This article first appeared in Vault magazine, issue 13, Feb 2016. Photo courtesy of Vault magazine, by Penny Clay. Back wall: Ben Quilty, Jim Morrison Was Here, 2014.
Boris and Naomi Tosic, the Sydney-based couple behind boutique co-working company The Office Space, may play down their knowledge of art but the breadth and calibre of their collection speaks otherwise. Ben Quilty, Del Kathryn Barton, Brett Whiteley, Julije Knifer and Ningura Napurrula are just some of the Australian and international names that feature in a collection fuelled by the couple’s unadulterated love of art and deep respect for artists.
Art is a part of everyday life for the Tosics. Prized works, including pieces by Guan Wei and Stephen Powers, dot the walls of the original Office Space site in Surry Hills’ Reservoir Street as well as Paramount by The Office Space, a set of luxury office suites that occupy a floor of Paramount House, a landmark Art Deco building nearby.
Through The Office Space they run Gallery 2010,a non-profit, curator-run initiative designed to support the creative development of exhibiting artists. They attend exhibitions and private tours (such as a recent visit to see Gilbert & George at Hobart’s MONA); and more recently have commissioned artists, such as Del Kathryn Barton to create custom artworks for them.
For Boris, who moved to Australia from Croatia as a young adult and also runs a building and construction company, art is an emotional experience. He says: “I think it’s about honesty. It’s purity. It’s emotion. It’s beautiful.”
WHAT PROMPTED YOUR LOVE OF ART?
BORIS: As a young man, I bought my first painting which was by Tim Storrier. I was very young for that kind of purchase. That was 19 years ago.
In a kind of a shy way I thought, “How do you buy art?” Coming from a background of needing to know everything, I felt like I should know more and that [art] was for other people. But nevertheless I proceeded to buy it. And instead of reading and educating myself about it, I thought the best way was to buy it and then learn and possibly acquire a taste. Over time, you sharpen your perception, your knowledge of what you like.
Sometimes, I [considered pieces] and thought:“I don’t get it, but there is something to it.” Then I would buy it and learn to interpret what it was that I felt at the time. So [art collecting] was literally [an attempt] to do something meaningful with money but also something that bettered myself and helped me learn about something I didn’t know anything about.
In the beginning, my approach was very two- dimensional but as I get older, I’ve acquired taste. Now I buy sculpture and video art. I think I am a bit braver in my emotional maturity now so I can venture into things that I’m not necessarily familiar with.
I am happy to learn and be open-minded.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COLLECTION?
BORIS: It’s very eclectic. When I started buying – because [the impulse] comes from within me – I was very obsessive and kind of secretive about it. Because, I am a very emotional human being, every purchase was emotional. It felt like someone could see me hanging on a wall. And when I was younger I was very protective over it until one day I decided to put it [his art] up. It was a very emotional journey to see it up there. I thought: “Is this who I am?” I learnt to love it.
WHAT COMPELS YOU TO AN ARTWORK?
BORIS: I used to be an emotional purchaser. Now that emotion is spurred by a bit of knowledge and background. I can define certain things and define a certain style. Drawing comparison to fashion or design, if it’s not your profession but you’re in it, you develop a certain style. This is the same with painting. If it compels me and speaks to me, I buy it.
Ultimately, art is something that I choose to live with. I have six children. If I can show a work to my family and bring it into my life, it becomes part of our life. It’s almost like I hunted it out and brought it back for us to say, “Here it is.”
DO YOU SHARE SIMILAR TASTES IN ART? OR IS THERE A PARTICULAR PIECE THAT YOU SHARE A PASSION FOR?
NAOMI: There’s a specific painting by an Aboriginal artist, Ningura Napurrula…
BORIS: We went to an exhibition and I got introduced to her through some friends.
NAOMI: It’s a piece about women’s fertility.
BORIS: Yes. She [Ningura Napurrula] was explaining it and was telling me about all of these paintings. Every time I looked around she was kind of looking at me as I walked through the gallery. Then I stopped in front of a painting and she pointed her finger at it. I did a circle and looked at the same painting, and did another circle and stopped in front of the same painting. I looked at her. She pointed her finger [at it] and I bought it. That was the day we found out Naomi was pregnant.
NAOMI: Then it turned out it was her favourite painting. It felt really significant because it is such a powerful painting. It hangs above our bed, which is nice. I think that’s a piece that’s got a story that’s common to us.
WHY DO YOU THINK COLLECTING ART IS IMPORTANT?
NAOMI: I think for beauty and prosperity. When I see what is involved in art – particularly being able to see into different artists’ studios – it is such important work. It either [reflects] them emotionally or marks a stage in our culture. There’s something really special about that.
When a lot of people walk into our home – which is covered in art – it’s the first thing they respond to. They start looking up the walls at the art. I think it’s beautiful to have our children grow up in that environment.
BORIS: Why is it important? I see artists as the bravest human beings. They are the most honest people in our society. Because to be that passionate and honest you have to be constantly connected with your inner self. They have the most exhilarating intimacy with their inner self. It’s not obtainable to us everyday people. They don’t escape, they are in it 24/7.
WHAT DO YOU FORESEE FOR THE FUTURE OF YOUR COLLECTION?
BORIS: I think it is inevitable that it will be donated somewhere. Ultimately [art] represents love for yourself and it beautifies your life. I’d like to put
it somewhere for people to enjoy.