Original, affordable art adds vitality, visual interest to a home: Buy smart with these tips

Art dealer Heidi Lawrence calls it “doing the loop.”

Someone walks into her Lake Oswego gallery, nods when she says hello, and then glides by to look at the paintings, sculptures and art glass. A card next to each piece has the price and description.

When the visitor loops around again, it’s to zero in on a specific work. That’s what caught their attention, notes Lawrence, co-owner of the venerable Lawrence Gallery.

Finding art you like can be as simple as stopping to look. And yet, ask yourself: How long will you stare at that blank wall in your home before you commit to a canvas that will add vitality and visual interest?

Original art elevates a home: It’s a conversation starter that brings vibrancy and dimension, and delivers color to neutral interiors. And since art is created in a range of mediums, it’s priced for all budgets.

Art sellers understand shoppers’ hesitancy: No one wants to display a bad decision. The art in your home should make you feel good every time you see it, but it’s also a reflection of who you are and your taste.

To make it easier to decide, many dealers, as well as the Portland Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery, allow you to live with a piece before buying it, and artists invite you to their studio to learn more about visual creations that evokes emotions.

And all museum shops sell affordable prints, cards and books with reproductions of original works.

Some of the portraits by photographer Jason Hill exhibited at the AUX/MUTE Gallery at the Portland Art Museum are sold as limited-edition prints in the gallery’s fourth-floor store called the Numz Bodega.

A 16-inch-square print is $50.

“At these price points, we’re broadening the view of what an art collector looks like,” said DJ Ambush, general manager of the museum’s community partner-in-residence for the AUX/MUTE Gallery, which has featured works by Black artists. “Affordable art is no less original or less important, and it can be the first or second piece in someone’s collection.”

In an era when more under-represented artists are being invited to exhibit their work at museums and art galleries, and NFT (non-fungible token) digital art and other nontraditional art are valued, institutions seem more welcoming, Ambush said. And he’s spreading the word.

As executive director of independent Black radio station The Numberz FM (96.7), Ambush has been broadcasting from the Portland Art Museum since the 2019 opening of the “Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…” exhibit.

Since the AUX/MUTE Gallery opened in August 2021, Ambush has been meeting first-time visitors to the museum who said they came to see one of the gallery’s featured artists. Many then venture to see other exhibits such as the work by four Indigenous contemporary artists in “Mesh.”

“By being here and creating content and art in this building, it feels like home,” Ambush said.

The artist is shown wearing an apron in front of a counter on top of open shelves with art supplies and paintings all around

Ka’ila Farrell-Smith creates original art in her Modoc Point Studio in southern Oregon.Photograph by Sam Gehrke

Art is intimidating. A survey found that most people view purchasing art as more frightening than buying real estate, said Bradley Lawrence, who owns a commercial real estate finance business and is the second-generation co-owner of the Lawrence Gallery with his wife, Heidi.

Ninety-five percent of people in the U.S. have never purchased original art, according to art researchers. The main reasons? Most said that they think art is exclusive, too expensive and involves too much pressure.

It’s no surprise that artists and art sellers want to change that perception. They say art adds a narrative to a living space. And the artist’s story is a part of that.

Mixed-media artist Ka’ila Farrell-Smith sees art as a powerful teaching tool.

Her contemporary paintings, often inspired by her environmental activism, have been exhibited at the Portland Art Museum — currently seen in “Mesh” — as well as many other museums and galleries, including the NINE gallery in Northwest Portland.

Her oil paint and graphite piece, “Enrollment,” in the permanent collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, is part of the traveling exhibit “Many Wests: Artists Shaping an American Idea,” which will be installed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Farrell-Smith, a member of the Klamath Modoc Tribes in southern Oregon, is outspoken about land justice. Visitors to her Modoc Point Studio or those who view her social media pages and videos learn her “Land Back” series of paintings reference her opposition to gas pipelines and other forms of corporate energy.

The works were also influenced by “indigenous sovereignty, Black Lives Matter and all the political activist work that’s ruptural at this moment,” she said in a Scalehouse Gallery presentation filmed in Bend in 2020.

Farrell-Smith is the daughter of art appreciators: Jane Farrell and the late Alfred (”Al”) Leo Smith, the Native American rights advocate whose religious freedom case shaped American law after he refused to accept a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Al Smith called himself “Red Coyote.” A slice of his story is represented in Farrell-Smith’s five-color lithograph “Red Coyote for Pitsap” ($800; 30 by 22.25 inches).

Artist Ka’ila Farrell-Smith’s five-color lithograph “Red Coyote for Pitsap” is available at Crow's Shadow Institute of the Arts.

Artist Ka’ila Farrell-Smith’s five-color lithograph “Red Coyote for Pitsap” is available at Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts.Ka’ila Farrell-Smith

Collectors can connect to an artist or a single work.

There’s more than one right answer to find the type of art you like, said Heidi Lawrence, who is also a commercial and residential designer. It could be the mood: A landscape can be a calming reminder of a carefree childhood, while an abstract can be a somber catalyst to reflection, she said.

To ease potential clients into art, the Lawrences make house calls. They represent nearly 100 Northwest artists and prices start under $50 for, say, a handmade copper bowl. Original ceramic and glass pieces are less than $100. And small, original, framed oil paintings start under $250.

“There’s no obligation for us to visit,” said Heidi Lawrence, whose in-laws started the galley in 1977 to spotlight local artists creating contemporary and traditional works. “Art is a luxury good. People need to take their time.”

The Lawrence Gallery had storefronts in McMinnville, Portland’s Pearl District and the Marketplace at Salishan Coastal Lodge in Gleneden Beach before consolidating into one gallery in Lake Oswego.

“People walk in here and tell us they bought an art piece 20 years ago and it makes them happy every day,” Heidi Lawrence said. “When it’s the right piece, it’s like jewelry. It finishes the space, it makes our clients happy and we feel like we are joy brokers.”

Bradley and Heidi Lawrence of the Lawrence Gallery, now in Lake Oswego.Loren Castillo Photography/Lawrence Gallery

Heidi and Bradley Lawrence of the Lawrence Gallery, now in Lake Oswego, offer art consultations and in-home visits.Loren Castillo Photography/Lawrence Gallery

Art dealers Bradley and Heidi Lawrence offer these suggestions to feel comfortable living with original art:

Spend time with art. Visit museums and galleries and attend art walks, art fairs and auctions.

A bonus: Art galleries don’t charge admission like museums. “It’s a pretty nice way to spend your time, surrounded by beautiful, varied, original artwork,” Bradley Lawrence said.

Also look at auction catalogs, sign up for art newsletters and pay attention to the types of art that appeal to you.

Artsy, an online art brokerage, lets you see what’s on public view and helps you find artists, from Banksy to Anish Kapoor, Paul Oxborough to Soonik Kwon, and purchase or bid on paintings, sculptures, photographs or prints.

Other online sellers like Artfinder and 1stdibs let you search for Oregon artists.

Understand art dealers. Dealers should welcome you to look without pressuring you to buy. Pricing should also be clear. Make an appointment to see art in the gallery or request a consultation at your home.

“In contrast to some big city places, we have always been welcoming and friendly with all visitors, as are most Northwest art galleries,” Bradley Lawrence said.

If you don’t want to take a loop through a gallery, visit its website to find pieces of interest — not everything is on display — and view artists’ social media channels like Patreon, TikTok and Instagram to learn about their inspiration. Then call or email for more information.

Portland’s four-decade-old Elizabeth Leach Gallery has live streaming openings and artist talks on its Facebook and YouTube pages to encourage hesitant people to step into the art world at their own pace.

When you’re ready to commit, you can buy from the gallery or its website — and have your purchase delivered or shipped most anywhere.

Not every wall needs art. Blank space works as a nice backdrop to original art. Heidi Lawrence helps clients identify one or two focal points in their homes.

A gallery wall allows a collection of artistic objects to look attractive together while injecting personality and color into a space. Display a small sculpture or memento on an art shelf and hang a canvas print, portraiture or typography art on the wall.

Limited-edition prints and reproductions, especially works by famous artists, are widely available.

Hire an art advisor who understands your taste and has connections to galleries and artists.

“Some people don’t have a high level of confidence in what they have chosen, but it if makes them happy, that’s great,” Bradley Lawrence said.

Finance art: To help make art purchases more affordable, some galleries and marketplaces let you pay over time.

The Lawrence Gallery partners with online lender Art Money to provide interest-free financing for 10 months on art purchases of $1,000 or more.

Other dealers have arrangements with Affirm, a lender that lets you pay in three, six or 12 monthly installments at a fee you’ll see before you check out (from 0% to 30% based on your credit score).

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman