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Patrons' Place: What Goes On Inside The Mind Of A Collector?

Name: Ato O. Wright 

Occupation: Physician: Radiation Oncologist 

Location:  Mechanicsburg, Pa

Questions: Collector level: Established 

RD: When did you buy your first piece of art, and what was it?

My wife gifted me a portrait of my grandmother soon after she passed in 2015 - a pleasant surprise which sparked the start of me collecting art. 

How many pieces of art do you currently have in your private collection?  

I currently have 30 pieces. 

What drew you to collecting, and what does contemporary art by Artists of African heritage mean to you?

CCH Pounder has had and continues to be a huge influence for me when it comes to collecting. She has a beautiful collection of art with African heritage, from various parts of the world in her home. The artwork always provided a spark for conversation. Through that, I gained an understanding for how art can tell stories about a generation, a culture, etc. Without speech, art, by using lines and shapes, conveys energy and emotions. Art allows people to connect. You can learn a lot about a person’s core values by the way they interpret different types of imagery.

Which piece of art in your collection is your favorite, if any, and why?

I do not have a favorite. Favorites may change based on what I may be growing through. Perhaps I can share a story of one of my pieces and why I love it. 

Kpe Innocent: “The Visitor II” (acrylic on canvas) I enjoy this painting because, at first glance, this painting, like the majority of Kpe Innocent’s paintings, exudes a meditative calm.  However, taken in full, the illustration conjures up an ambiguous and much larger proposition on intimacy, the human form and its interaction with the space in which it exists. He has the uncanny ability to use figures that are stripped down to their basic form, yet they evoke mood and emotion. There is minimalist geometry in all elements of the illustration; however, the emotional response from interacting with the piece is enormous. What is really going on in each piece seems mysteriously familiar.  

Like many of Kpe Innocent’s works, the imagery delivers an emotional punch. Drooping shoulders, a head tilt, etc.... without any facial expression, immediately conveys feelings, mostly of warmth. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, you can also appreciate the anxiety, conflict and tension we all have felt when visiting someone or when someone visits us. In his own words, “I pray they (artwork) stir up in you the need for healthy conversations and relationships based on love, and genuine love alone!”

Name three living artists you would love to include in your collection in the future.

  • Harmonia Morales

  • Bisa Butler

  • Solomon Adufah

Name three late artists you would love to include in your collection in the future.

  • Cal Masey

  • Jacob Armstead Lawrence 

  • John Biggers 

If you could have dinner with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

I would love to sit down with Hebru Brantley. He has created child characters in the likes of Flyboy and Lil Mama. Characters that reflect positive imagery of Black kids, that I hope all people can identify with. Images of kids in positive, vibrant colors, being adventurous, gives us all the sense of optimism about this world. 

When I think about one of the sentiments expressed by another phenomenal artist, Nelson Makamo, whose characters reflect childhood optimism, I learned that some of his paintings were based on his 11-year-old cousin, Mapule. He expressed in his Time magazine article that “if she (Mapule) is growing, maybe I (Mr. Makamo) should grow too.” In the same vein, I would love to know what Flyboy and Lil Mama become or perhaps how he would imagine them in their adult form.   

What about an artist and their work attracts you the most?

Art tells us that every space is beautiful, and that how you perceive it depends on the circumstances around which you interact with the space and what that space reminds you of.  I like artists and artworks that aim to tell new stories about everyday imagery. Those that are able to ignite your emotions. 

Is there a particular theme to your collection?

The beauty of human expression. 

What advice would you give to a new or budding art collector who wants to start a collection?

I consider myself a new collector, and I am not even budding yet. I would advise them to go to museums, post COVID-19 and get a sense of what they like.  Follow artists on social media and get connected to other art collectors. It's becoming more and more apparent to me how much artists are connected to their collectors. 

What advice would you give to unknown and emerging artists who want to attract collectors and art patrons?

I would say consistency is the key. I would advise them to keep producing. Create their unique message, and the right crowd will gravitate to it. Do not confuse “studying” the people you admire on your growth journey with “imitation”. Study and apply the elements from all those you love to create your visual voice because, as my Grandma Maud used to tell me, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

By: Raphael Dapaah


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