Arifa Akbar: The exhilaration of becoming a collector

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The Independent Online

I was led into a gallery in Darlington eight years ago where the Own Art scheme had been piloted for some time before becoming available nationally. Every inch of the gallery, Gallerina, was crammed full of paintings, prints and ceramics, like an Ali Baba’s cave for contemporary art.

My friend, Ian, led me around the room in a high state of excitement, pointing out a wall covered with large Peter Blake prints to a piece of graffiti by Banksy which was casually resting in another nook.

Ian had only recently starting buying works through the scheme (he’s bought lots since) and he was zealous about how painless spending up to £2,000 could be. “Look around, choose anything. You don’t have to pay a penny today.”

I felt as if I had been ambushed by a car salesman, and slightly dizzy at the prospect of making a choice. I was not yet a homeowner, and here I was making a decision on buying an item that was as far removed from my daily luxuries, let alone necessities, as it could get. Yet it was exhilarating to think I could walk out of the shop that very day with a piece of contemporary art.

How to choose? Jumping from one art work to another, I felt a slight anxiety stirring over whether to put my money behind a “trophy”, such as a Peter Blake print which at around £1,000 (a mere £100-a-month) would doubtless be a solid financial investment, or if I should take a punt on a cheaper work by an emerging artist and hope for a healthy profit.

Perhaps, said Ian, I should choose what I liked, something I could even grow to love in years to come. I found myself returning to a painting of a purple cat with its head turned curiously towards the mouth of a gramophone, like a painted version of the His Master’s Voice trademark on vinyl records but for cat-lovers.

It wasn’t a particularly complicated or clever painting but it was one I found really quite charming.

Ian was right, walking out of the gallery with the £800 painting under my arm (after having signed up to pay £80 a month for the next 10 months), really was painless.

I was told it was by a British artist called Colin Ruffell, who apparently sold well abroad. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t a trophy or an investment. It was a work I liked, and nearly a decade later, I have no idea how much it is worth – but it still makes me smile.