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Scots Shopping Centre Seller Supporting “Arts” 2006-02-16

Posted by clype in Europe, Glasgow, Humanities, Money.
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Mr.David Roberts, a Glasgow-born businessman who was scared of visiting galleries as a child, is now stirring up the British art world in a way not seen since Charles Saatchi began ‘hoovering’ up the talent.

Art dealers are understandably keen to befriend Mr.Roberts, who built his fortune buying and selling shopping centres. Mr.Roberts’s reputation as a powerful buyer emerged when he bought two London galleries’ entire exhibitions before they opened.

He is reported to have bought a work by the pop artist Mr.Peter Blake, ‘Marcel Duchamp’s World Tour’, for 250 000 GBP, and a painting by the Turner Prize-winner Mr.Keith Tyson for 287 000 GBP.

Alongside international artists, he has also bought works by top figures in Scotland, including the late Mr.Eduardo Paolozzi, Mr.Peter Howson and Mr.John Byrne.

He bought the star painting in an exhibition of Mr.Howson’s work, ‘Acheron’, for 60 000 GBP. In an interview, Mr.Roberts has said he was not trying to shape tastes or make a killing by reselling work for many times what he paid for it.

Instead, he simply buys art that he likes to look at. Mr.Roberts says many buyers get nervous, unduly influenced by the critics or what art-market celebrities such as Mr.Saatchi are buying up:

 

‘I really do wish people would be more true to themselves.

‘If it touches them, and they love it, and they can afford to buy it, they should buy it.

‘Everybody does their own thing.

‘I don’t love boats, but I know lots of people who like them.

‘Everybody’s got their weakness.

‘There are lots of things that I feel passionate about and one of them is art.’

Mr.Roberts grew up in Greenock, the son of a shipyard worker. He built a fortune in the property business, reported to be worth about 2 500 million GBP by buying and selling shopping centres. While his company is called ‘Edinburgh House Estates’, he actually sold his Edinburgh flat several years ago when he moved his business to London, although he returns regularly to Scotland.

‘My family all worked in the shipyards, so there wasn’t any great artistic inspiration coming from them,’ he says.

‘There were some people I knew locally who were painters and who always interested and intrigued me.

‘When I was young, with the background I came from, I used to find museums and art galleries intimidating.

‘I didn’t feel comfortable there; I always thought if I went into a gallery I would get told off; I didn’t belong.

‘There were not many people there — it was always so quiet.’

Now 49, with six children, Mr.Roberts bought his first painting while he was on holiday in France. It was by a Spanish artist, Mr.Manuel Otero.

‘It cost 1 500 GBP and parting with the cash was quite a frightening experience,’ he says.

He began collecting about 15 years ago, but only in the last five or six years has he become a serious collector. He recounts how an art-dealer friend had once scoffed at him for buying a work by Mr.Patrick Hughes, saying he was passé.

‘But if I really love a painting, I will buy it, not minding what someone says,’ Mr.Roberts says.

Last year Mr.Roberts bought an entire exhibition by Mr.Stuart Luke Gatherer, a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, showing a modern interpretation of Hogarth’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ — eight paintings at 17 500 GBP each. He later bought a series of eight paintings by Mr.Keith Coventry, from ‘The Fine Art Society’ in London.

He is a regular visitor at the Bond Street gallery, which owns ‘The Bourne Fine Art Gallery’ in Edinburgh, and opened a new contemporary art gallery in London last year. Managing director Mr.Patrick Bourne says Mr.Roberts is ‘much less rapacious’ than other collectors:

‘There’s an end plan about building up a wonderful collection that’s not for commercial purposes.

‘He likes to see everything, all the exhibitions in all the galleries. He talks and takes advice and listens, so he is a very good person to have.’

Mr.Roberts says he was first taken with Mr.Paolozzi’s mosaics at Tottenham Court Road tube station in central London, and subsequently bought a watercolour of Mr.Paolozzi’s plans for the station. Mr.Roberts met Mr.Paolozzi a week before the artist’s death last year, at a retrospective show at ‘The Flowers East Gallery’ in London, which represents ‘The Paolozzi Trust’. Mr.Paolozzi’s work is the biggest single group in his collection, with 40 or 50 works by the artist.

Overall Mr.Roberts owns works by more than 200 artists, from Mr.Andy Warhol to Ms.Tracey Emin, split between his London home and office, with many pieces in storage.

Mr.Roberts met Mr.Howson at a dinner at ‘The Flowers gallery’ in London, and he has become a backer of Mr.Howson’s ‘Third Step Trust’ to help recovering addicts. Mr.Howson says:

‘He bought “Acheron”, the major oil that I did last year.

‘I think it’s one of the best pieces I have done in the last few years, so I’m really pleased that he bought it.

‘He bought it before the show.’

‘He seems to just love the work.

‘A lot of collectors buy — you can tell — because they have been told to buy, but he is a more genuine character who has a real empathy for the work.’

Mr.Roberts has yet to add a work by Mr.Jack Vettriano to his collection, and says he likes some of Mr.Vettriano’s paintings, but prices are now very high.

‘I’ve paid a lot more than those prices, but it’s a question of how much pleasure you are going to derive against the cost of buying,’ he says.

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