Art Buyer Profile - Jan and Ema

Margaret NEILL

Margaret NEILL

Why does art have such an ability to transform living spaces?   

It's because art has the power to capture life stories that tell who you are, often expressing memories and feelings known only to you.  At times it may remind you of moments in time, adventures, family, or simply the experience of finding and purchasing the art.  At other times it may be more subtle, evoking the look and feel you want in your space.  Either way, it makes your space into a more personal refection of who you are and how you want to feel. That is certainly the case for Jan and Ema, our featured art buyers.

Jan and Ema are the perfect pairing of two creative types who grew up in different backgrounds.  Jan grew up in Czechoslavakia surrounded by an extended family of artists, photographers and art enthusiasts before emigrating to Canada.  Ema grew up in a very different culture in Japan before leaving for creative pursuits in the United States. Their art story began when they first purchased art as a young professional couple living in Brooklyn.  Since then they have moved to Oakland, are parents to twin boys, and have found a way to combine their many art purchases with art work given to them by family and friends.  Their combined collection serves as a reflection of their family - a coming together of vastly diverse cultures, upbringings and the pursuit of harmony and creativity through art.

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Jan and Ema bought their first piece of art using a portion of their first paychecks.  "We told her we were interested in a piece of her work, but didn't know what we were supposed to do next to buy it.  She gave us a range and told us we should offer a price in that range.  Since we didn't know anything about negotiating we offered her more than her high end and the piece was ours."  With that, Jan and Ema purchased a 6' x 5' piece from Margaret Neill at an Open Studios event in Brooklyn.  They then had to carry the large piece home by hand through the pre-clean-up Gowanus canal area of Brooklyn.  It now sits prominently in their bedroom as a fantastic reminder of their art collecting start.

The two have collected a wide variety of art over the years - from outsider artists to open studio oils to Chelsea gallery prints to Chinese woodblocks to professional quality photos from friends and family.  They generally focus on "working artists" as opposed to established, older or museum-quality pieces or artists.  After that first open studio purchase in Brooklyn they kept returning to artist studios, first in NYC and then in the California Bay Area.  While it's unusual for them to buy at galleries, they'll occasionally do so and will make a point of lining up gallery visits when they're travelling to visit family in Toronto, Tokyo or Connecticut, or on other trips.  They've never had to spend a fortune on art and will continue to buy art as long as it fits within their budget.

The result:  An art-filled home with a wonderful, varied selection of art, most of which has a story behind it, either of the experience of buying the art, the personal connection to the art, or the people behind the art.  Alongside pieces carrying memories of purchases at studios and galleries are an oil painting of the French countryside by a Japanese artist that was passed down to Ema from her Grandmother, a Cuban countryside photo from the inside of a vintage car given as a housewarming gift from a photographer friend, an intricately designed ceramic urn from an artist friend in Detroit, and professional-quality photos of Jan's family in Czechoslovakia.  Each of these works is woven into the rooms of their home in an unassuming way that masks the history they contain, but the layers of warmth are with them on a daily basis.

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Jan and Ema's house is a great example of the power of art to transform an environment into one filled with joy, meaning and beauty.  Art served as a way to combine their lives and create a cohesive story to share with their children who, like their artwork, will be a reflection of Jan and Ema both as individuals and a couple.  Follow their example and bring great art into your lives!  

Examples of Jan and Ema's art:

lawrence quigley - "the toll of possession"

lawrence quigley - "the toll of possession"

The work to the right is by a Cuban artist they only know as "R. Ramirez".  They purchased it in a Toronto art gallery that specializes in the works of Cuban artists.  They were fascinated to learn that Cuba, like other communist countries for other endeavors, identifies artistic talent early and sends them off for training where they become technical masters, potentially at the expense of original creativity.

alexander befelein - "paris"

alexander befelein - "paris"

This piece by Alexander Befelein is one of the rare pieces they purchased at a gallery.  They chose a small print partially for the price point, but also because it felt appropriate given the "delicate" nature of the work.  They loved the dream-like quality of it, with the work fading in and out and touches of colors and lines.

Wedding day photo of jan's parents taken  by his uncle

Wedding day photo of jan's parents taken  by his uncle

They found this Lawrence Quigley piece at his studio and, while they liked all of his work, they partially chose this one of a devil pulling a baby because it was "one of his milder ones".  A first they laughed at it, but then "the complexity set in" and they found it incredibly interesting and nuanced.  They also loved the visual and color schematic.

R. Ramirez

R. Ramirez