Every month we invite a prominent collector to recommend three pieces selected from the PROJECT PAPYROPHILIA inventory. We are delighted to introduce Werner Grub:
Hi Werner, how did you get into collecting initially?
From childhood onwards I was always fascinated by the beauty of design, craft and the expression of the unseen, unknown or the opening of new ways. I loved to meet creative and artistic people who had a different way of looking at the world. From there it is a short journey to start buying a small piece or two. You can immerse yourself in a new paradigm which keeps challenging your views and feeds your imagination.
You lived and worked in Frankfurt for some time. Having a long and rich heritage in the tradition of collecting, did your experience in Frankfurt inform or influence you in any way?
Frankfurt was the first city that I worked in. The rich cultural heritage was important to me as it has an amazing number of top museums which are often overlooked by visitors. The Städel Museum was an eye-opening museum as it is an art collection (one of the biggest in Germany) that was mainly built up by donations from Patrician families over nearly 300 years—similar to Basel. The Städel was never a royal collection or dominated by a single sponsor. It reflects the taste of each decade but also the way a society looks and lives with art. It also shows what art was overlooked at its time. I always found it fascinating to think about a society in the mirror of the art they cherish and collect.
You travel widely. Does your travelling facilitate your collecting or does your collecting facilitate your travelling?
BC (Before Covid) I was indeed traveling a lot and wherever I went I always tried to find time to visit galleries or art shows and museums. I like to go to the smaller museums or galleries on my trips as I was often surprised about my “finds”.
And having lived in Germany and the UK, what do you think are the main similarities and differences between the German and UK art scenes?
In both countries the art scene is vibrant, fuelled by good art schools, good public art institutions and a general interest in arts. It is still part of the DNA. The scene in the UK seems to be more commercial—in a positive sense—as it allows artists to show their work to a broader audience.
You have a wonderful enthusiasm for the artists that you meet and collect. Is your interaction with the artist an important factor in why you collect, and if so why?
It is the other way round. In most cases I am fascinated by the artwork and I become interested in the person through their work. As a curious person I want to meet the artist behind and often a dialogue develops which might also be interesting for the artist (I hope).
One of your many passions is work on paper—what is it about paper that captivates you?
The fragility of the medium but also the global use and the diversity of the material. From watercolour to printing to papier mâché, the way to express yourself is manifold.
And do you think work on paper can hold its own against other media?
Yes—it forces the artist to focus and work on an unforgivable surface.
We have asked you to select your three favourite pieces from our inventory – could you expand on why you have chosen these artists?
I like it when artworks have a narrative which can be interpreted in many ways. It can be the content or the colour or technique which fascinates and inspires. From the inventory, I chose the following artists: Michael Boffey, Melissa Kime and Richard Wathen. I can see where they stand in the long history of art while still layering a new meaning onto their work. All three artists send the viewer off on a voyage into his own past or future expectations and dreams. Somehow I feel it is very apt for the current situation.
And why these pieces specifically?
In my view all three pieces are very time specific works which reflect and question our time and our values. All play with our imagination and give misleading clues.
‘Interior with Wallpaper’ by Michael Boffey. While it looks like a faded old photograph of a still life it is made through a repetitive process by erasing traces and reinstating others. It is multi-layered and the darkness allows a different view at various times. It will never tell you whether it is a reworked old photo or a composed new one. But will it matter?
‘She carved Marian marks…’ by Melissa Kime. I like the folklore aspect of her painting; the reference to medieval times in the title; and also the ambiguity. For example, the Marian marks are debatable as to whether they are religious symbols, builder’s marks or both. They are enigmatic and express past and future hope; they might or might not have any meaning. The colouring is strong and again has historical references; and the subject suggests the Christmas story with angel, animals and the star in the background. Hence it is an optimistic painting about a new beginning and hope.
‘Taraxacum’ by Richard Wathen. I like the emptiness of the watercolour. The portrait disappears behind the flower which–as soon as you notice it–takes over the painting. Women with a white flower have a strong religious connotation but here the non-binary subject could also be a boy or girl and immediately the narrative changes.
And finally, what advice would you give to new, aspiring collectors?
See as much as possible in museums and galleries. Read about art, art history and artists—whatever triggers your interest. “You only see what you know” (Goethe). But buy what you like. If unsure, buy a small piece and try out the artwork and if you respond well to the work, see it as a confirmation.