Art class: Tricks of the trade from an industry expert

Decorating the walls that envelope you can be daunting to many but it’s never too late to evolve.

Imagery runs rampant these days. Far beyond the natural beauty that surrounds us, technology relentlessly feeds us wildly eclectic pictures every second, all the time, offering up infinite takes on society, our planet and the cosmos beyond. It’s a wonder we aren’t desensitized to imagery by now! But what often keeps us hungry for more is the yearning to see life through someone else’s lens. Besides, the art we put in our homes can transform our environments dramatically. And when we discover those special images and
objects that speak to us louder than words, and move us in untold ways, we come to really appreciate art, and those who bravely put it out there.

Purchasing art for your environment can be at once exhilarating and daunting. No matter how much we spend, it’s a commitment of sorts. Sure, if we don’t like the way something looks when we get it home, or if we tire of a piece we’ve lived with for too long, we can simply take it down. But true art lovers pride themselves in the curation of their personal collections. It becomes a joyful, creative exercise. And while some adventurous souls
are adamant about travelling the globe—or at least the city—exploring galleries in search of just the right piece, many rely on the expertise of consultants or designers they’ve grown to trust to do all the legwork and present the options.

Enter Breann Ritchie. The 30-year-old art expert is director of Crescent Hill Gallery, a lush 5,000-square-foot emporium located in Mississauga, Ont., representing the work of 40 to 50 living artists, mostly Canadian.While the majority of the work is paint on canvas or board, the gallery also offers a variety of mixed media, from glass and ceramics to soapstone and wood with encaustic. I spoke with Ritchie about how this modern gallery sources its art and how clients fall in love with it.

You represent such a wide and eclectic assortment of artists. When you go searching
for great art for the gallery, what kinds of things are you looking for?

I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting artists and techniques. I have a deep interest in creative individuals and their work, being an artist myself, so I find it very natural keeping up with trends in the market. Our local collectors are often inspired by design
trends and work with designers to create balance and harmony in their homes and offices. These trends can influence the art and artists we pursue, but not always. Often we’re looking to balance this need with a desire to represent current and unique style—something we haven’t seen or don’t currently represent. The collaboration with our designer/art consultant partners offers us a lens through which we view artists’ work and come to conclusions as to whether it could be something that works for our clients,
both international and local.

What would you say are some of the strongest, current “trends” in art? And how often do these art trends tend to shift? It would be sad to invest in a great piece of art that may seem dated before too long.

Trends in art can be anything from colour scheme to material to technique and everything in between. I’ve seen a lot of black and white. I’ve also seen loud colour and text, glitter, unconventional use of materials, highly sexualized content, juxtaposition of old masters work with current materials, a vested interest in pattern or mark-making, maximalism and metallics. Colour trends affect our gallery’s market the most. We regularly work with clients that bring in colour samples and couch fabrics for a painting to match. That being said, we also work with collectors who are more concerned about how the work will integrate into their larger collection or how it makes them feel. These days, trends come and go in the blink of an eye it seems. Social media has such a huge impact on this. For our gallery,
we are looking for sophisticated imagery, composition and the artists’ dedication to their style.

Some art aficionados might cringe at the idea of buying a painting to match your couch. Do you find that a lot of folks are looking for art to go with their decor, or do you try to encourage people to go for art that simply speaks to them?

I am always encouraging clients to engage their senses and open their minds to new styles. That being said, some people prefer art to be mere decor and are in a position to procure original art for this purpose. I’m happy to meet either client. Everyone has different needs and as much as the art industry wants to deny it, it’s a business. The work we sell isn’t necessarily conceptual in nature. Conceptual art has a different purpose and is often
not meant for display in a home environment. All artists are attempting to create narrative in their work, and whether it’s centred on colour or theme, is hidden or blatant, it’s always present. I make sure the stories of creation aren’t lost and give the client the information and tools to discover the narrative for themselves. The importance of it to the client can only be determined by them.

Do you find a lot of people are a little intimidated to just go out and start shopping for art if they haven’t done so before?

I think it can be very intimidating for people to approach a gallery—especially if they’ve had little to no exposure to the industry. We make it simple for people. We want our collectors to be inspired, uplifted and captivated by a piece of art. We want to evoke strong emotion. A lot of our clients will apologize for not liking a piece. I say “Tell me what else you hate!” I want to know it all so that I can help them find what they can live with every day. In my mind, art should activate the mind and the soul. Educating the client on the technique and the background of the artist arms them with knowledge and starts to eradicate any fear they may have had walking in. I want it to be an easy decision for them to make. Love at first sight…if possible.

How do you “take people by the hand” and introduce them to different artists? It must seem a little dizzying at first for some.

It can be very overwhelming and a difficult task for someone who doesn’t necessarily know what they’re looking for. I often start by talking to them about subjects they’re comfortable sharing. Their kids, their job, their interests. That can be very revealing. It can indicate if they’re traditional, outspoken, independent, etc. From there, I ask them about the work they have currently.

Are they looking for something to work in conjunction with artwork they currently own, or something outside the box?

It’s all posed as conversation, but every little tidbit helps to “paint a picture.” Then I start showing them different artists and explaining technique. At this stage, they’re comfortable enough to let me know what they like and what they don’t. I ask poignant questions about what they don’t like specifically, and this makes people consider compositional elements that affect them and what they think is important.

How do you suggest people best acquaint themselves with artists, and open up to all the amazing possibilities?

I suggest that they attend shows and don’t be intimidated. Show interest. Instagram, Saatchi Art and Artsy are huge online resources for discovering artists and their work. There are a lot of great resources out there. The art industry is a very social one. It’s about creating conversation, discussing opinion and zeitgeist. Curiosity! Just ask questions and engage.

Perhaps you could give us a half-dozen or so of your most interesting or most popular artists, and explain what their unique appeal is.

Maya Eventov: Maya is one of our most successful artists and has been for 20 years or more. The true depth of colour in her work, along with the intense amount of texture she includes, has contributed to this. She is also the most prolific painter I have ever heard of. Her style is adaptable so she paints in a variety of series such as abstract, figurative, landscape, still life.

Emilija Pasagic: Emilija’s work is experimental, spontaneous and process-driven. She uses materials such as epoxy, oil paint, acrylic paint and gesso in one painting. Many of these materials push against each other and create separation and unique textures. She focuses her compositions on abstracted florals and appeals to current trends in terms of colour scheme.

Harold Braul: Harold is interested in the mundane, everyday occurrences he encounters on the streets of Toronto. His cityscapes are concerned with commuters going about their day, with tall windowed buildings and rainy moody afternoons. He often blends his backgrounds using his fingers to add to this moody ambiance.

Lee Lessem: Our newest artist, Lee works in abstract expressionism. Each piece has its own unique story. Lee is from South Africa but has lived all over the world. This has contributed to her style and visual influences, as well as her world views. Her pieces are singular. Every one is very different but you can tell they were all painted by Lee.

Marie-Claude Boucher: Marie-Claude is a French-Canadian artist with an energetic and incredibly bright personality. Her work is also very bright and cheerfully rendered. She uses colours directly from the tube with minimal blending done directly on the canvas. She tends to use only one or two brushes to complete a painting, giving her work a very
stylized look.

Beverley Hawksley: Beverley lives in a remote area near Huntsville, Ont. Her work is characterized by female figures on neutral backgrounds. She includes a great amount of detail in every piece using collage to create narrative and shift the eye of the viewer.

Peter Panov: Peter’s work offers a variety of juxtaposed imagery. His pieces focus on movement and rhythm. They are figurative pieces that reference music or fashion from the 1920s. His work indicates a multifaceted and nuanced approach to painting the figure and their narrative.