Abstract Collage

I bought several pieces recently from an artist named Janet Ahrens. She is an Iowa artist that starts by making her own paper. She adds squares made of various materials, such as porcelain, tile, rock, or plastic. Found objects, usually twigs, may also be used. She puts them in very deep frames, but not shadow boxes. Some are titled, but most are not. She does not like to put titles into her work, because she does not want to put her interpretation on it. This way, the viewer is allowed to come up with their own interpretations.


I see abstracted landscapes and cityscapes. I love the juxtaposition of the natural with the man made and the irony of the coarse material that is man made, but looks natural. The framing of the piece also intrigues me. There is a mat around the field, but the art doesn’t fit inside it. She purposely places part of it outside the allotted space. To me, this is representative of the creativity of humanity, refusing to stay within their self-imposed bounds. It also shows the wild forces of nature, where such bounds are irrelevant.


I purposely arranged the pieces in an order that followed this sort of irreverence. The pieces are placed so that they form a definite grouping. They are aligned along the center, but not on any edge. The distance between the top and bottom of each piece was kept the same to give more structure.


I hope to see more of Ms. Ahrens art in the future.


Article on Art Collecting

Many people learn more about art and art collecting by reading about art. This can be books, magazines, on-line article, and blogs. Obviously, I think that is an important outlet for learning about art and art collecting, since I blog about it. I have also found that discussion groups are helpful in learning about art, art collecting, and artists. There is an art collecting group on LinkedIn that I follow and sometimes post comments. It has been a very positive experience for me as a collector.

Recently, one of the members posted a link to an article on art collecting that I thought I would share. The article can be found here.

While the article is supposed to deal with Asian contemporary art, it really has good advice for any art collector, including amateur art collectors, like me. The best point in the article, in my opinion, was when Mr. Wemhöner said not to worry about liking what you bought 5 years from now. Buy what moves you right now.

Your tastes are going to change. I started collecting exclusively landscape paintings. I now have more abstracts. I had thought that I would have a 50/50 split between sculpture and paintings. That has not happened, and I have many more paintings than sculptures.

Does that mean I’ve made mistakes in buying? Not at all! I still enjoy the works that I bought years ago. I hope to enjoy them for years to come, but if not, I will be more than happy to rotate them out and into storage for a while. Who knows, perhaps I’ll find in the coming years that the works that I enjoy now have lost my interest and the “older” pieces will capture that passion again.

The only real mistake you can make is falling in love with a piece and regretting that you didn’t get it.

Finding Your Style

Most artists have their own particular style. This style can be defined by the subject of the art (landscape, abstract, portrait, still life, etc.), color schemes (Picasso’s Blue period, Rothko’s different color fields, and the like), or most likely a combination of both. Great artists define or expand art with their style. Dali is instantly recognizable, but many are hard pressed to name many more surrealists. Landscape painting has been in existence for most of history, even if they were primarily used as backgrounds for portraits (look behind the face on the Mona Lisa), but it wasn’t until the Hudson School of painting that it really hit it’s stride, at least in my opinion.

As collectors, it is important for us to identify our style. It can be as diverse as we want it to be, but the best collections are generally centered around some sort of theme. Dorothy and Herb Vogel primarily collected Minimalist art, but also supported conceptual artists. Are you interested in landscapes, the color purple, wildlife scenes, or something more specific like Mormon art after the pioneer days? I find that I am attracted to groupings of small works to form a larger, overall work. My first commission was based on this idea.

The artist who inspired me in this concept is Shawn Wolter (www.shawnwolter.com). When doing research about art, collecting art, and local artists, I found his web site. While looking through his work, he had a picture of a grouping of many smaller works. Right after, I read about a showing at the Museum of Modern Art where an artist made a large work that was a grid. Each grid was a different color with a slightly different painting style with lines connecting all the sections. It hit me that here we had two ideas, a large work made to look like it is small and small works that are arranged to look big. My favorite works in my collection have been influenced by this idea.

I recently bought several pieces from Shawn of many different sizes, colors, and even styles. As someone passionate about his art, and generally a very helpful person, Shawn helped pick the pieces and arrangement for the work. Using small pieces in a random looking placement makes the space and the overall effect look huge. The “spill over” effect onto the wall and to the other side of the fan shows that the work is too big to be contained. To me this is an interesting idea for paintings that individually are small.
Near this work is a piece I commissioned of 24 small works in a grid. This gives a dissonance that I find not only eye-catching, but playfully ironic. When I purchased this work, this is exactly the effect I wanted.
Find your style. It will not only make each piece more meaningful to you, but the collection itself will become greater than the sum of its parts.

Art and Copyright

When I first started becoming interested in art and collecting, I was talking to local wildlife painter about his work. There was a work that I thought my wife would like, but I also noticed that he had several prints of the same piece, some different sizes, different frames, different matting, etc. I asked him about what happens when someone buys the original. Did just stop making prints?

The answer was very resolute. One would have to pay him a lot more than the price of the original for the copyright to a work. Many collectors don’t consider who actually owns the rights to a particular work. Is it different if I buy from a gallery, buy directly from the artist, or commission a work? Who would I even talk to about something like that?

I’m not a lawyer. I have talked to several artists and friends who are lawyers, though. In general, the artist retains the copyright to any work they sell. That has implications for some of the things a collector can do with their art. First off, this means you can’t just make copies of the art you buy and sell it. You have to have specific permission to do so. Second, if you have, say, a blog about collecting art, you need permission to post images of that art on your site. If you don’t have permission, the artist can legally force you to remove those images, even if you never intended to violate the copyright. Third, it means that artists have no restrictions on selling prints of that work. They can sell as many as they want in whatever venue they want.

As a collector, I want the artists I collect to be successful. If that means that they make prints and sell them, I’m happy for them. What some collectors worry about, however, is the monetary value of their art. After all, if I buy the original for thousands, but hundreds of others buy the print for hundreds, doesn’t that devalue my original? Maybe. But, if a work becomes very popular, raising the prestige of that artist, which then increases the demand for that artist’s work, it could also make the original art more valuable. After all, how many prints and posters of American Gothic are there? Same with works from Picasso or Monet. Do you see the price of their originals drop because of it?

Ultimately, my advice is not to worry about artists selling prints of originals you buy. But, you should be aware of the owners of copyright. If nothing else, it is polite to ask to post images of their work. I’ve never had an artist tell me no. Most are happy for the recognition.

Art on the Prairie

I went to an art show in Perry, Iowa this weekend. According to the web site, there are over 100 artists, musicians, and poets. There are 6 buildings, each having several artists. Musicians are in all of the venues. I had worried that this would detract from the art or the talking would detract from the music. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. The music was a nice accompaniment for looking at the art. If you wanted to just listen to the music, it had a nice concert feel to it. Overall, it was much nicer than I had expected.

There were two artists I follow there, so I made sure to talk to them. The first is Cindy Skeie, who is a macrophotographer. I normally don’t buy any photography, but she does some really good work. I had her sign and date the picture I bought, which makes it a little more unique. I really like how she frames her work and presents it. She can be found at www.skeiescapes.com. I bought her calendar entitled “What the…”. Very cool pictures and reasonably priced at $15.

The other is Joseph Murray, who unfortunately doesn’t have a web site. He does really good landscapes, bird paintings, and rural scenes. He uses a very cool process of water color with acryllic in a layered format. The whole process gives a great light effect. He is doing a one man show down in Jefferson, IA at the end of November/early December. I hope to collect more from him after the first of the year.

There were quite a few fiber artists at the show, which is really unique for the shows that I have been to. There were a couple what I would call traditional quilts. They were pretty good. The ones I thought were the coolest were the applique quilts that used the fiber and sewing as a medium for expressing an idea, whether it was landscapes, portraits, and even abstracts. Some of them even dyed their own fabric and one made their own thread! Awesome stuff.

Here is where I get on my soap box a little. Art is a business. You have customers (at least potential customers) walking around. Please, if you are going to the show to display your work, interact with your customers. They want to talk to you. Those artists that were friendly, talkative, and seemed to be genuinely be excited about being there were generally doing pretty good in sales. Those that were sitting there, working on something or (worse) reading had no one in their booth. Look, I’ve done booth duty at conventions. It is mind numbing. Having the same conversation over and over is no fun. But, honestly, that is what I as a customer want. Art is emotional. Art is about connections. Art is as much about the artist as the piece itself.

Overall, a pretty good show. I’d suggest it for anyone in the area.

An Abstract Mixed Media Artist I’m Following

One of the artists that I have really enjoyed is Shawn Wolter. Shawn is an artist in West Des Moines, IA that does mixed media abstracts. He uses a combination of spray paint, acrylic, and other materials to create imaginative works that combine Pollack like drips with an almost graffiti style wash. I particularly like his use of texture, which is hard to see on a picture, but awesome in person.

Shawn does a lot of our local Des Moines shows, but also travels around the Midwest doing shows as well. I am hoping to buy a grouping of small works or perhaps a series of his works after the first of the year.

Shawn’s web site is www.shawnwolter.com.

An Awesome Glass Artist

Most artists that use glass have a certain sameness to their work. One thing I look for in art is a uniqueness about the works. It isn’t enough to me for the art to be good. It has to be in some way different. Not just different from other artists, but different from other works from that particular artist. You may (and should) have your own specific style. I certainly want to be able to identify you from a crowd of similar artists. However, I want whatever I am buying from you to be unique. This is one reason I don’t buy prints and photography in general. Glass and ceramic works tend to have a certain sameness to me, which means they don’t excite me as much as other media.

Then, I met Tony Cray. A self-described pyro with a passion, Tony makes glass art. Granted, these are still items like bowls, vases, and the like, but Tony has a method that I can really appreciate. First, he colors his own glass. Second, he has his own designs, so no two pieces are exactly alike. This is awesome, to me. Another big plus is Mr. Cray has a really cool (or should I say hot) web site that shows all the steps in his process. When it comes to glass, while the end product has to look really good, it is really all about process. In Mr. Cray’s case, he is almost a conceptual artist in this regard. Once the art is complete, he’s passed the point of when he is done. The process is over, now it is a matter of tweaking it, improving it, and doing it again. That’s something I can really appreciate.

I suggest checking out his web site at www.tonycray.com.