Why I Collect: Martyn Porter

In this month’s instalment of Rosemont Art Advisory feature series Private Banker, Martyn Porter explains what art has brought to his life. Martyn Porter was the CEO of one of Monaco’s  largest Private Banks and Asset Managers, subsidiaries of one of the world’s largest financial services institutions.

I think you bought your first artwork when you were a teenager in Yorkshire. Have you always had the collecting streak? Do you still own that original piece that started it all off? What is it?

Whilst I was brought up around "art" and enjoyed visiting art galleries as a child, I rather lost interest in that sort of thing as a teenager and student! In fact I bought my first work soon after I arrived in London to start my first job in the City. I was living in a flat in south west London which had lots of plain walls and, rather than just put up “student posters” I knew that I wanted something more original. A friend had moved to Whitechapel which, in those days, felt very edgy! A gallery newly established there was offering really interesting contemporary pieces by then-unknown artists at affordable prices and I bought two or three to celebrate my first job! I still have them and display at least one in every home I live in as a reminder of those days. I then joined a group, meeting monthly in different homes and galleries, which offered access to signed prints, lithographs and small pieces by interesting artists. From that I attended various art fairs in London and my interests developed. I had a great group of German friends and we often met up in various places across Europe. One of them was working in Poland and met a number of amazing Polish artists just emerging from the grim years of communism. In fact we had our group portrait painted, with each version being slightly different reflecting the personality of each sitter!

How has your knowledge of art been developed and strengthened? Do you use advisors or choose works purely on your own?

I am not sure I have any knowledge! But I know what I like (and what I don’t) and tend to follow my instinct. I buy pieces purely for my enjoyment not for any investment value (although it’s always good to have your choices validated by a rising market!). Therefore I don’t use advisors; just myself.

How have you decided on the art you collect and the direction your collection has taken? Was it planned from the start or has it grown organically?

Entirely organic. I could not have predicted 20+ years ago that I would have the chance to live and work in so many places across the world (8 countries and 11 cities to date in Europe and Asia-Pacific), and my collecting reflects the places I have lived. After London, I worked in Malta, an amazing island with an immensely rich artistic history, and a very vibrant arts scene. I became great friends with a number of wonderful artists, such as Madeleine Gera and Kenneth Zammit Tabona, and collected a number of pieces which have a special place in my heart and always have a prominent place in the homes I have lived.

How have your tastes changed since you started collecting?

I have quite wide ranging tastes, from contemporary landscapes in oils to black & white landscape photography and I am not sure this has fundamentally changed, though they have evolved and I may be a bit more selective in what I now collect (which is also driven by space requirements!).

Meeting the artist who created a work is important to you. How does knowing the artist affect your opinion of a work?

I love meeting the artist because I love understanding people. I suppose that also reflects my career as a banker. By knowing someone's back-story, one has a much better appreciation for who they are as people, what they are passionate about, what they want from life and what motivates and drives them.

Do you buy at auctions?

Very occasionally but only charity auctions where I am there as a guest and a piece is offered which interests me. The downside is that rarely, by that route, does one get to know much about the artist.

You have travelled almost all continents in your career, was the journey always inspired by art and your sense to explore and find new pieces?

An interesting question. Throughout my career I have been fortunate to visit many private homes and collections and became great friends with a number of artists, photographers and collectors. If I look across my collection I have some clear “themes”, although sometimes I am drawn to a piece which doesn’t fit these themes at all, and that’s great as it challenges ones thinking yet speaks to the heart.

After the UK and Malta, I worked for a number of years in Manila, the Philippines, my first taste of the exploding and diverse arts scene in Asia Pacific. I collected a number of pieces by Filipino artists that remain a bedrock of my collection and some of my favourite pieces. I then moved to Hong Kong for 3 years, a city that needs no introduction from an artistic perspective, and what city! That said I regret not taking more interest in some of the emerging Chinese artists focused on what might be called “post soviet realism”: highly stylised contemporary industrial cityscapes. I really didn’t like them in those days but now I love them!

I then spent 5 years in Vietnam, moving to Ho Chi Minh City in 2005, and then to Hanoi in 2008. Both are vibrant cities in an amazing country. There really are some extraordinary artists in Vietnam and I was lucky to be able to get to know a number of them as well as some of the major Vietnamese patrons and collectors who are enabling artists to explore their creativity and supporting a dynamic and growing arts scene.

I moved back to live in London in 2010, though spent much of my time working in Dublin and Zurich where, again, by getting involved in the art scene gave me a great insight into, and perhaps an understanding of, the national cultures. That said, for a number of reasons I stopped buying new pieces in those few years, and in fact, virtually everything went into storage and I became rather minimalist in my home and tastes.

Moving to Luxembourg in 2013, I knew little about the Grand Duchy before arriving. What a (relatively hidden) gem of a country, and a beautiful place to live. One benefit was that living in such a place certainly got me back to wanting my art around me. I was fortunate to live in a light-filled home, in the city yet surrounded by trees. That allowed me to display much of my collection, and to be inspired to collect some interesting new landscapes and photographs.
Then in 2016 I moved to the Principality of Monaco. It may be a cliché but Monaco, and the Riviera, is an extraordinary place to live, and I am delighted to call it my home. Amongst many things it has amazing light and of course the wonderful land and seascapes that are so familiar to those of us who are fortunate enough to live here, and indeed through the work of some of the worlds great artists. One of my favourite places is the walk from Beaulieu around Cap Ferrat and I have acquired a wonderful piece, actually by a Scottish artist, that captures the light and vibrant summer colours beautifully. Living here I can’t really imagine buying dark, moody pieces again!

This interview is part of series of artist interview, released every month in our newsletter. For more information, please contact Karolina Blasiak, our Art Advisor at k.blasiak@rosemont-mc.com

Credit Pictures: Martyn Porter - April 2018 by Sabina Aliyeva