Irish Times | Home Magazine, Mar 12 2023

The art experts Tara Murphy and Michael ‘Rubio’ Hennigan are attempting to change the way we think about purchasing paintings and sculpture by making the experience more accessible and friendlier than ever, reveals Ruth O’Connor

Investing in art can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated. with the dizzying array of artists, art styles and prices available. Thankfully, your local gallerists are here to help.

Established in 1981 in Dublin’s Powerscourt Townhouse Centre by Suzanne Macdougald, Solomon Fine Art is now owned by Tara Murphy, who has worked there since 1994. She is both approachable and passionate – quite the opposite of the frosty gallerist readers might have in mind. Murphy says that exclusivity is not the gallery owner’s modus operandi. “We are trying to make buying art as democratic and as easy as possible,” she says. “Our job is to get the artists work out there. We are friendly and want to share our knowledge and help people find the piece that is right for them.”

The Covid pandemic led to the all-female team at Solomon Fine Art adding a viewing tool and listing prices on the gallery’s website – something that is quite unusual in the art world because many galleries state “price on application”, necessitating a call to the gallery.

“People like the transparency. They then know which artists fit into their budget.” Murphy says. “It means that they can focus on their buying rather than be distracted by a piece that they love but is out of their price range.”
Other services at Solomon Fine Art include the gallery’s “try on”. “If someone loves a piece but is not sure that it will work, we can let them try it in different rooms, let the whole family see it or, if it’s an office space, they can get feedback from colleagues.”

Solomon Fine Art also offers home consultations. “I like doing home visits because I can see the person’s taste and see what they like. There’s a huge spectrum – from the very abstract to the traditional – so it’s great to get a sense of what the person likes,” Murphy says.
Not only did the pandemic change how the gallery operates but Murphy believes it also changed attitudes to investing in art as people came to appreciate the joy it could bring to their lives.
“In the Celtic tiger era many people were buying names for investment,” she says. “I now hear fewer people asking if a piece is a ‘good investment’. After the financial crash and the pandemic, people realised that there’s more to life than whether a piece is going to make money.”
That said, there will always be those who invest in art because of its monetary value or the artist’s reputation. “You have expensive ‘blue-chip’ pieces that will keep their value, and then you have younger artists who are like start-up companies you spend less on their art but the risk is bigger,” Murphy says.
She advises those who want to invest for either financial or aesthetic reasons to do their homework. “If you stick with reputable galleries, you’ll get good advice on the artist – whether they are in collections such as the Office of Public Works or the Arts Council, where they have shown internationally and whether they are in the collection of any major buyers. Gallery owners are dying to talk to people to share their knowledge.”
Solomon Fine Art is known for sculpture as well as paintings and can arrange foundry visits and help with transport and installation. Murphy says a sculpture can make a great gift on a significant birthday or to mark retirement. “Paintings are very subjective, whereas sculpture can be a little easier to buy for someone else,” she says. “With sculpture, you want to buy a limited-edition piece, usually from an edition of five to ten.”
Ultimately, she says that there is something to suit everyone. “You don’t have to like what is ‘hot’ right now,” she says. “Stick with a reputable gallery and go with an artist that has a good track record within your budget. And, obviously, you have to love it. There’s no point buying a piece of art just because someone told you to.”

Near Solomon Fine Art is Hang Tough Contemporary. Established by Michael “Rubio” Hennigan in 2021, the gallery was a natural evolution from his Hang Tough Fine Art printing and framing studios. The Hang Tough Contemporary space has an open-door philosophy with music plaving and big windows.

It’s designed to break down any fear people might have around galleries and investing in art.

Buying artwork for your home goes hand-in-hand with starting an artwork collection,” Hennigan says. “The most important advice I can give is to enjoy the collector journey and to adore every work you purchase.

“Invest in artists who you connect with and art that interests you. This means that you follow them because you like their work and not because you think you should like it.”

Hennigan says we should buy from artists whose work resonates with us because we love their themes, colours, composition or the scale of their work and the feeling it gives us when we look at it. “It must mean something to you,” he says. “Stay away from buying works that are trendy, or works that you think you should invest in.”

For those dipping their toes into buying art for the first time, he believes that investing comes at a later stage when the buyer is a more confident collector. He cautions people to be wary of buying art to fit into a decor scheme at home.

“Buying artwork that you love by an artist you connect with offers lasting enjoyment and sustained interest.?

He says that supporting artists at the start of their career can form a journey for both collector and artist. “You will keep up with their progress and, as a collector, you are then part of their journey and artistic development.

Should they hit the big time then that’s fantastic – the piece you own has risen in value and you will be proud to own a piece from that artist.”

He also says that “collector culture is everywhere” and wants to shift this culture towards visual art. “People spend a fortune on records, on clothes, on different things that they collect. Art doesn’t have to be seen as prestigious or just for high earners.”

At Hang Tough Contemporary, Hennigan also wants to democratise art and make it more accessible. “Not everyone can afford to be a collector but they can have an appreciation for art, then, in time, they may have an opportunity to become a collector.

“As your love for collecting grows so too may your bank balance. Whatever you decide to purchase, buy it because you adore it and because you connect with the artist’s vision.”

John Short, New Works in 2D + 3D, is showing at Solomon Fine Art until April 1; solomonfineart.ie.
Paul Hallahan, The Sheltering Sky, is showing at Hang Tough Contemporary until March 19;


Main picture and top right:

Kolibris by Melissa O Faherty €7,500; and Bridget Flinn’s Waterscape €800, bothSolomon Fine Art.

Middle row, from left: Mokus by Zsolt Basti, price on request;

and David Booth’s Cathode, waitlisted, both Hang Tough Contemporary.

Bottom row, from left: Tara Murphy:

Tom Climent’s The Island, sold, Solomon Fine Art;

and Michael “Rubio” Hennigan