This was not expected. One hour in Natalie Blair’s stunning, sea view Pokfulam home and I learn more about buying and falling in love with art than I ever did wandering galleries and museums the world over.
Natalie is an independent art advisor with over twenty years experience in Western and Asian art, and her enthusiasm for what she does is infectious. As she shows me around the home she shares with her husband, four-year-old daughter, and three sons when they are back from studying overseas, it’s obvious that her work is very much a part of her home life.
From the large oil canvases hanging in the entrance and living room, to the corner of her dining area where a sculpture and paintings of Chairman Mao give reflection to the Cultural Revolution, each carefully placed art piece beckons you to walk further into each corner.
“We chose this home for the size as we would rather live with our art than store it,” she says. Very much like Natalie herself, her home is instantaneously welcoming and relaxed. The art she has chosen and displayed, in what feels like every nook of her home, is neither overbearing nor intimidating. It’s approachable and causes you to stop and linger for a moment as you pass by.
As we pause in the corridor, Natalie talks me through each piece hanging on the walls, explaining the history and personality of each artist as if they are friends. Indeed, with some of the artists they have become friends, but I’m quickly getting the essence of what choosing good art is about.
“Most of what I buy for my home is done spontaneously. I make decisions quickly for my clients and so I suppose I’m used to thinking fast.” she says. “Even with the large art projects I work on with the architecture, space and lighting to consider, it’s always just at the right time that the the right piece comes along. It’s as if it’s waiting to be found.”
We wander into the boys’ room, her “Chinese art room” which gets transformed when they are back in Hong Kong from universities in Australia and Los Angeles. Mainland Chinese art has always held a deep fascination for Natalie since she moved to Hong Kong 26 years ago and started her career working with a British art consultant. “I’ve always had a deep fascination for Chinese art,” she says. “You can’t separate a piece of art from the art history and so that’s what keeps me curious.”
When her first son was born in 1993 she decided to set up her own company for the flexibility in working hours. Since then she has continued to work for herself, gaining a trusted reputation in the industry with high-end and corporate clients, whose names she asks for my discretion on.
Natalie’s company Art International Asia has an office in Sheung Wan but with no website she prefers to remain low key. Clients in the industry know how to get hold of her. Today she’s working from home for a “relaxed day,” she jokes, but as we sidestep her home office, the only room we don’t pause in, the scattered papers and documents are perhaps indicative of just how busy she really is.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’m always multi-tasking, pulling out a lot of things and moving very fast,” she says. “Some people’s think it’s glamorous but it’s hard work. You have to be diplomatic because you’re dealing with people’s feelings. It has to be the most subjective industry ever.”
As we step into her four-year-old daughter Ava Elizabeth’s room, we encounter something not seen elsewhere in the house, and yet it’s nothing any mother of a young girl won’t be familiar with: pink. “I’m not a pink kind of person but you can’t get little girls away from pink and fairies,” she says.
That’s not to say the room is a huge contrast to the rest of the house. It’s calm. Even the pink wigwam feels more like we should snuggle down to read imaginative stories rather than run wild. And again, even in this little girl’s playroom and haven from the busyness of Hong Kong, we stop to look at the art on the walls – in this room, it’s all by artists born in the 1980s. Next to Ava’s bed we see a pink-splattered ink canvas of Mickey Mouse called Mickey Infectious by a Chinese artist. “To him growing up in China in the eighties, Disney was everything,” Natalie says.
I’m starting to get it. Without art in our homes, how else could we bring history and stories from another time and place, while reflecting our own lifestyles and personalities? I’m also wondering how on earth Natalie can have four children and teenagers in her home and not worry about the pieces getting ruined. “They’ve grown up with it. That said, my older boys roll their eyes and recently I had to move one sculpture when a little boy came over for a play date and looked really excited about getting his hands on it and taking it to pieces!”
Natalie travels every 10 days for work, which perhaps explains the overriding calmness of her home. “I come home from a trip and this is a place to relax. I’m under a lot of pressure for deadlines and I so like everything to be very Zen-like.” Indeed, aside from colourful art, the rest of Natalie’s furnishings and décorare intentionally minimal. Bared floorboards invite you to go barefoot and in keeping with the simple wood theme is the large and eye-catching Biedermeier dining table, a really old table from Spain that she doesn’t have the heart to throw out.
On decorating, Natalie says she doesn’t think about it. “It’s not premeditated at all. I put everything I have in the room and go from there. I guess I have homed in on years of experience of hanging things and moving things around,” she shrugs.
Speaking of years of experience, what is it about Hong Kong that drives her passion after all this time?
“This is one of the best places in the world to buy art,” she says. “You have this accessibility to artists and galleries that is removed in other cities. It just wouldn’t happen this way in New York, for example.” she says. “You can get really good pieces of art in Hong Kong easily. It’s not just about spending lots of money.”
Renowned and established galleries:
7F Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central
2151 0555 | gagosian.com
50 Connaught Road, Central
2592 2000 | whitecube.com
Alice King Fine Arts
Room 2305 Hing Wai Centre, 7 Praya Road, Aberdeen
2526 109 | alisan.com.hk
Grotto Fine Art
1/F 31C-D Wyndham Street, Central
2121 2270 | grottofineart.com
China Art Projects
3/F, 52 Bonham Strand West (Ginseng & Birds Nest Street), Sheung Wan
Blind Spot Gallery
24-26A, Aberdeen Street, Central
3/F, 25 Hing Wo Street,Tin Wan, Aberdeen
2541 1299 | galleryexit.com
2P Contemporary Art
Shop 5, G/F Poga Building, 6-20 Po Tuck Street, Sai Ying Pun,
2803 2151 | 2p-gallery.com
For learning about local and Chinese art:
Asia Art Archive Hong Kong
Asia Society Hong Kong
Para/Site Art Space, non-profit gallery
2815 1112 | aaa.org.hk
Food and restaurants:
Kennedy Town Praya, Kennedy Town
2855 1882 | percys.hk
Bistro du Vin
1D G/F Davis Street, Kennedy Town
Umami Japanese Restaurant & Bar
100 Cyberport Road, Le Meridien Hotel
Faux (handcrafted rugs, throws etc.)
2851 4020 | faux-home.com
Kinsan Collections (furnishing fabrics)
59 Wyndham Street, Central
2526 2309 | kinsanhk.com
The Red Cabinet
Shop 209-210, 2 Heung Yip Road, Wong Chuk Hang
2536 0123 | red-cabinet.com.hk
Julia Miller (creative carpentry solutions)
By appointment | juliasfurniture.com