When you buy art with your heart instead of your head, you can shrug off all kinds
of silly little details. If it’s the right painting, who cares if it fits over the couch—as
long as it fits through the door? If you love a ceramic piece, sculpture, collage or assemblage, it makes no difference whether your mother or brother or sister likes what you buy. (Who needs to know you’re thrilling your inner rebel?) Bottom line: All that really should go into your decision to buy a work of art is the intensity of the emotional response you have to someone else’s vision of the world. So let your heart lead you into the world of art shows, galleries and art fairs.
That’s the wisdom handed out by five local collectors whose selections amuse them, delight them and still occasionally stop them in their tracks.
Art for Thought
“Yes,” says Daun Manning. “As a matter of fact, I do have art in every room . . . in the bathroom, the hallway, in my children’s rooms. It’s everywhere.” Manning says her collection started about 10 years ago with a Jason Merrick sketch. “I got it at Lynda Jolley’s Big Art gallery, the gallery she had before she opened JayJay. The colors are beautiful. It’s a female nude and very simple.” Since then, Manning has developed a taste for pieces that pack an emotional wallop. Case in point: an assemblage by Galelyn Williams she bought recently. “I’ve loved her work for years, and I have two smaller pieces, but this one just hit me. I knew it was the one I was waiting to find. It’s hard to explain, but when I looked at it, it reminded me of my grandmother. It really takes me to a different place.”
Manning’s teenage son and daughter have each taken their mother’s lead and started their own collections. “They don’t necessarily have my taste,” Manning says. “We go to openings and galleries together, and they know what they like. They are very clear about that.” And their friends? They are drawn to pieces all over the house, Manning says. “When they come in, they ask questions about the art. They’re intrigued by it, I think, because it’s not something they see all the time.”
Although she doesn’t rotate her collection (“I don’t have enough pieces to do that,” she says), Manning does move pieces around to shake things up. She’ll take a painting from one wall and put it on another, or take it to a different room. “When you do that, you can give the piece new lighting, and it’s like starting all over again,” she explains.
Manning has learned the hard way not to hesitate when she sees something she wants. “I let a Mary Warner velvet painting get away,” she admits, emitting a sigh at the memory. “You don’t want to let a piece get away because you always remember that one,” she says. “It’s the ones you can’t forget that you want to own.”
A Study in Contrasts
“Our art pushes buttons,” says Louis Greenwald about the works he and his wife, Alice Choi, have acquired. In other words, they’re not all nice, pretty paintings that line up quietly on the walls. “Alice and I can be sitting on the couch and talking about a piece that has given us something to think about year after year. . . . It may be something on the news that triggers us to think about it or something that happened during the day. But I think that’s what incorporating art into your life is really about.” Greenwald describes the couple’s collection as 80 percent provocative, 20 percent what other people might have in their homes. Greenwald and Choi collect the works of nationally and regionally known artists as well as those created by local talents such as Alan and Helen Post, Troy Dalton, James Albertson, Mick Sheldon, Linda Fitzgibbons and Jack Ogden. “When I look at a piece, I ask, ‘Do I like it?’” Greenwald says. “That’s the important question.” Take Alan Post’s portrait of a young woman with a violin, for example. “She has a sad look on her face, and it draws you in because you’re not sure why she’s sad.” And that, Greenwald says, is what hooks him: the not knowing, the way the piece offers an avenue for questioning and contemplation. “We have a lot of art in our home,” he says. “Some people will come in and not comment at all. Others are fascinated by it.” When someone is bothered by a piece, Greenwald and Choi are not bothered a bit. “To me,” Greenwald says, “that is what art is supposed to do: make you look at things and talk about them.”
One piece that must provoke considerable talk is “Sacrificial Bacchanal” by Troy Dalton, a painter known for his metaphors and mixing of history, mythology, religion and art. “It’s a bust painting—a self-portrait. There’s a goat’s head balanced in a gold miner’s pan on his head, and in the back, nude women are bathing,” Greenwald says. “There’s a perplexed look on his face, and he has his hands up near his face. When you look at him, you can see he’s thinking about something very deeply.”
In contrast to the Dalton, Greenwald says a Kim Froshin diptych invites viewers to delight in the uncomplicated beauty of a piece of wrapped candy. “That’s about as simple as it gets,” Greenwald says. “It has one hard candy and one chewy type. It’s technically beautiful and just very nice to look at.”
But that doesn’t mean Greenwald and Choi’s 4-year-old daughter, Madison, likes this one more than the other works in her parents’ collection. When Madison asked to have one of the “provocative” paintings in her bedroom, her parents didn’t think it was a particularly good choice and had some explaining to do. “After I talked to her about it, you know what she said to me?” Greenwald asks. “She told me, ‘It’s just art, Dad.’” Madison’s room got a somewhat tamer work by “outsider” artist Skinner.
Never Too Much
“I don’t collect to hand things down to anyone,” says Sacramento artist Vicki Asp. “I collect what I enjoy for myself and to live with myself.” Asp, whose own luminous plein-air landscapes of the valley are themselves favored by local collectors, surrounds herself with ceramics by Eric Dahlin and J. Randall Smith, and paintings by Tony Montanino, Miles Hermann, Larry Welden and Gary Pruner. “I love his work,” she says of Pruner. “He judged a show I was in years ago, and I ended up taking classes from him at American River College. He works with pure color. Whether it’s jelly beans or coffee cups, it’s always pure color.”
Asp says if a piece stirs her emotionally, she isn’t overly concerned with the artist’s method. “When you love a piece, it’s not about technique,” she says. “It’s about how a particular piece moves you. The piece itself. Everything about it. Something can fall down in technique but be very powerful in other ways.”
Living in the midst of the paintings, sketches and ceramics she’s assembled during the past 25 years is a joy, Asp says. “I just love looking at the work. I love to have it hanging all around me. It’s a comforting feeling . . . like getting a peek into the artist’s world.” In order to fit more art into her life, Asp has recently started buying jewelry—Stan Padilla’s in particular. “If I run out of wall space, I still have room on my wrist,” she says. And she looks for smaller works in other mediums as well. “The last painting I bought was 4 inches by 4 inches,” she says. “When you get them smaller, you can fit more on the walls.”
“I must confess: I am not an art collector in the sense that I am a wealthy person and I can buy anything,” says Michael J. Heller. “I certainly have a budget. But when I connect with things . . . whether it’s by a well-known artist or not, is immaterial. I really enjoy Second Saturday Art Walks, and I rarely miss it. I love to cruise around and drop into the galleries. What usually happens is, I’m walking around and having a good time, and suddenly I see something and boom, I get an emotional hit from it. That’s how I buy my art.”
Heller is a partner in Loftworks, the company that builds mixed-use projects in the downtown area. “I have a connection with visual things because of my background in architecture, which is art in its own way,” he says. “Every project I do now has a component of public art.” He has big plans for the property he recently purchased at 20th and J streets. “That is one massive expression of art from a design point of view,” he says. “That one will make a statement.”
Heller says he has been collecting for about 10 years. “When I graduated from USC, my parents gave me a wonderful painting—not a poster or a print, but a painting by Gregory Kondos, one of my favorite artists.” That was, Heller says, the kickoff. A continuing influence has been his friendship with Wayne Thiebaud’s son, Paul, whose gallery is in San Francisco. “He is one of my best friends, and he has really given me guidance and been a mentor to me,” Heller says. “He really got me excited about art, and his dad is an amazing guy.”
As Heller scours galleries and public places for art, he will occasionally “track down” and approach an artist to learn more about his or her work. That was the case when he saw Leslie Birleson’s “Traveling Light” sculpture in the ticketing area of Terminal A at the Sacramento International Airport. The piece is part of the Art in Public Places Program of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. “I love getting to know the artists,” Heller says. “Becoming friends with them makes collecting even more meaningful to me.”
Who are regional art pros keeping their eyes on? We asked four savvy gallery owners to name just a few of the area’s rising stars.
Matt Duffin—“He’s becoming hugely popular,” says Julie Baker of Julie Baker Fine Art on Spring Street in Nevada City. “He’s got a unique technique, and there’s also storytelling and humor, especially with his donkey character. It definitely strikes a chord. Local collectors buy his work as well as people from New York. He’s fresh and on the rise.”
Daniel Mundy—“Whether you’re talking about the technical command of subjects or of painting, Dan Mundy knows what he’s doing,” says Barry Smith, of the Smith Gallery at 11th and K streets in downtown Sacramento. “In his recent work, you can see the way that he captures sunlight in his landscapes . . . you can see the talent. When he came knocking at my door, I knew immediately that his art was sophisticated and well-developed, but he hadn’t been shown anywhere else. That was about four years ago. Very few artists can paint the human form, and his works are fine examples.”
Terry Miura—“When we first starting working with him, he was doing completely different work than he’s doing now,” says Linda Welch of Exploding Head Gallery on 12th Street in downtown Sacramento. “He got to the point where he mastered a concept and vision, and then wanted to change. Before, he was using more architectural subjects; his new works, the plein-air landscapes, have a similar emotional feel, but a different color palette. He’s got a very, very strong approach. He also does oils and amazing figure drawings.”
Robert Charland and Boyd Gavin—“I think Robert Charland is someone to really follow as a sculptor,” says John Natsoulas of the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts on First Street in Davis. “His work is amazing, and I think he’s very promising. Boyd Gavin, I think, is an artist who’s re-emerging, and one of the best painters coming on the scene now. He does figuratives and still lifes, but generally he paints what he wants and is really passionate about. He’s hands-down the best re-emerging artist I know of.”