One of my earliest memories is the art wall in my family’s Tai Po flat. I began scribbling on it as soon as I could pick up a pencil, and my parents liked their daughter’s version of abstract impressionism. While almost anything can be considered art, most people would prefer to hang their kids’ doodles in a less permanent way.
My interior design studies at The University of Manitoba included two years of graphic communications. It was the flip side to my early drawings: I learned that lines, colours and textures on a page can break through cultural and language barriers. At the very heart of art is the artist attempting to convey a universal truth. That is why I feel that art for the home should be about personal aspirations illustrated through other people’s work. That is, unless you’re Picasso—and then you display your own creations!
Once you have invested in a few treasures, it’s time to figure out how to make them work for your home. Those of us lucky enough to live in an older building are blessed with nine foot (2.7 metre) high ceilings—that extra foot really makes a difference when displaying larger works. If you have standard eight foot (2.4 metre) ones, it’s not the end of the world, though you may want to consider landscape pieces.
I prefer buying unframed art, as I want to customise the whole package. Always use a professional framer; he will ensure that the work is protected while enhanced to its best advantage. There are a number of items to consider when framing: type, colour and reflectivity of glass, mat or no mat, how much border around the art, type and colour of mat, bevel edge or straight edge mat, reveal or no reveal mat for contrast, type and material of frame—the list is virtually endless. Remember that your eye adjusts for gravity, so always leave a wider border below the art than on the other three sides. Most importantly: the framing should complement the art. An ornate gilt frame, for example, would work for a period oil painting but may look too OTT for a contemporary black and white photo. The framing also should suit a home’s décor. If you’re a bling bling kind of person, maybe gilt would be the way to go for all your art.
Deciding where to hang art is not an exact science. I like art to be framed naturally by vistas such as at the end of a corridor or on the opposite wall of a door so that I see it as I walk in. Proportion the art to the size of the room; kitchens and bathrooms do better with smaller, less formal pieces. As for positioning, art is typically hanged to align the top of frames at roughly between six to seven feet (1.8 to 2.1 metre) high, for the piece to be comfortably viewed in its entirety from an adult’s standing height. This varies depending on the room’s ceiling height, how large the piece is, and what else is on the same wall.
Generally speaking, art should be centred on a bare wall. Most of us don’t live in art galleries, though, and we have furniture, equipment and other stuff that we have to work the art around. If you have a bookcase against a perpendicular wall, remember to subtract that depth so that the art is viewed as centred along the remaining bare wall. If you have a big TV on one wall, consider putting your art on another for less visual competition. I like to hang one piece of art per wall, to focus attention on it. But I am also open to grouping small pieces of art together as a collage—this is a cosy option that suits family photos or more casual pieces.
While general overhead lighting in a warm colour temperature is fine for most homes, track or spot lighting can really elevate a piece. The lamps can be ceiling, wall or floor mounted, depending on the desired impact. Remember that too focused a spot may produce glare.
What’s cool about living with art is that nothing is set in stone. When I move my furniture around, my art follows suit. As my collection grows, occasionally swapping pieces can entirely change the character of a room. Remember to buy art that has personal meaning; for example, I know most of the artists in my collection, or the subject has direct relevance to my life. Have fun with seeking out emerging artists or collecting themed pieces. Vintage posters, catchphrases or pressed flowers easily morph into art when framed and honoured with a special place on the wall. I like buying art directly from artists when I travel as a souvenir—my biggest problem is getting it home without everything going pear shaped.
Here are some recommended local art galleries: