Mal Brow, owner and curator of 30upstairs, talks about the works currently on display in our office; most of them being recent additions to his collection.

There are two striking works above your desk by Simon Attwooll: Untitled (Green with Purple Triangles) and Untitled (Silver with Pink Stripe) from his series, The Kids are Alright. When did you initially come across the artist and where did these works come from?

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Simon exhibited here in 2012 in a collaborative show with Tom Mackie. I always thought he made strong work and I admired his style. Carey Young at The Young gallery had also exhibited his work. I purchased these two works from her gallery at the end of last year. After careful consideration I decided on the two paintings, rather than just one. My initial thought was to just acquire the more abstract work with the pink stripe in the middle, but then felt that the pair worked well together and were more representative of the wider series.

Why did you pick the surrealist landscape, Scope, by Julian Hooper?

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Julian is a New Zealand artist who I have been interested in for a while, and this work is from his recent show at Ivan Anthony’s gallery in Auckland. I like the balance between the figurative and the abstract in this painting, and felt that his show was one of his more successful exhibitions so far.

Andrew Beck works with light and his photograms are mostly created without the use of a camera. With your history of photography what do you think of these recently acquired works?

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These works, Planes in Modulated Surface 4 – circa 1954 (Clark) – REMAKE (positive/negative), are inspired by an artwork from Lygia Clark. As an avid fan of hers, Andrew has recreated the work in his own style, producing both a negative and positive image. They balance nicely as linear abstract works. I’m not entirely sure how they’re made, maybe partly painted, so there’s a mystery – questions around how he has done it.

I made photograms when I was a photographer and can appreciate his technical ability. Andrew is becoming a modern master of the photogram, a technique that requires a lot of skill and experience to perfect. This skill, combined with questions about other processes involved in the making of these two works, make them a strong example of his developing style.

How did the painting by Jake Walker become part of your collection and what do you like about this work?
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Jake is an emerging artist currently exhibiting at The Young in Wellington. He has also exhibited with Roslyn Oxley9 in Australia – one of the top Australian dealers – which is a nod to his talents.  This work has a subtle three dimensional quality which I love, created with a generous use of oil on linen. I felt it was a very accomplished work and beautifully finished with a glazed earthenware frame.   

When you buy an artwork do you imagine yourself living with it and visualise it in your home?

Generally yes, but that isn’t always the case. First and foremost I have to love the work and feel a need to discover more about it. I often consult my wife Lizzie about whether she enjoys a work and if she would want to live with it. I also purchase works I think would be a good addition to my collection, ie; by buying a piece from an artist whose work I don’t already own, or buying a really important painting from an artist’s oeuvre.

You have a fairly vast collection, including works of well known and emerging artists. Where do you purchase your works from and why?

The more significant works I usually buy from reputable and trusted art dealers or auction houses, as I have faith in them and their decision to take an artist or work on. But I will also buy works from young artists and artist run spaces, and I often purchase works from the exhibitions we have here at 30upstairs.

How do you keep track of your collection and how do you decide what to show and what to store away for later?

It’s a constant struggle of mine to catalogue my works; in the last 12 months I have probably bought 50 works. Lately I have been showing new acquisitions in the office here at 30upstairs for my colleagues and visitors to see before moving them to my home in Karori. We generally rotate works in the office and at home every 3-6 months and I have a few storage rooms to keep works in when not being shown. I have a few favourites and these tend to stay but may be moved around.

My children have favourites too so we hang those in their bedrooms.  Sometimes they will comment about certain works, like my 6 year old son Tommy saying out of the blue that he really likes a Tony de la Tour work and when he grows up he would like to have it. It was nice to hear.

I do photograph all the works I own and keep them on file for personal and insurance reasons. One day I hope to catalogue my full collection.

What do you look for when you decide to acquire a work and how does it differentiate to works you choose to display in the gallery? How would you describe the connection between your collection and the exhibitions here at 30upstairs?

We show artists that are really strong but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to collect their work. We look at what an artist has done in the past and they might decide to produce a body of work that is quite different for an exhibition at the gallery. We also often show works that aren’t sellable, like installations, sculptural pieces or large scale projections.

We scrutinise every artist we show and hold the belief that they have passion to continue making and hopefully will become well-established, well known and well respected, and if suitable may be picked up by an art dealer. The gallery is about encouraging and supporting emerging artists that we feel have an X Factor.

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