My ART | Collector: Penny Vernon

Collector: Penny Vernon

Collector: Penny Vernon

What do you do?

I help people with houses.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

If I could draw, I would be an architect.

Why go to galleries?

I don’t think anything gives me the same kind of pleasure. I always feel great afterwards – it’s learning, and it’s learning about yourself.

Why collect?

It challenges me… and particularly at my age, I’ve got a short amount of time to become more knowledgeable and have those challenging experiences.

How did you start collecting?

I worked at Dennis Cohn Gallery in the 1980s – I knew Dennis for many years before he opened the gallery (he was my brother-in-law’s partner). Dennis moved here from the U.K. in 1974 and he brought his collection with him, and I saw how those works came to live in N.Z. and how they related to what was happening here. It really opened my eyes to contemporary art.

I do believe Dennis had one of the best eye’s in the business –Ron Brownson summed it up in his obituary  in Art New Zealand; he said Dennis could spot talent in a nano-second. So I watched Dennis install exhibitions, and I watched people like Hamish Keith and Rodney Wilson, and how they knew what worked and what didn’t, and it wasn’t what you would expect. Dennis always said, take the most challenging work.

And I had a very talented mother who bought me a book, The World History of Art, when I was three (in 1942!), and the rest is history…

A work in your collection you return to?

Probably this large work by Allan Maddox (pictured) – because it’s so active; I always see a new colour combination, it’s always changing.

My collection is very personal, quite sentimental really … I think of the works as markers of time, and each one is full of memories.

A recent exhibition that made an impact on you?

Peter Robinson’s installation Rag Trade – it really got in my head.

If you could own any artwork?

I try to support young artists, I don’t necessarily want to pay huge prices for established artists… but I would love an early Murkisich or one of McCahon’s ‘Jump’ paintings. My focus is on local artists, because this is my context.  I also like to follow an artist year after year – that’s the most rewarding journey.

Can you offer a tip for new collectors?

Talk to the dealers, ask them what they think. They have a depth of knowledge that is otherwise difficult to access.

If you see something you like, go away, and if it stays in your head, go back… always use it as an opportunity to learn.

An artist living or dead you would like to meet?

Sonia Delaunay.

Tell us about a recent discovery?

My most recent purchase is a beautiful bag by Vita Cochrane from Anna Miles Gallery. I also loved the Mark Adams show at Two Rooms.

The one that got away?

It was a Michael Shephard, this is going back 30 years, and it came up recently at Cordy’s but it had been badly sun-damaged… Shephard was an interesting artist who stood somehow outside the ‘canon’ – it’s interesting how history treats these kinds of artists.

October 2020