Is this a good time to buy art? Of course it is! When money looks dodgy, what better way to secure your future than by investing in an unbudgeable object such as a painting or a sculpture? But if you don’t have a lot of money, don’t necessarily go for the more obvious things such as large-format oil paintings. Start by looking at something less fashionable – watercolour paintings, etchings, woodcuts, linocuts and ceramics, for example, are all good investments.
Try a place such as the Bankside Gallery, which is about 50 metres from Tate Modern, facing the river. It’s a marvellous place to rummage – works are usually stacked up the walls. Here are the names of a couple of artists who were selling excellent work there relatively recently: Royal Academician Peter Freeth, for example, who has a marvellous, haunting way with images of dogs, or the printmaker Anthony Dyson. Dyson makes wonderful homages to the Renaissance masters, beautiful, meticulous prints at very affordable prices – a print by him, framed, could cost you as little as £75.
A lot of the artists who exhibit at Bankside are also members of the Royal Society of Painters Printmakers or the Royal Watercolour Society, which sound a bit nose-thumbingly posh, but is often a guarantee of real quality. Check out their websites. Another way in is to go to poke around in one of the more enterprising younger galleries such as the Rokeby Gallery on Store Street. The Rokeby operates an excellent scheme in conjunction with the Arts council which enables you to get a modest loan to help you start your own art collection. There are some excellent younger artists amongst the Rokeby stable whose work will only grow in value in the coming years – look at the paintings by Sam Dargan or Simon Keenleyside, for example. In Dargan’s last show, he had a lot of very small paintings. Small is not necessarily always beautiful but, given the fact that many artists price their works by size, it is a way in to collecting first-rate names for a relatively modest sum of money.
Even the bigger galleries often display a range of prints. Check out Flowers East on the Kingsland Road, which usually has a huge range of prints on offer at good prices. Flowers’ stable of artists includes some very well known names - Maggi Hambling, for example – and it is worth remembering that Hambling’s works are still relatively modest in price. And they can only increase. A few weeks ago, Flowers was selling a work by her called ‘Sexy 2008’ (it was a rather lovely flower painting, of course) for £1,500 plus vat. Hambling currently has a big show at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool of her portraits of the late George Melly, so she is very much in the public eye.
Another artist from the Flowers stable who can only increase in value is the sculptor Glenys Barton, who makes haunting, seductive, highly finished portrait heads and entire bodies which always manage to possess an extraordinarily ghostly aura. A few weeks ago you could buy a sculpture by her for £2,500.
The key to all this is: be bold. Ask to see the stock. If there is an oil on the walls which is way beyond reach, but which has huge appeal for you, ask what else that same artist may have done. What about the working drawings? Are they for sale? If it’s a sculpture, what happened to the maquette? Be cheeky. You may well turn up something interesting. And as for ceramics, it is almost always possible to pick up a bargain in this area because the foolish rigidities of the art market mean that the medium of ceramics is still regarded as slightly less important than works made from other materials.
So go to Barrett Marsden in Clerkenwell, a gallery which specialises in glass and ceramics. Harrass them to turn out the cupboards. If Henrietta seem awfully snooty when you walk in, laugh at her to create a better atmosphere.