What I Collect and Why with James Nicholls , Maddox Gallery Chairman and avid art collector, James Nicholls, shares his...
May 19, 2021

What I Collect and Why with James Nicholls

Maddox Gallery Chairman and avid art collector, James Nicholls, shares his top tips on displaying artwork and reveals why he thinks STIK is on track for greater success in the art world


James Nicholls boasts a long and illustrious career. From being Maddox Gallery Chairman and inflight art expert for British Airways, to creating and hosting The Next Big Thing (2021), a television art competition series. An international arts judge, James has been exposed to a vast range of art from emerging creatives to blue-chip artists throughout his life. Proud owner of an incredibly diverse collection of art, we talk with James about his ever- expanding collection, the artists who inspire him and the invaluable advice he would give a first-time collector.




What was the first artwork you purchased, and do you still own it?

An oil painting by French artist and journalist; Eden. It features the view from a high point, a coloured stained-glass window that is half open and seagulls flying high over the coastline of the city of Nice.

My wife Daniele and I were together for the first time in Paris and passed an exhibition of the artist near the Élysée Palace. This painting spoke to us of the freedom of moving from the cloister of restraint and leaping out into the possibilities of life. The artist heard us talking about it and told us that we interpreted his meaning. We would never sell it.


What was your most recent purchase and why?

We recently bought the most majestic David Yarrow photograph, The Pack, which features elephants in the renowned Amboseli National Park in Kenya. I think Yarrow’s photographs are extraordinary, the way he gets down low, so the viewer is eye to eye with wildlife. There is something particularly expressive about the eyes of an elephant. They’re such a compassionate species and Yarrow perfectly captures that in The Pack. The quality of the photograph is outstanding. You can see every detail. From the clarity of the tusks to the precise focus revealing the elephant’s whiskers, it is a masterpiece that commands attention.




What are the most important practicalities to consider when you are acquiring a new work of art?

I think there are four main things to consider when you acquire a new work. Firstly, location is paramount. Where you hang an artwork has an important effect on how the viewer perceives and interprets it. With a David Yarrow photograph, for example, his work needs space. There needs to be a space between the image and the viewer so the monumental size and majesty of the photograph can be appreciated. I have installed The Pack at the top of our stairs on the first floor, for that very reason.

Another crucial practicality is light, whether it is artificial or natural, an artwork must be properly lit. That was another advantage of hanging my Yarrow at the top of the stairs. There is a huge skylight just above where it is hanging so the photograph is brilliantly illuminated by natural light pouring in.

I think the same rule also goes for framing art. Framing can really transform a work. Why spend money on artwork if you are not going to properly display it?

Finally, it is important to consider the overall synergy of a room, contemplate how a new artwork will interact with surrounding works. Will it enhance the art around it or overpower them, drawing the attention of the room solely to itself? There needs to be a certain harmony and balance when crafting a collection.


Which artists would you like to add to your collection next?

I would certainly like to acquire a work by Mel Bochner. He has been on the cutting edge of the urban art scene since the 1970s and his work really resonates with people at all levels. I just enjoy his messages and the quality of his work is superb. I am naturally drawn to a bright palette and Bochner is a master of colour. I personally believe his works are an excellent investment and I have heard that he does not want to do any more commissions so I would like to acquire one while I still can.


The other artist who we are intending to add to our collection is the street artist, STIK. I am impressed with his talent and his story. He started out with nothing and is achieving so much with his talent. He manages to articulate the persistence of community as well as its frailty. The demand and value of his works continues to increase internationally. 




What do you look for in a new artist?

A successful artist always has to follow their passion. They have to be innovative and different. All artists should just follow their heart, follow their spirit and wherever that lands is right.

Which emerging artist would you recommend investing in now?

In the art world we all want to find new talented emerging artists, and with the rise of social media I think it is the time of great opportunity to do so. At Maddox Gallery we are continually researching and adding to our new emerging artists, as they are the life-blood of the future.

Every great artist including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring did not start out famous. In the late 1980s, I lived in Dallas, Texas and would go to New York each month. Imagine if I had met these artists. I could have purchased their works for around $3,000 at that time - what an investment! Artistic icons are always around us just waiting to be discovered.



An exceptionally talented new artist I find captivating is Dawn Okoro. She is so fresh and different. I enjoy the dynamic vibrancy of her colours and the power of her palette.  Her work is reasonably priced at this time and has an instant appeal.  




What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

A Picasso drawing he did for his son Claude on a Gitanes cigarette box lid. It was such a reasonable price! 

If you could go back in time, what is the one thing you wish you had known before you started your collection?

If I could do it all again, I would definitely try and acquire more artwork as I go along. I wish someone had told me that if you like something, buy more than one.

With collecting, when you have an affinity with an artist, I would recommend acquiring at least three and then not only does it become a collection, but it is also can be worth more collectively when you sell.

If I could go back in time, I would purchase 6 Eden’s at that extraordinary exhibition by the Élysée Palace in Paris.




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