When AnneTrabue Watson bought her first piece of art, she was 25 years old. She spent a year agonizing over a Lisa Shimko painting, admiring it from afar, until she couldn't stand it anymore.
"I still could not afford it, but I knew the painting had to be part of my life forever," says Watson, who works as the assistant director at Martin Gallery. Shimko set her up on a payment plan. "After four months of eating Ramen noodles, the painting was mine," Watson says. "I still get the same excitement from when I first saw it every time I look at the painting."
Like Watson, an increasing number of young art lovers are refusing to settle for mass-produced wall art. And while Charleston has its share of priceless collections, the city also offers a wealth of options for young buyers on a budget. Organizations like the Charleston Fine Art Dealers' Association (CFADA) and the Gibbes' Society 1858 make art accessible and fun, while venues like Redux Contemporary Art Center, Robert Lange Studios, and SCOOP Studios sell exciting pieces that appeal to all ages.
"I think more people have grown up with art and want it for their lives as they become independent," says Ann Long, owner of Ann Long Fine Art. "I think for many young people, collecting art is a given. Of course they are going to have art — why wouldn't they?"
For the third year in a row, Long hosts her gallery's Young Collectors' Sale on June 25. The event features oil paintings, drawings, and etchings in the gallery's standard classical realist style, priced from $300-$3,000. While some of the gallery's more established artists, like Ben Long and Jill Hooper, are represented, you'll also find works from young artists Ann Long met in Italy.
"Admittedly, you don't need art like a roof over your head or food, but it does feed your soul and add to your life," Long says. "If you buy collectable artists, you could have a good investment that is worth something more later."
Long began her own collection with an Alfred Hutty drawing followed by a still life by Jill Hooper.
"I couldn't pay for the Hooper, so I asked the dealer to let me pay for it in installments," Long says. "I was thrilled! It was a painless way to acquire a great painting that, today, has increased in value. You always look back and think, 'Wow, that was a lot of money then and just isn't today.'"
SCOOP Studios' playful, contemporary selection and young owners make it a popular stop for blossoming art fans. Co-owner Colleen Deihl says their youngest buyer was 16 — he bought a Brian Bustos piece with his own money for around $40 — though many of their customers are in their 20s, thanks to prices ranging from $100 to $2,000.
"I definitely think that if it moves you, then you should always listen to your impulse, especially if you can't stop thinking about it," Deihl says. "It should be your piece of art."
She adds, "When you get to know more about the artist, you want to not only become a patron of them, but see how they're growing as an artist, so when you buy something from them it feels like you're getting a piece of time. You're going to remember that moment and that artist, and you can move away, but you're going to take the artwork with you and you're going to remember that time or that conversation, or the relationship that you had with the artist."
For AnneTrabue Watson, it's really all about perspective. "Buy it because you love it, not just because you want it. It is something that you will have for the rest of your life. You will have it longer than a piece of clothing, your car, an expensive meal, or several nights drinking."