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Guillermo Presents: Rupert Allen

Guillermo Presents: Rupert Allen

This is the 2nd “Guillermo Presents” interview about art appreciation and art collecting, hosted by artist, instructor, S66 curatorial associate Guillermo Trejo:

This time I have the pleasure to introduce you to my good friend Rupert Allen. Rupert is a interviewee for this series, especially since he started collecting at a young age; something that is not that common.

Rupert and I have known each other for a long time now. I have to say that he is probably one of the first people that bought my art in Ottawa. It was a MUNNY figure that I designed for a collector’s toy store in the market (the store doesn’t exist anymore). That was about 10 years ago or maybe more; since then my work has evolved, as well as Rupert’s collection.

Perhaps you don’t know Rupert, but have most likely seen him. He is definitely one of the best dressed men in town; you can find him at many cultural events art openings, and social events. I used to dress up if I was going out with him because I did not want to look to bad next to Rupert!  

Rupert in front of his Whitney Lewis Smith Photograph

The one thing that I know to be part of his success as collector is his commitment to the arts and his involvement in the “ecology of the arts”. Meaning Rupert follows the evolution of artists, meets with artists, curators, and he is always aware of the macro and micro movements in the arts and I think this has helped him decide when to collect and when to wait. 

Rupert thanks for participating in this interview.

Let’s start with a generic but important question. Do you remember the first piece you purchased art and why you decided to purchase it? Was it an artist that you had been following or was it an impulsive decision?  Do you remember how old where you at the time?
Unfortunately, I cannot remember the first piece that I bought, but I can remember the first piece that I lost, and by that I mean a piece which someone else bought that I was coveting. It left a mark, and was when I realized I may have a burgeoning problem/addiction issue. I remember it very clearly, it was a lovely little Howie Tsui piece, an artist I have continued to like and follow to this day, who just had an extraordinary show at the Ottawa Art Gallery. I was 22 or 23, and at the SAW gallery art auction, and it was bought by someone else, and now long time nemesis. It is an odd feeling to be struck by regret when it is object-related. It also jumpstarted my collecting habit, because similar to heartbreak, you set out to never feel that way again. Sadly, I avoided neither heartbreak nor losing out on an art piece in my late twenties. I think it is insultingly called character building. And now that my memory has been greased a bit, I can remember the first piece that I bought. Shortly after I graduated from Carleton, I moved down to Brazil to work at the bank Itau, and at the Bienal. It was there that I became more familiar and engaged with the graffiti scene, and got a piece by the Brazilian duo, Osgemeos. Sadly, I traded it for a few bottles of decidedly mid-range wine and cash for a plane ticket to Venice a few years later, which is probably why I purposely forgot about it. Best not to dwell on mammoth personal failings too heavily. 

Artists: Ambera Wellmann and Sarah Clifford Rashotte

Rupert, I find that you are really good at finding artists and developing your collection from there. Do you see yourself as a “talent finder”? How much effort do you put in to knowing the artist and looking at their work before you collect it? Or it is more of an organic process?
At best I am a good coattail rider of what others have discovered. Having said that I do try and read as much as I can and get out to as many art openings as possible. Now that I have two young children, and it is getting increasingly hard to get out to shows and find the time to read, I have found that listening to what others in at the art world are saying allows me to better triage what I should be looking at. I always try and chat with artists, collectors, dealers and curators, people who are no doubt smarter and have read significantly more than me. But getting back to the question of how I buy, sadly, I have no algorithm for that. Sometimes I impulse buy and sometimes I draw things out beyond reason. I know the owner of Le Petit Mort Gallery (which is sadly close), used to find it unbearably tedious when I hummed and hawed over a 50 dollar found photograph past gallery hours on a rainy Wednesday night. In my earlier years, I would say that my purchases were lubricated with a few more drinks than I can allow for now, and an expense account that didn’t have to rationalize childcare payments. 

SPAO students' work

One thing that I find really interesting about your collection is that really varies in esthetics; you have lowbrow art or street art beside fine photography, or a silkscreen poster beside an oil paint abstraction. It feels eclectic but not random; I find that the connection is the quality of the artist. How do you manage this? How can you be open in terms of “appreciating” different styles at the same time? It sounds easy, but I don’t think it’s easy to have a good eye.
Well thank you, I probably owe part of that eclecticism to my mother, who has a strong sense of design, and always had a lushly decorated house, full of gilded picture frames, antique wooden birds, old MoMA exhibition posters, stacks of Spode dishware, and myriad of flower vases. I would also have to say that the variance in the collection reflects the stages of my life. I like that as I look at the collection on the walls of our house, I can trace my life from my mid-twenties to now, the ups and downs and the inevitable sideways turns somewhere in my late twenties. It is a visual biography. Now I share my life and art collection with my wife Sarah, daughter Brooklyn and son Oliver, and the collection reflects them as well, which is where much of the eclecticism comes in. For instance, while I might like vintage black and white photos of racy nudes, my wife prefers colourful graffiti art to be positioned in the dining room. We have settled on both. Which I guess is why the collection may not feel random, because the choices have been deliberate, and selected individually for their quality, and personal fit. I think this eclecticness carries over to our furniture and finishings, which are from across the spectrum, but somewhat, somehow work, maybe. 

Artists: Karel Funk and Andy Summers and Hayden Menzies. We love that there is original art in the children bedroom! 

Artists: Shuvinai Ashoona and Barry Ace

In relation to the previous question, I have to say that I am always surprised at how much you know about artists and their projects. It’s almost as if you are collecting the artist rather than an individual piece of art, is this fair description? Are you mostly interested in the artist or interest in the art comes before interest in the artist? 
I would have to say both, we have many artists in our collection, whom I have never met personally but loved the particular piece. I always try and reach out to them, to ask about the work in question, and about their practice. I also go the route of meeting artists, and becoming interested in them before I see their work. I would say the two are complimentary. And where possible, I do like to have a bit of depth though, that is to say multiple works from the same artist in different styles and or mediums. But the ideal is really, when you become friends with cool, dynamic and impressive artistic people, you get the opportunity to support them and their careers and hang their work on your walls. I would say that would be my favourite part.  

Artists: Guillermo Trejo / Jinny Yu collaboration and an early Amy Schissel

Recently you donated some works from your collection to the city of Ottawa. I find this really interesting because this somehow validates you as a collector. Do you have any tips about this process of donation? I also find this is an interesting way to help artists enhance their curriculum, because by consequence of your donation, the artists are also in the collection of the city; was this part of your idea? 
No tips, but I would certainly encourage people to do it. My wife and I found it to be a very easy and fun process, especially when you see the works newly framed and hanging in the gallery. While it wasn’t part of why we did it, adding another institutional collection to an artist’s resume is never a bad thing, and we wanted make sure that the pieces were properly cared for. We donate wine as well, which is another collecting vice that I have picked up, both to my wife’s pleasure and dismay. Back to the art.

Artists: early Natalie Bruvels painting and ceramics by Celia Perrin Sidarous

Do you have any suggestion for a younger person interested in collecting art?
I would advise you to get out and start seeing some of the great art exhibits around the city. Local art shows are full of interesting people, in very fun and approachable atmospheres. They can be great parties as well. You will start discovering what you like, and build your own “eye” and taste. It is also very important to buy what you want to live with. Outside of Ottawa, art fairs like Toronto and Papier (Montreal), are great places to see a lot of art at once, and they also offer wonderful people watching in different cities. I took my daughter last year who was four at the time, and she wept when we didn’t buy a 20 thousand dollar photograph. And the time before she coloured over the piece we bought when it was resting on the table. I guess results vary when you make it a family outing. There is a lesson somewhere in there I guess.

Do you have any suggestion for younger artist? 
I am not an artist myself so I am not sure I will offer the best suggestions, but I would say that based on the conversations I’ve had with artists over the years, I get the sense that Ottawa is a great place to start a career in the arts as there are incredible institutional resources and very knowledgeable and approachable people here. In a larger town, some of these types of resources might feel beyond the grasp of an artist just starting out. 

What do you think about canary yellow pants for men? Asking for a friend… 
Ha. Your introduction reminded me of when I upped my dress code thanks to my friend Mauricio. Every-time we went out, which was often, I looked like a disheveled suburban garbage can standing next to him. Needless to say I had to pull myself together a bit more, and inject a bit of frivolous colour and insouciant pattern. So the answer is a strong, and unflappable yes to the canary yellow pants. 

Rupert with his Rémi Thériault photograph from the Front series

Do you have any other comments? 
No, I think I have rambled on enough. 

Thank you Rupert!

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