I have always loved art. Like almost every child up to the age of 10, my Picasso-fan parents considered me something of an abstract finger-painting art prodigy – until my teens when my very modest talents gave way to hanging around art galleries wearing boho '80s blouses and lots of black eyeliner hoping to pick up an older art student boyfriend.
None of this led to a place at art school as I hoped it might and so I had to content myself with being an art consumer. For a long time this meant simply going to galleries. As a journalist, I hung about on the edges of the art world and went to countless exhibition openings looking at wonderful stuff produced by young Irish artists, drinking in work by the likes of David Godbold thinking, "Gosh that's fantastic." But never, for one moment, did I think of actually buying anything. For some reason, buying art just did not seem feasible. Occasionally I would go to a posh house and see wonderful paintings hanging, but I always just assumed that original, contemporary art was something that materialized miraculously in the homes of people with taste and money. Like heirloom antiques and couture. Covetable, sure, but not for me.
Then something happened which changed everything. One of my friends opened a gallery.
When the Paul Kane Gallery opened in 1997 we all trooped up the stairs of his South William Street space on opening night. I thought I was in seventh heaven. A white-walled haven, just around the corner from my apartment, and I could pop in there any time I wanted and take in real 'art'.
One day I called in and stood for ages looking at a copper and red heathery landscape by Margaret Deignan.
"I love that," I said.
"Why don't you buy it?" said Paul.
I blushed, and if it had been any other gallery in the world I would have run out and never gone back. But because it was Paul I said, "How much is it?"
"£185," he said. Then looking at my shell-shocked expression he added, "you can pay me in installments."
I bought it and hung it up in my apartment and felt very grown-up and pleased with myself. I still have the landscape and enjoy it every day. It has – I discovered only in writing this article – quadrupled in value in 10 years. Which is a lot more than can be said for my prize bonds, bank savings or properties.
In the past decade my husband and I have bought a lot of art. Not enough to fill a warehouse or a holiday villa in Cannes and we don't own a Louis Le Brocquy or a Damian Hirst. We're not rich. It's just that we have come to value art more than designer handbags or golfing holidays in the Algarve.
So that when I visit a lavishly decorated interior space, be it a hotel or private house, and there is something nasty and makey-up on the walls, I notice it – and it makes me mad. Why is it that when every county in Ireland is bursting at the seams with talented artists who could transform an interior space for the price of a three-seater sofa – that so many decorators choose instead to spend the money on elaborate light fittings and either skimp on the art, or encourage the owner to put up representative landscapes by his wife's friend, for which he will have paid a small fortune?
Bad art in hotels is a particular bugbear. The interior designers go to trouble and expense to procure plush furnishings and stain-friendly carpets, then go and buy a job lot of ghastly prints to put on the walls. Or worse, the TV designers' version ("get three blank canvasses and paint them different shades of blue, then hang them next to each other").
A notable exception to this is the Ice House in Ballina. It had been sold to me as having great food, state-of-the-art spa – so far so every other new hotel ? but the first thing I noticed when I walked through this extraordinary architectural space was the art. Carefully chosen and – gasp! – commissioned pieces by Charles Tyrrell and Mike Gale add an edge to the lobby and dining rooms. Elsewhere, lesser-known artists liven up darkest corners. There is no compromise in the beautifully furnished bedrooms, each of which contains a piece of contemporary, orginal art. The owners, architects and designers that worked on the Ice House are clearly committed to visual excellence and not afraid to put their money where their mouth is. Or perhaps they are canny enough to realise that compromising on art is not only crass, but unnecessary.
Because the truth is Ireland is falling down with really brilliant artists - 'proper' art is everywhere and affordable to anyone who can afford a sun holiday. Think about it people next time you reach for that €500 handbag! Rant over.......