Sally Browne‘s warm Federation brick home wasn’t always as inviting as it is now. Built in 1911, the 4 bedroom dwelling was in a dilapidated state when Sally and her husband bought it in 2007. It took them years to renovate the place to its current grandeur, but they thoroughly enjoyed the roughness initially. “We had some good parties,” explains Sally, despite having holes in the ceiling, rusty taps and the only toilet being an outhouse. “We renovated it in 2011, the same year as Pearl was born. I got fed up going out to the garden for a pee 4 times a night during my pregnancy. I came home from the hospital with a new born baby to a roof-less house and 6 builders scrambling to get the roof on before night fall.”
The red brick facade is built out of local St Peters bricks, and Sally lives there with her husband, Nigel and two daughters, Pearl and Honey. The family spend a lot of time together in the main living areas of the house, and are fond of entertaining. “We love hosting dinner parties, although since the kids came along we are more inclined to host a boozy lunch,” explains Sally. “Otherwise our friends without kids want to party on until the wee hours.”
Sally considers herself “a total homebody”, so it’s been important to make her space a happy one. Her art studio is tucked into one of the four bedrooms, but the creative magic is spread throughout the house. Her own work hangs on a handful of walls, with the real stars being an eclectic collection of art sourced from all over. There’s no particular theme to the collection. “Contemporary, pop, abstract, cubism, minimalism, impressionist – all styles are welcome at my place.”
While a particular style or movement may not matter, buying art is like falling in love for Sally. She finds the process exhilarating and each piece that joins her collection has captured her heart and comes from a moment of connection. “I feel like the pieces choose me rather than the other way around. Sometimes I’m just tipsy at the opening and get swept up in the romanticism and thrill of purchasing art, but I’ve honestly never experienced any buyers remorse.”
Every artwork is an investment for Sally. “I believe each piece is going to be collectable one day. And if I’m wrong, then it’s an investment we’ve enjoyed every day so it’s a win win. I’m interested in purchasing work from emerging artists with a track record who are active in the art prize and exhibition circuit. I tend to stay away from trends; original art is not something you’re going to change up like your scatter cushions, so I have to feel like I can have a lifelong relationship with my choices.”
Surprisingly, the artworks adorning Sally’s walls are strikingly different to her own work. “My taste is quite eclectic and I err on the side of androgynous looking artwork if that makes sense. My own work is quite decorative and feminine – that’s just what comes out of me, it’s out of my control. But I have always loved contemporary art. I think one of my favourite exhibitions I’ve seen in recent years was Anish Kapoor at the MCA a few years back. He totally blew my mind.”
Artists among her impressive collection include Bluethumb’s own Brendan Kelly, Stephen Homewood, Marnie McKnight, Katie Wyatt, Ben Tankard, Stuart Cole, James Needham and George Hall, as well as contemporary photographic artist Gemma Avery.
There are a lot of things to love about a life (and home!) chock-full of art. As Sally eloquently puts it buying art is exhilarating as “it is an act of both love and defiance”.
“To the artist because you’re basically saying ‘I see you, I love what you’ve created and I validate and support your life choice’. Love to yourself because you’re acknowledging and prioritising your own need for beauty and happiness in your life, and defiance against that nasty whiny inner voice who’ d rather you paid the car insurance or save your money for a rainy day instead.
“I love that each work of art we own is a snapshot in time that co exists and grows old with our family. And I also feel like art is immortal, it will outlive all of us and be in someone else’s possession some day, maybe future generations of our own family, or complete strangers who find a bargain at a flea market with no idea of it’s history but love it all the same – much like some of the work in my own collection.
“Art transcends time and is far superior to anything else you spend your money on – with the exception of travel and experiences. You’re never going to get the same amount of feel good or value buying a designer handbag. The planet has enough trinkets and tat to cope with that will end up in landfill for hundreds of years. I never feel guilty about spending money on art. Never.”
The journey into collecting was not a deliberate one. “It was quite unconscious in the beginning,” explains Sally. “When most of your friends are artists you just accumulate gifts and swapsies. When Nigel and I got married we made a decision to purchase an original artwork together as a joint anniversary present each year, that’s when we started going to exhibitions and buying artwork instead of just drinking the free wine. Mostly works were under $1000 to start with.
“Then at the end of my design career I had a fantastic opportunity to design the logo and brand identity for a new artist-run initiative. The directors were National Art School alumni. The budget was quite generous and I was paid in artwork of my choosing. I acquired four really great works out of that job and I started to get an appetite for collecting.”
So what do Sally’s daughters think of living in such a colourful, art-filled home? 5 year old Honey finds it “really weird”, however her older sister is a fan. “It makes me happy,” says 8 year old Pearl, “because it’s inspiring.” Her favourite artwork? “The Stuart Cole – because it’s colourful.”
Given Sally’s passion for collecting art and supporting fellow artists, it’s no surprise that her collection is ever growing. “I’ve always got about 100 pieces on my favourites list on Bluethumb and we are often at friends’ gallery openings. When the stars align I usually just snap something up without much notice.”
Her dream artwork, if all the obstacles were removed, would have to be Brett Whiteley’s The Balcony 2. “And if there’s any change left I’d like Matisse’s The Pink Studio, thank you very much.”
Sally has a unique perspective on collecting art, playing both sides of the art market as an artist and a collector. She has wise words for anyone hesitant about starting their own collecting journey: “My friend is a nurse who cares for people in their last days. Nobody ever wishes they worked more or were more responsible. If you are still thinking about that artwork after more than a week, buy it!”
Photos by Bluethumb photographer Peter Collie.