BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — Joel Gilman has the hand of an artist and the head of a businessman. He also has the heart of an art lover and prodigious collector who wants to share his particular passion with others.
While a business-savvy artist is unusual, the motive and means to cultivate a love of art collecting in others make Mr. Gilman a rarity in the art world, say both the fellow artists whose careers he has forwarded and the neophyte collectors whose instincts he has nurtured.
"I'm very cautious," says artist Jilda Schwartz. "You get to where you feel like everyone is trying to take advantage of you, but [Gilman] really loves the art. That's rare."
"He's awakened in me the knowledge that I can do this myself," says novice collector Patric White, a Manhattan Beach, Calif., psychologist, who got his first taste of art acquisition through Gilman. "He was able to help me see that I didn't need a large fortune to begin collecting."
This avocation came to Gilman after a successful career in advertising provided him with sufficient means to pursue his vision full time.
Gilman is an artist whose own art sells well and provides the creative satisfaction he felt was missing during his years as an advertising art director. But it is his private collection of the emerging artists of Los Angeles - a collection of more than 10,000 pieces, which both adorns his Beverly Hills canyon home and fills his garage and other storage areas - that has become an informal "classroom" for the uninitiated, a way for Gilman to share what he calls the "joy of living with art."
Since nearly all the works he collects are from unknown artists, and would have little value on the resale market, Gilman is quick to point out that he is not making a profit from his collecting. When he does sell, "I'm recycling the art back into the community, mostly in order to get money to buy more art," he says.
"All this art is very personal to me," says Gilman as he sweeps up the front steps past an elaborate steel-wire sculpture that appears to be trying to scale his garden wall. "Whenever I sell a piece, I feel as if I'm giving away a child."
He's been collecting since he was 20. His first acquisition was a $100 abstract oil painting from a street artist in London's Hyde Park. He even recalls the artist's name. "Graham Smithers," says Gilman with a smile, who adds that he has no idea what became of the artist.
The process of discovery is what got him hooked, says Gilman, who serves on the board of directors of the Modern and Contemporary Art Council of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
"Part of my passion comes from the treasure hunt," he says. He regularly visits university art programs as well as artists' studios. "I like to find young artists."
Gilman's home is alive with art, from the seven-foot sculpture of a man in the entryway to the tiny figures crawling over walls on the living room table. A detailed list of the items reveals 43 separate works of art in the living room, 26 works in the kitchen, 17 in the master bathroom, 19 in the master bedroom, 4 in the powder room, and an additional 17 in the guest bedroom. That doesn't include the dozens scattered throughout the sitting room, atrium, hallways, and bathroom, as well as in the gardens and patios.
Gilman's approach to helping newcomers is a gentle process of pushing boundaries.
"He nudged me along in furthering my taste and expanding my boundaries," says Mr. White, the new collector. "It was like I could borrow his eyes for a while [to] help me look at color and texture in a new way."
After an immersion process that can "pleasantly occupy a whole day," says White, the two of them settled on a selection of artworks that would be installed in White's beach cottage "for me to live with for a while, to see which ones I really like."
With White's permission, Gilman emptied White's home of its current artworks.
"It was a hurricane of creative frenzy," White says. "He took apart my home and reassembled it with all the pieces I had an eye for, not from the standpoint of an interior decorator, but from an artistic one, with color, texture and feeling in mind."
White says his initial intention, to buy one or possibly two new works, quickly changed.
"The end result is that I was really swept away, and I ended up with five new major pieces for my home," he says.
Newcomers usually spend between $5,000 and $15,000 for their first pieces, Gilman says.
The emerging artists Gilman collects appreciate him as well, as he helps introduce collectors to their work.
"People like Joel are rare in the art world," says Bruce Gray, an artist whose work Gilman owns. "He genuinely loves art and artists, and he wants to see you succeed.
"He's not in it for himself as much as he is to help other artists further their work."
Tips for the emerging collector
Joel Gilman offers the following advice to art lovers who are just beginning to buy works.
Go with your instant gut reaction to an art work. Don't buy names, buy only those items you absolutely love, and you can't go wrong. For those who say they aren't confident about what they like in art, Gilman responds, "You know when you like a dress or a shirt, don't you? Then, you know your tastes. Just trust them."
If you buy anything under $5,000, don't do it with an eye for resale value. It probably won't have any. Items over $5,000 you should consider as investment art and do research beforehand on to their resale value.
Don't worry about buying something that will look good over your couch. Buy an artwork you love, then "travel it" through your house, and you'll find the right place for it.
An exception to the last statement: Large-scale items, such as paintings over six feet or massive sculptures. You should bring these items home to see if they work in your house before you commit to buying them.
Support young artists. For the price you might pay for a name artist, you could probably find 10 equally interesting pieces by an emerging artist.
If you have to return five times to consider buying something, then it's not the piece for you.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor