Designer Tommy Smythe shares his secrets for buying valuable and meaningful art.
When it comes to art, I’m often asked, “Where do I start?” Though there’s no one answer to that question, the advice I often offer is, why not try attending a charity auction? Yes, the world of fine art can be intimidating, but immersion and exposure are the best ways to open doors that might reveal your own tastes and interests. That’s why charity auctions are such a great place to start. They tend to be carefully curated by volunteers from reliable and expert organizations. You get the chance to bid on original work — at a great price — for a worthwhile cause (the tax receipt is just the cherry on top). This is what one calls a “win-win” and, in my book, two wins are better than one (three if you include that winning bid)!
Whether you love the excitement of live-auction action, or are more the strong-bid-silent-auction type, there’s bound to be a well-organized sale near you at least once a year. One of my favorites in Toronto is SNAP. This one is all about photography and benefits ACT, the AIDS Committee of Toronto. I don’t always buy a piece, but I love the chance to be introduced to emerging artists. I learn something every time I attend, and this experience comes with food, drinks and a giving atmosphere.
￼￼￼When you support a cause at an event, they’ll no doubt place a glass of wine in that helping hand of yours. Suddenly, the fear of taking the plunge is gone and you could be headed home with original art that has value and meaning. And that’s what I call Art With Heart… which happens to be the name of the Casey House hospital’s annual auction in Toronto. You see? I just love to help.
My upstairs hallway is an exercise in distraction. My partner, Patrick, and I are in a rental house for a few years and, because it’s a historic home, it came with imperfect walls. Artwork collected over decades is a reminder of our history and gives this space a purpose. After all, we spend a lot of time in hallways passing from room to room, so don’t they deserve the same attention as a bedroom or sitting room? Many of the pieces were purchased at charity events, where we discovered artists and galleries from across the country. You may not have the winning bid, but there’s always more artwork from participating artists to explore: sometimes the follow-up yields the find!
I spotted an incredible piece from Anna Church’s Out of Time Collection at a 2015 SNAP charity auction and didn’t buy it… but I’ve always wished I did. You can imagine how delighted I was to spy another piece from the series at Te Aro, a café in Toronto. I’m drawn to its wit and innovative presentation (the oval!). Neon pink on the inside edges of the frame creates a warm halo and is a nifty counterpoint to the traditional portraiture style. Needless to say, I visit the café often and always leave feeling energized. Is it the cappuccino or the art? Probably both.
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