In 1992, Graham Ryles published a pocket-sized handbook to accompany collectors on their escapades through the art world. A Buyer’s Guide to Australian Art is a straight-talking guide to the Australian art market, relevant regardless of taste, budget or experience – the fruit of a lifetime spent honing the collecting impulse.
In this collection, behold gems from Graham’s journeys alongside an interview with him and tips from his book, which despite being published over thirty years ago, still ring true. If there’s one lesson to be learned from this seasoned collector, it’s that the enjoyment and pleasure of collecting is learning.
How did you develop an interest in art and collecting?
I grew up being taken to art galleries and took art class at school until Year 12. I continued visiting galleries as an adult, seeing ones in England, Europe, Russia and the United States.
As a student, I also began haunting second hand shops, markets and so forth, learning to distinguish between commercial ‘prints’ and ‘original prints’. At that time reference books were very expensive, and I used the State Library for my education. Remember, no photocopiers! All hand-written notes!
What art are you drawn to? When do you know you’ve found a treasure?
Treasures! Everything I bought was a treasure! I had limited knowledge/money and reference material to know names, media used, nationality, style, were they notable, subject matter. I followed what I liked and if what I saw was a real print or work on paper, finances permitting, I snapped it up.
Are they any works you missed out on that you still ponder?
Of course! Some Piranesi genuine works on paper. Ellis Rowan water colours of Australian wildflowers…
Graham's Tips on Collecting Art
If you’re interested in an artist, visit galleries that have their work – find them through monthly exhibition guides, social media or searching the web. Once you’re there, keep an eye out for the gallery’s current exhibition catalogue which may list the name of the work, materials used, size and price.
When visiting galleries, talk to the staff about your interests. Get onto mailing lists where upcoming exhibitions and opportunities are shared. As Graham writes:
“Don’t be intimidated or shy! Art Galleries need sales! If you ‘feel uncomfortable’ with the responses of the person you’re talking to, leave. There’re plenty of galleries who will welcome you. Remember you have buying power.”
Don’t buy in a hurry. Look, then leave; come back, or don’t. Ask questions like: Is this the artist’s typical style, subject matter, medium? Where else does the artist exhibit, have they won prizes? Are they in state or regional collections? While prizes and representation in public collections should not be your only criteria, it’s worth considering where an artist sits in the ecosystem.
Graham’s emphasis on curiosity extends to all corners of collecting. He urges collectors to be curious about low prices, perpetually auctioned works or the concept of investment potential. Collect art that you long to hang on your walls, that is good quality for your money, has resale potential and derives from a reliable source. Seek out gallerists and art dealers who have sturdy reputations, accreditations and operate with transparency.
Once your collection is underway, Graham advises to not shy away from resale. Turn over what no longer excites you – not for a quick profit, but because rejuvenation is a healthy part of every collection
Read more in Ryles' book: A buyer's guide to Australian art
© Copyright: Graham Hartley Ryles