I am delighted to share this lovely article that appeared in Architectural Digest this past week about my passion for working with artists and connecting them with clients. Using original art and educating clients is a cornerstone of my design aesthetic. I am so grateful I found a profession that allows me to combine all of my desired careers (artist, art history professor, curator, and designer) into one! Thank you to Katy Olson for sharing our story and to all the artists and galleries I have had the privilege to work with over the years!
Austin works with artist Charlie Havanich, pictured here, who is represented by Hidell Brooks Gallery. “I adore Charlie and I just acquired one of his works,” Austin tells AD PRO. “The image in the picture is a commission for one of my clients that bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Jackie.” / Photography: Charle Hanavich
Cathy Austin began her career not in design, but in art, working at Sotheby’s across departments including European Porcelain, American Paintings, and American Furniture. “I assisted the experts cataloguing the works for the auctions, handling archives, client contracts, condition reports, and arranging presale exhibitions. I began as an intern and archivist and also worked as an administrator,” recalls Austin. When she transitioned into interiors, Austin kept connected to the art scene, attending shows like Maison et Objet and TEFAF—but also in a more tangible way, sourcing local Southern talent for her interior-design projects.
Austin complemented her space at a recent Traditional Home show house with a portrait, left, by artist Kate Long Stevenson and a large abstract, right, by David Paul / Photography: Dustin Peck
The designer, who tells AD PRO that she has “always been an art history student at heart,” makes it a priority to educate clients. “Since art is very subjective, I encourage my clients to collect works that they respond to emotionally. Original art elevates every interior and reflects the personalities that inhabit the space. By attending art fairs at home and abroad, I seek out emerging artists to introduce to my clients. Getting to know the artists personally and learning about their process and what inspires them is very important to me to pass along that knowledge.”
An interior by Cathy Austin with artwork by Amanda Talley, above the fireplace/ Photography: Gordon Beall
As principal of Catherine M. Austin Interior Design, of Charlotte, North Carolina, one of those talents Austin has gotten to know on a deeper level is a New Orleans–based SCAD graduate named Amanda Talley, whose work she discovered in a local showroom. “I fell in love with her abstract, gestural works and designed my first living room around one of her paintings that I did not even own…knowing that one day I would add her work to my own personal collection.” The designer-artist duo’s first commission together was for a couple who were newbies to art collecting and just beginning their collection; their second commission was for Austin’s home. For each project, Austin sends Talley “inspiration images” as well as examples of her art that Austin’s clients like. Then, Talley “takes over and works her magic! I have loved watching her style evolve, yet still being able to recognize her brushstrokes knowing it is her work.”
What should designers know about sourcing art, particularly from emerging talents? In addition to the perhaps obvious exposure (“See as much as you can. Go to as many museums, galleries, auctions, and art fairs as you can to train your eye and be exposed to what is available in the marketplace”), Austin also advises having an open mind. “Do not be intimidated by price point. Even established artists can be within reach if you look at their complete body of work, including studies and works on paper. You can research artists through wonderful websites like Artsy which can also lead to discovering new artists and art galleries. It has been thrilling to watch the careers of artists I befriended years ago soar through their values increasing and being acquired by museum collections.”
Painting by Brad Thomas through SoCoGallery / Photography by Emily Followill
Another tip? Keep your eyes peeled; sometimes discoveries unfold on one’s downtime. Austin met a valuable collaborator during a volunteer commitment with the Mint Museum in Charlotte. “I was serving as the head of the Mint Museum Auxiliary and working closely with Brad Thomas, our curator of modern and contemporary art, selecting possible acquisitions for the museum’s permanent collection that our organization would underwrite. He was already an established artist, as well as art consultant and artist mentor—but his work was taking a new direction,” she explains, which “combined mixed media, collage, and his distinctive handwriting that became abstract lines when intertwined on the canvas. The words in his works examine the influence writers have had on shaping his worldview.”
The artist’s works are now found in Austin’s collections—and in her clients’. “We recently collaborated on a work for the Atlanta Southeastern Showhouse this spring. I asked him to create a work inspired by a Southern author. He used the Flannery O’Connor quote, ‘To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.’ The abstract work was the perfect finishing touch to my bedroom, that made the space more personal and provided a contemporary juxtaposition to the more traditional elements in the room.”
And for up-and-coming artists? For their part, recommends Austin, “artists can share their portfolios with designers whose work they admire and offer to lend their work for various show houses and charity events,” says Austin. “Attending events at the major design centers and other industry events is a great way to connect with designers. Every city from Atlanta to Los Angeles now seems to have its own design week full of opportunities for networking.”
I am obsessed with details. Finishing touches such as the trim on a drapery panel to how a work of art is framed can make or break the overall design. As a self professed art addict, I especially love working with clients, artists and my local framer to showcase the works of art to make them shine.
Later this month, I head to Las Vegas (my virgin voyage!) to attend the West Coast Art & Frame Expo as part of a Design Blogger Tour organized by Steve and Jill McKenzie. We will be seeing the latest and greatest introductions in framing as well as a variety of new forms of art reproduction.
See below for some works from my personal collection and client portfolio on how the variety of framing elevates the art.
A client’s colorful interior in Birmingham features large-scale works on paper by Windy O’Connor. The champagne toned metal frame pulls out the brushstrokes in the painting and still anchors the space. Dark oil rubbed bronze picture lights tie in with the stair rail and door hardware. A bold 19th century rug brings out the orange in the paintings and introduces the palette for the house.
In my library, a commission by Favorite artist Amanda Talley through Hidell Brooks Gallery provides a a focal point for the fireplace wall. A dark floater frame punctuates the darker strokes in the painting. The interior of the bookcases are painted to repeat this color.
This is the beginning of a gallery wall in my living room. A variety of watercolors and small paintings collected from our travels tells the story of our treasured memories. The wall has grown and been rearranged to include other paintings seen here…
A contemporary collageby Brad Thomas is placed in a gilded frame with a block motif to play off of the curves in the artwork. The work is floating on a linen mat in order the appreciate the intricate detailing and writing along the edges of the work.
Several of my favorite works have been found through Gillian Bryce who shows at 214 Modern Vintage in High Point as well as Scott’s Antique Market in Atlanta. This oil painting by Bernard Segal is in a vintage gilt frame and enhanced with a linen mat and fillet to make the work larger. The empty space of the linen mat gives the viewer a chance to appreciate the small compact bursts of color in the painting.
Another work by Bernard Segal, this is one of a pair of watercolors. I framed the works in a simple gold frame which pulls out the gold in the painting and floated them on a linen mat in order to appreciate the deckled edge of the paper.
A “pile” by Selena Beaudry (also through Hidell Brooks) is floating on a white backdrop and framed in a deep modern white frame giving the work a shadowbox effect. Our dirty pink entry hall walls enhance the pinks found in the watercolor.
One of my prized possession is an interior rendering by the Dean of American Design, Albert Hadley. A charcoal mat enhanced his pencil rendering and make it extra special.
I found this abstract encaustic at the Marche Biron in Paris. Maurice Morel came to Paris in 1927 to pursue his double vocation of artist and priest. He found a mentor in Artist-Poet Max Jacob, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, who was a close friend of Pablo Picasso and other artistic-literary notables of the period. In 1933, Morel helped stage a ground-breaking sacred art exhibition, Art Moderne d’inspiration religieuse, which included works by Picasso, Andre Derain, Tsuguhara Foujita, and Georges Rouault, who would become the priest’s lifelong friend and supporter. I fell in love not only with the work, but in the way it was framed….a frame within a frame. An ingenious way to add importance to a special work.
The starting point for the entire design scheme was this pastel confection by Kate Long Stevenson at the beloved “Pink House,” a center for breast cancer survivors herein Charlotte. She donated the work in honor of her friend. Again, we used a floater frame to set off the painting from the brick backdrop while pulling out some of the darker tones in the painting.
Be sure to follow along as we take in the sights of Vegas with my fellow design blogtour pals… Holly Phillips of The English Room, Tami Ramsay and Krista Nye Schwartz of Cloth & Kind and Vicki Bolick of The Ace of Space. We cannot wait!
The July/August issue of Peachy Magazine is now live featuring the enchanting work of New Orleans based designer Melissa Rufty. We are thrilled to also have our first interiors cover showcasing her colorful work. Melissa is just as charismatic and original as her interior design. Click here to read the full issue with articles on so many favorite design talents including Jane Scott Hodges of Leontine Linens, and favorite artists Amanda Talley, Mallory Page, Alexis Walter, and Ashley Longshore.