Expert: Art Collection is for all

Published Jun 10 2014 by Elissa Barnard, Chronicle Herald

You don’t have to be rich to collect art.

“That’s such a myth,” says Toronto art collector and consultant Stephen Smart. “You can put together a fabulous collection with a small income.”
As executor of Canadian landscape painter Doris McCarthy’s estate, he was in Halifax last week to open Studio 21’s exhibit of McCarthy’s Atlantic Canadian paintings and to talk about collecting art.

Smart bought his first artwork, an Inuit piece for $35, when he graduated from high school. After law school he spent 30 years building the corporate art collection for Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, the Toronto law firm where he was a partner before retirement.

“Most corporations buy art all at once,” he said in an interview at Studio 21. “They have a space to fill up. We developed a policy, we’d buy over time and we’d buy young to mid-career artists. I had the philosophy that artists should be the same age as the people who worked there.”

For his personal collection, he drew on his own criteria for the law firm’s art collecting: to buy the best and to reflect the esthetic of the time.

He grew up in 1950s Ottawa when there were few commercial galleries, but his parents liked art. They bought Group of Seven paintings before they skyrocketed in value in the 1970s. They had A.J. Casson and A.Y. Jackson over to the house. “There was an Emily Carr on the wall and a (David) Milne,” Smart said.

“By the time I was a teenager I was off to the National Gallery on my own and having a lot of fun just looking. I spent a fair bit of time teaching myself about art.”

Before buying art, he said, people should read Canadian Art Magazine and newspapers and go to galleries or take a non-academic art appreciation course. “I tell people to talk to dealers. They’re there as much to educate as to sell.”

People are quickly “seduced” when they buy art but they should put the brakes on, he said. “If you’re buying a bit of this and a bit of that, of what you fall in love with that day, it doesn’t add up to anything other than happiness. If you’re building a collection with some standards, it can’t be just what I like.”
When evaluating art he looks at “the freshness of the insight or the creativity or the imagination,” he said.

“I always look for integrity in the work. I like to know there’s a mind working at solving problems and an artist working with a real commitment.”
Young artists “need to tell us something that we haven’t heard,” he said.

“Never buy art for an investment, but if you buy good art, it will go up. Art’s a very, very slow burn but once it starts to move, it moves.”
Canada needs more art collectors, he said.

“I think there are a lot of people missing out because of a lack of education in our school system, which isn’t great about creating a knowledge base on Canadian art.

Canada is producing world-class artists with international careers like Jeff Wall, Michael Snow and hot Toronto artist Ed Pien.

“When I was young there were very few art schools. Now there are art schools all across Canada producing wonderful graduates and there’s not enough of an art market to support them.”

Smart met landscape painter Doris McCarthy, who died in 2012 at 100, when she was 88 and needed a lawyer. “We became friends. She was someone who was so full of positive thinking. Doris was an inspiration.”

McCarthy was born in Calgary, spent her youth in Toronto, and attended the Ontario College of Art where she was taught by Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. MacDonald. She taught art at Central Technical School in Toronto from 1932 to 1972 and her students included Canadian artists Harold Klunder and Joyce Wieland.

“She was probably one of the best high-school art teachers the country has ever had,” Smart said.

After she retired from teaching, she had a second 40-year career as a full-time painter. “That’s incredible and she painted well until she was 95. She had such a sure hand.”

McCarthy painted throughout Canada. Her Atlantic Canadian paintings and prints, all landscapes, include a lithograph of Baie Verte, Nfld., a minimalist sky-and-sand watercolour of Port Borden, P.E.I., and dories on the land with a hint of abstraction amidst the representational scene.

“In the 1970s, she became very abstract and her gallery, Wynick/Tuck, never showed them and some people are thinking those works are very important. These little things are selling at big prices, like $22,000. They’re quite extraordinary.”

Doris McCarthy: Selected Works from Atlantic Canada is at Studio 21, 1273 Hollis St., Halifax, to June 30.

Original Source

Studio 21