Hanging out with Picasso

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 August, 2010, 12:00am

The purpose of art, said Pablo Picasso, is to wash the dust of daily life off our souls. But why keep it cooped up inside? Just as art looks at home in the living room, it is also deserving of a place in the garden, courtyard or balcony.

Outdoor artwork might be anything from a trompe l'oeil to a sculpture or fountain, to garden ornaments or a wall hanging. Today's decorative planters can be works of art; if you have enough room, so can architectural features such as garden arches or, if space is tight, a decorative bird cage hung from the tiniest balcony.

Your chosen pieces may be formal or informal, functional or frivolous, exclusive and expensive, or cheap and mass-produced. Judd Harcombe, director of Resource Asia, advises going for a look that transforms the space but retains elements of the indoor design. 'Think about colours, spatial elements, furnishings, lighting and plants,' he says. 'The outdoor space can be contemporary while introducing elements of earth, wood and sky to your home.'

Belinda Corder Kruger, who runs art-lease, an art sales and leasing company in Hong Kong, says more people are buying 'serious outdoor art' as an investment. She began her business in 2000, leasing expensive one-off sculptures for installation in public spaces but, as the economy improved, the corporate bigwigs who were ordering these pieces wanted some for their own homes.

Corder Kruger puts this down to a wider appreciation of art. And a minimalist outdoor space, where the eye is drawn to one or two objets d'art, can be far more enjoyable than a less predictable jungle of foliage that requires regular upkeep.

Working with more than 300 artists, art-lease meets a growing demand for 'contemporary abstract' artworks that can be placed outdoors or indoors. Corder Kruger has noticed a trend away from the 'Bali spa' look outdoors, with light, contemporary pieces more in vogue.

She notes in these paler pieces an Italian/Scandinavian influence that works particularly well in Hong Kong, where outdoor space is limited. 'When you are trying to get more light indoors, keeping things [outside] low, pale and flush will maximise the feeling of space.'

The five elements of fung shui are popular in outdoor artworks, especially in works with metal and water, she adds. As an example, Corder Kruger brings in fountains from Australia that are 'collectable items as well as functional fountains'.

A compact courtyard or even a balcony is no barrier to outdoor artwork, says Corder Kruger. For small spaces, she recommends cylindrical pieces. 'Glass works - especially the Japanese painting technique by Gerard Bookle. In red and gold, this makes a Zen statement in 2-D effect, and doesn't take up much space.'

Julia Godfree's cylindrical stone statues are graceful in white, with a jade inlay. Waist-high, they are perfect for a courtyard or balcony. For bigger gardens, Adrian Mauriks' modern sculptures in epoxy resin work well and are durable, which is important in Hong Kong's climate.

Of course, outdoor installations by renowned artists and sculptors are expensive: expect to pay from HK$30,000 to HK$60,000 for a wall-mounted work, or HK$150,000 for a one- to two-metre-high standalone piece by Adrian Mauriks. You can always lease them (HK$1,500 a month for a Julia Godfree creation), but Corder Kruger says more people are likely to buy them 'as an investment that appreciates'.

Landscape architect Adrian Norman concurs that more of his clients want sculptures in their gardens and courtyards. 'It becomes a focal point, drawing the viewer's eye outside,' says Norman, of Adrian L. Norman Ltd, citing the hypnotic effect of an acrobatic sculpture, made in Italy by Australian sculptor Shona Nunan, when tucked among the greenery of a garden in Stanley. He sees outdoor art as a further integration of the indoor/outdoor space, with sculptures becoming as important an element as water features, well-planned planting and cushioned outdoor seating.

Sculptures needn't be one-off originals: those in the more affordable category include the Sexy Chick series (priced at HK$5,800) from TREE. Made in China from fibreglass and imitation copper, the voluptuous female form, either jumping or dancing, is surprising and eye-catching.

Nicole Wakley, founder of TREE, says: 'For a piece like Sexy Chick, the name says it all - it's about being free, loving yourself and your body. She's got her arms wide open like she's learning to fly, to open her heart.' These statues can be used outdoors but preferably under an awning or canopy, so they're not fully exposed to the elements.

Australian company Leaf and Stone, which sells online, works with a number of artisans producing affordable artworks and sculptures for outdoor installation. One artist, Helen Millar, uses cement, fibreglass, pigments, handcrafted ceramics and found objects, including recycled glass and china, to create sculptural masks and large plates. Another, Anna Chandler, makes a range of wall plaques in bohemian style.

Some outdoor artworks have function as well as form. For Spanish company Vondom, designer Ramon Esteve created the Facetados series of planters that form a harmonised group reminiscent of a tangram (a Chinese puzzle consisting of seven shapes that form a square) when placed together, but appear equally stylish when placed apart. Starting at HK$8,900, they are exclusive to Everything Under the Sun. Decorative bronze hammered bowls look beautiful outdoors, and provide an enchanting lighting effect after dark. Hammered bowls from Tree start at HK$950. The gold leaf lining (created through gilding, where hundreds of pieces are layered by hand) draws light in whether lit from within by candles or filled with water and flowers. Even a wind chime can produce a calming sound as it dances in the breeze on a balcony.

Other pieces are pure whimsy - such as farmyard animals made out of recycled oil drums from Leaf and Stone, with a starting price of A$99 (HK$700) plus postage. Or wacky metal flowers or insects from GardenFun.com.

They're out there

Glass works by Gerard Bookle; Julia Godfree's cylindrical stone statues - both from art-lease, tel: 8106 6071; www.art-lease.com

Sexy Chick sculptures and Thai hammered bowls from TREE, tel: 2841 8844; www.tree.com.hk

Facetados planters by Vondom, from Everything Under the Sun, 9/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2554 9088; www.everythingunderthesun.com.hk

Sculptures by Helen Millar, plaques by Anna Chandler and Australian-designed funky farmyard animals all from Leaf and Stone, tel: +61 3 5221 8083 www.leafandstone.com.au