Julia Coleman: the art of art collecting

  1. THERE'S A REASON Julia Coleman is such an authority on art, having spent her childhood surrounded by some of Australia's most iconic painters. The curator and gallerist, who recently relocated from New York to Sydney with her family, shares her high-low philosophy on collecting, which is utterly refreshing
  3. Photographed by HUGH STEWART 


  5. Makeup WAYNE CHICK


Colour My World: main picture top, Julia Coleman at her home in Sydney next to a work by John Seery; and above, her dining room features a textural collage by Jessica Stockholder and a ceramic bowl by John Olsen. 


  1. My mother was an art critic, author and historian in Sydney, she made art an integral part of our lives, surrounding us with artists, blank canvases to paint on, clay and so on. As children, my parents owned a beautiful farm called Bundanon in Nowra – Arthur Boyd eventually bought it from us and it went on to become a museum in his name. We spent a lot of time there with the iconic Australian artists, Brett Whiteley, Arthur Boyd and John Olsen. That time, amongst some of the most creative people I know, ignited a huge interest in the process of art-making and the story behind their works. I watched them for hours painting the surroundings and saw the works unfold over several days before my very young eyes. Brett was particularly fun to watch!

I recently found a journal I had written at 13. It reminded me of the first time I looked at art outside of an Australian context. My parents took us to Rome for a holiday insisting we all kept diaries and there is an entry with a postcard of a Caravaggio painting of Saint Sebastian, and I have written next to it: 'I have decided to devote my life to art'. Although it now appears a little dramatic, even for a 13 year old, it clearly made an impression. I still love that painting.


Stuck On You: I love Your Kiss Forever Forever by Andy Warhol, framed edition available from Coleman's gallery, SPAG.

  1. CAN YOU SHARE THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND YOUR BUSINESS – WHAT MAKES SYDNEY POP ART GALLERY, SPAG, SO UNIQUE? We wanted to bridge the gap between fine art and purely decorative art in the art market in Sydney. Our pieces are iconic, well-priced prints, photographs and limited editions. We have a website that enables clients to review images and then enquire about size, framing and availability. Ross Peck is partner in the business and he is one of the best framers in Sydney, we are lucky to have him as part of SPAG; he brings his expertise and fast service to the business. We are able to deliver great framed art, quickly and efficiently.
  3. WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR BUILDING AN ART COLLECTION? Firstly, I think most people would agree, you should buy what you like not what you are told to buy. Also, research – photographs, drawings, oils, pastels, watercolours, prints, everything, and see what you respond to. When you go to a gallery or an art fair, ask questions, lots of them. Gallery people love to talk about their artists, and if the artists are there, then ask them questions too. The more you know about the work, the more you will respond to it.

    AND FOR THOSE ON A BUDGET? The question about budget is easy, there are a lot of great pieces out there, art doesn’t have to be expensive. Not everything will appreciate, but then you don’t buy a couch to appreciate. Always ask about Layaway [or Lay Buy] – we do it a lot. I bought my first painting from a big New York dealer on Madison Avenue and I gave him $200 a month for 12 months. I still love that little painting.


Art Appreciation Society: above Coleman, wearing a Susan Harris kaftan, with her children, John, 11, and Georgia, 15 – Coleman's eldest daughter Bailey, 19, resides in New York; Wild At Heart: below left, Bend in the River Tsavo by Peter Beard, edition number 463 from worldwide edition of 2500 copies; and right, a Peter Beard print hangs in Coleman's living room, both works from a selection at SPAG.

  1. WHICH ARTISTS, BOTH CLASSIC AND CONTEMPORARY, ARE ON YOUR RADAR RIGHT NOW? Francis Bacon has always intrigued me. Although his subject matter is mostly macabre, his use of lyrical lines and colour blocking is amazing. I love the eggplant colour he uses. Brett Whiteley was heavily influenced by him and it is interesting to see their works side by side. When I was last in New York, I went to the Metropolitan Museum and stood in a room of about 12 van Goghs. They were so beautiful, it made me sad almost. His use of paint and colour is the best; I could have stayed all day. The other exhibition I have seen recently was the Warhol and Ai Weiwei show in Melbourne. Although it is very large and seems overwhelming at first, it does a great job showcasing both artists; I came away with a much better understanding of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. He is an activist first and foremost but creates beautiful installations which enable us to view a problem without being frightened of it.
  3. YOUR INTERIOR AESTHETIC IS CHARGED WITH A RICH KIND OF BOLDNESS, CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR AESTHETIC IN THE HOME? Pictures are always central to my decorating. I usually start with art and work back from that. I have bold pictures but I always mix it up. For example, I have 19th-century drawings interspersed with a Jessica Stockholder orange shag carpet painting, and I mix antiques with modern furniture for the clean lines. I like odd pieces like paperweights, small sculptures for tables or an odd ceramic bird sitting on the mantle. I do believe one piece of really good furniture can change a room and by that I mean real – a French bureau plat desk with a leather inlay, for example. Something strong that weights a room.

Something Old, Something New: an Andy Warhol edition (stamped on verso "published by Sunday B. Morning" and "fill in your own signature”, which is available from SPAG), hangs next to a treasured oil painting by Arthur Boyd.

  1. DO YOU BELIEVE IT IS POSSIBLE TO LIVE IN A HIGH-DESIGN ART-FILLED SPACE WHEN YOU HAVE CHILDREN? Definitely. My children, like me, have grown up with art – sculpture, wall art, and other objects – their whole lives. I think children begin an early appreciation of art by osmosis; they do not even realise they are developing tastes and opinions. Obviously they have to be taught to be respectful of the work but once they are told, they seem to get it. I have never had a child break or damage a piece in my house. That can not be said for adults! I also believe that children should be exposed to museums and galleries. My children had the benefit of growing up in New York where it is almost impossible to escape art. I am always amazed by how much they recognise when they see artists works all over the world. John said to me the other day 'hey mum, is that a John Chamberlain sculpture over in the park?' And I probably wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t have pointed it out.

"I think at this point, just encouraging your children to get off their iPads or phones is being creative! Creativity comes in many different forms and should be supported all the time."

  1. HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILDREN TO BE CREATIVE AND HAVE AN APPRECIATION OF THE ARTS? I think at this point, just encouraging your children to get off their iPads or phones is being creative! Pointing out artwork wherever it is – at the beach, in galleries, on the street – and talking about it is very important. Creativity comes in many different forms and should be supported all the time.  My younger daughter loves to do makeup and she is very good at it, that is her creative outlet. My older daughter is studying theatre, my son likes to make houses on his computer – it's all creative, all different. I think all children are creative, it is only when we get older that our mind is bogged down with life and the creativity seems to dissipate.
  3. WHAT IS YOUR VIEWPOINT ON MOTHERHOOD AND YOUR SECRET TO STRIKING A WORK-LIFE BALANCE? I wish I had that secret. Family is a huge support for me, and I do need the help. As a single mum, I rely on my kids to be responsible and quite independent. I think the fact that I can't go to every school event or pick them up from school when it is raining – they take the bus – does frustrate them but I hope that seeing their mum work hard and doing what she loves will outweigh that in the future. I think they are quite proud of me. My kids get it but they don’t always like it. My mantra is: don't sweat the small stuff.


Sydney Pop Art Gallery is located at Shop 4, 10 Cross Street Double Bay, NSW. Tel: +61 2 9327 4907, or look up: spagonline.com.au.