The tides of patronage have been slowly turning for some time now. Fading fast are the traditional imagined patron – a wealthy high society influencer dropping coin on their pet artist. Indeed, a modern patron is more likely to distribute their support widely by way of enabling artists and the art industry to better self-sustain. I shared a sparkling water with one such modern patron, Sonja Hawkins, co-founder of My Art, to find more about her heritage and how her love of art came to be.
Auckland born and bred; Sonja grew up in the sleepy suburb of Howick. Her father was European, which saw her travelling through the continent at the impressionable age of nine years. Visiting the usual haunts of cultural significance and the grand architecture in which they resided left quite an impression on the young girl, one which only grew with time.
I used to draw and loved design and architecture. I developed a love of textile from my mother and Croatian grandmother, both taught me to knit and crochet, which gave me a love of craft and developed an eye for detail…
“I recall a school trip to the Auckland Art gallery where as a young teen, I saw Cabinas telefónicas by Richard Estes. That was quite a profound moment for me, up until that point the art I’d been exposed to was quite traditional, and all of a sudden I was experiencing Pop Art that was new, contemporary, exciting.”
It is of no surprise that Sonja’s home gracefully combines strong architectural features with a collection of some of the best contemporary art from Aotearoa and further afield. It exudes warmth, even on a bright and brisk autumn day. One can only put this down to the art collection, each piece a mix of experiential and artisan.
How did your love of art evolve?
I began visiting dealer galleries, getting to know gallerists and buying art. I loved the environment and the culture, and the joy that living with art gave me. I recall meeting Bill Culbert at the Venice Biennale, having such an impact on me, being able to talk and engage with the artist, and understand the thought process behind the work. It creates such a connection to their work.
One of Culbert’s illuminated arrays of colourful plastic containers takes pride of place at the entrance of Sonja’s home.
One day my husband and I were at an exhibition of a mid-career artist, it was such a fabulous show, everyone loved the work, but they were just a bit out of reach for many.
My husband is in finance, and we thought, ‘How can we make this happen for people?’
Helping the gallerist sell an artist’s work, in turn supports their practice.
What is one of your fondest memories connected to purchasing an artwork?
I met the artist Lottie Consalvo at the Auckland Art Fair, she was giving an artist’s talk. Listening to her speak about her practice, the energy and nature of her work – that stayed with me. The following year we invited Lottie to our home, we keep in touch, recently she sent me a letter scrawled across the back of painted paper. It was beautiful, personal and precious. It was a special moment. Art gives these moments.
Who is catching your eye from your own collection at the moment?
Kushana Bush’s work is phenomenal! I see something new in her work all the time, so much is happening. I find myself looking deep into work and questioning what the artist is saying. I see different things every time, and a different ‘story’ to my husband.
What kind of art do you find yourself gravitating towards?
Contemporary art, with an element of craftmaking in the background, I love the felt of Peter Robinson, the delicate stitching of Francis Upritchard and the layered paint of Rohan Wealleans. The materiality of art.
With My Art it is our hope that the future will see the continued flourishing of the arts in New Zealand, and that we will all find new ways to engage with art and to celebrate the richness of our cultural landscape. One of the ways we are looking to do this, is by working closely with the Arts Foundation to develop a new Laureate award for the visual arts, and we are very excited about this going forward.”
Can you give our readers any tips on art investment? For new collectors, the best advice is to visit galleries, start conversations, look widely, and trust your own process. The more informed you become, the easier you will find to make judgement and trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to make an enquiry and learn about the artist and their practice. Meet artists and visit studios if you can, and don’t just look to well-known artists. While we all might aspire to own one of ‘the greats’, buying emerging or mid-career artists can be very rewarding as you follow their career, and journey along with them.
If you’re interested in learning more about art, check out My Art’s Instagram (@myartnz). Which currently features a series of industry profiles, sharing insights from the arts community about different aspects of the creative process and approaches to collecting. Discover more at myart.co.nz.