As people who love Yukon art, we have often wondered how a good artist becomes a well-known artist whose work sells for a fair price? Lately we have been speaking with art collectors, dealers, curators and other experts who have insights on how to make a living in the arts. Most recently, we sat down with Ron and Kip Veale, who are well-known supporters of the Yukon arts community. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
What was the first piece of art you ever bought?
Ron: Our first painting was a portrait of Kip that we commissioned from Jeremy Smith, who has become a well-regarded artist based in Kitchener. He was just getting started at the time and we were young students ourselves.
Kip: This was when we were first married. It was important for us to have things we could see that were part of us and to have something that we chose together.
How did you get to know Yukon art? What makes Yukon art distinct?
Ron: We first came here in 1970, then came back and spent a summer at Forty Mile in 1971 while I was in law school. I worked with Alan Innes-Taylor, who had a vast knowledge of the land and history of the Yukon. He arranged for us to go to Forty Mile. We moved here permanently in 1973.
Kip: Many of the pieces of art we love are landscapes. It comes from what we saw in those three years. That’s how we felt about it. It was a much different feeling than if we had stayed in Ontario. You don’t always have people around you, the way you would in Toronto.
Ron: A lot of Yukon art is informed by the land. The artist often knows the land well. You see landscapes, animal life, elements of First Nations spirituality and sometimes combinations of all of these. The art is often representational, but with a distinctive style. Ted Harrison’s landscapes were stylized. Janet Moore, who is now based in Ontario, painted beautiful scenes of the mountains in autumn.
What does an artist need to do to become better known?
Ron: An artist needs a champion. Ted Harrison had a champion in Ottawa who promoted his work. A champion can help you find a collector who will take an interest in buying your art. If a gallery owner likes your work and picks you up, you are laughing. Andrew and Heather Finton, who founded the carving program that is now the Northern Cultural Expressions Society, championed artists at the very earliest stages of their careers, before anyone really knew what they could do. They helped the artists believe in themselves, develop their skills and find their artistic voices.
It’s also important for an artist to champion their own work. You have to know the value of what you are producing and insist on being paid properly.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking of collecting art?
Ron: Buy what you like. You will get more sophisticated as you buy. If you wait to buy an expensive piece, you may wait a long time. But if you buy a $200 one, you can get started. Many of the first pieces we bought in the Yukon were not expensive.
Kip: Art is just something we enjoy. We have never thought of art as an investment. We just buy what we love.
Sometimes we value art for the memories it brings. When I visited Africa, I got to know some carvers in central Kenya very well. I learned so much from them. When I left, one family gave me a piece of sculpture in honour of their daughter who had died. They wanted me to have it. It’s very meaningful, and I treasure it.
Ron: In the summer I like to hike in remote areas for a few days. There are paintings I love of those landscapes. Every time I look at them, my mind goes back to being there. It transports you.
Do you create art yourselves?
Kip: Luckily neither of us were good enough to make art ourselves!
Julie Jai and David Trick are the co-founders of the Yukon Prize for Visual Arts.