If art is where the home is

Jane Furnival unravels the anxiety of buying art
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Most of us like the idea of having "proper" pictures on our walls, but the idea of buying them makes us worry about being ripped off or having our taste mocked by people who are artier than thou.

So how do you start buying Art?

First, don't let the apparent mystique get you down. The simple rules are: follow your heart, think whether you can live with it in your house, don't buy anything damaged and don't buy for investment without doing your homework first.

Art '97, the London Contemporary Art Fair - a show selling work from most main galleries - starts next Wednesday. It is sponsored by this newspaper and is an ideal place to cut your artistic teeth.

The current passion is for narrative scenes which don't flaunt all their charms at once but reveal more each time you look. If you are seeking entertainment pop to the Flowers East Gallery stand to see Patrick Hughes' startling three dimensional paintings which appear to swivel when you look at them. Sam Taylor-Wood's set of photographs called Five Revolutionary Seconds were taken with a panoramic 360 degree camera which presents an all-round view in five seconds (White Cube gallery stand).

If you want artists with track records, there are new portraits by Alison Watt, who painted the controversial Queen Mother-looking-old picture a few years ago, and large pastels by Paula Rego, whose portrait of Germaine Greer hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. For humour, look for the quirky cartoony style of Annora Spence.

Once you have found an interesting picture, you could organise your thoughts by asking yourself, "What did the artist want to tell me that's new about this subject? And is it worth knowing?" Pass quickly by if it isn't.

If you are looking for a picture to live with, I'd add: "Is this picture painted with love towards the subject?" That doesn't mean chocolate box flattery. Some pictures exude a sourness of spirit that can affect a room's mood.

Always ask the seller, "What's your best price?" It's a trade secret that many galleries add ten per cent to cover the commission they pay to interior decorators. Prints are the cheapest "Real Art", but are scary because you worry that you might be buying an expensive form of Athena poster.

"You've got to be careful," warns Julian Lonergan of CCA Galleries, which specialises in prints by young artists. "Buy hand-made original prints of editions limited to no more than 250. Eight hundred is too many."

The prints' more expensive cousin, the etching, is printed by the artist from a metal plate, then sometimes hand tinted. Once you've got your picture home, the colour of your walls or proportions of your house may make it look quite different. If you hate it, the best dealears will take it back, but you must move fast.

"The last picture I bought - an etching of a pig - was too big for my flat," confesses personal caterer Charlotte Lyon, 34, who collects modern prints of food. "I moved it from room to room until it became an eyesore. I tried to return it to the gallery where I bought it, but I'd had it for a year and the guy wasn't interested."

You could change your wall colour to match your picture, though don't make it too obvious. Interior designer Nina Campbell recalls being taken into a room which had clearly been done up in pale grey to "frame" a Degas. "There was only a cream coloured sofa in the whole room. You had to sit and admire the picture. It's not something I approve of. One shouldn't decorate around one's picture. Pictures should just sort of happen."

Val Lewis, 53, chose her paintings to match her interior. She fell in love with the lithographs of young German artist Jurgen Gorg for their fairytale dream-like quality - and because he uses her favourite wall colours of terracotta and peach.

Six years later, the Lewises have 29 Gorg works and have just moved to a bigger house to give them scope for more. She fell for the house when she saw its high hall "because I could immediately see where my prints would go".

Papers and Paints, the Battersea decorating suppliers, report a steady number of customers clutching photos of works of art hoping to find matching wall colour in pure artists' pigment. Top art suppliers Cornellissen point out that many of these pigments are too toxic for walls. Safe ones are any earthy colours, ochre and terracottas, and ultramarine blue - but they cost pounds 65.25 a kilo. If you move house, or change your interior, change your picture frame. Napoleon changed every frame at the Louvre. Aluminium is out, gilt and painted frames are in. Designer Christine Fallah has just used hand painted salmon pink on a gold frame for three Mick Rooney lithographs of musicians so that "the eye would be attracted to the beautiful frame, as a window leads to the picture".

Frames can make a weak picture seem more important, or a cheap one more valuable but don't be seduced into buying a picture by the frame. And beware: art is addictive.

`Art 97, the London Contemporary Art Fair', takes place at the Business Design Centre, Upper Street, London N1 from 15th-19th January (0171-359 3535). Wed-Thurs 11am-8.30pm; Fri-Sat 11am-7pm; Sun 11am-5pm. Admission pounds 7; concessions pounds 3.50. Gala preview evening: Tuesday 14th January (pounds 15 single, pounds 25 double).

CCA Galleries offer prints from pounds 100 upwards by young modern artists (0171-499 6701). Branches in London, Bath, Oxford and Farnham.

There are independent minder-finders who will help you to buy pictures, such as Julia Fuller (0171-727 4761), Art Contact (0171-381 8655) and Art Search (0181-969 9844).

Papers and Paints, 4 Park Walk, London SW10 (0171-352 8626).

Cornellissen & Son, 105 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3RY (0171-636 1045).

The Arts Sales Index records prices of all real art sold worldwide in the last year. pounds 105 including p&p from 1 Thames Street, Weybridge, Surrey, KT13 8JG. Credit card sales 01932 856426

Good thing

Living Colors: The Definitive Guide to Color Palettes Through the Ages, by Margaret Walch and Augustine Hope (Chronicle Books) will help you match wall paint to painter. The artistic work is boiled down to its 10 characteristic colours, in swatches to take to the paint shop. pounds 22.99 from Liberty, Regent Street, London W1R 6AH (0171-734 1234).

Mad thing

Great art should wear well. This red velvet beret trimmed with an exuberant feather - inspired by Frans Hals' Young Man Holding a Skull (1626) - is one of six hats by Rachel Skinner based on National Gallery paintings. pounds 95 from the National Gallery Sainsbury Wing Shop, Trafalgar Square, London SW1 (0171-747 2870 for mail order).

Sure thing

If you don't see a picture you want to buy, why not paint one. Arts psychologist Andy Evans offers practical help with overcoming a creative block in any art form. Take yourself to him with your failed art and he'll make you feel at easel. From pounds 20 per hour (0171-602 2707).