’s almost as though once you start listening, these things come to you! I bought two small paintings the other week from a local studio that was open for an annual art festival. They’re lovely and were very inexpensive.
So. I have no idea whether that was helpful. I’m definitely no Brian Sewell but I know what I like, when it comes to art, and I love hunting for the pieces that will bring me joy. If you’re stuck in a rut, hanging up cacti prints from IKEA but really wanting something more, get out there and start looking. I’d say that the websites I listed above are an amazing start. And if you’re looking to invest slightly more seriously (ie thousands rather than hundreds) then take a look at some of my favourites, SJ Fuerst, Sophie Derrick and Marcelina Amelia.
SJ Fuerst paints surreal worlds that look – at least from a distance – absolutely real. Her work is often described as being hyperreal, because the paintings look just like photographs, but up close they are most definitely paintings, glorious brushstrokes and all. (I can vouch for this as I bought one of her pieces earlier this year.)
Sophie Derrick’s work is just fascinating. She very cleverly turns the idea of portraiture on its head, using paint directly on skin and photographing it so that the painting element is rendered 2D. Sophie then paints on that surface and the results are unique and utterly beautiful. You can find her website here.
I’m currently saving my pennies (pounds) for a piece by Marcelina Amelia, a UK-based artist who mixes the use of print, painting and drawing. You can find a gallery of her work on her website here – I particularly like Tequila (above) and Wishing You Were Here.