The Returns


Bobby Dowler 3
Odd painting 1 (2009) by Bobby Dowler. Owned by the Collective

When I famously opened my mouth in shock horror on national TV during the Culture Show‘s short piece on The Collective my disappointment was obvious to see. Why was I disappointed?  Our household’s bid to have The Collective’s new purchase, Bobby Dowler’s Odd Painting 1, was rejected by our fellow Collective members in favour of another household during our twice yearly “exchange”. It was a fair vote and as a Collective member you have to take the disappointment with the excitement in the knowledge that your turn will come – just not this time. Patience is a virtue and the reward is all the more sweet when your favourite “returns” come home.  That moment came just before New Year.

Buying and sharing art work between six households does mean that most of what you are exhibiting in your home (though not all) is never permanent.  I have always seen this as a benefit, because the art works don’t have the chance to become “invisible” – merging in to wall or floor where they might assume more of an identification feature of your house – part of the decor.  If, however you are changing the works every six months that process of “merging” never happens.  Family, friends and visitors notice the changes, come to expect them even, and the walls retain a unique quality that is dynamic, almost living, as they are constantly re-energised with changing art works.

The downside is the sense of “loss” of your favourite piece(s )every six months – and

Bobby Dowler 1
Odd Painting 1 by Bobby Dowler. Owned by The Collective

sometimes you do feel a real sense of loss in something that may have brought so much visual and emotional pleasure within your house.  But when you do get it back you see it as if it is a new acquisition again, particularly if the gap has been a long one.  This was certainly true of Bobby Dowler’s Odd painting 1.  The thrill of getting it back, and having it up on the wall again, immediately changed the room bringing a new vibrancy and spirit.  Family members noticed it immediately:

I like that one – we haven’t had it for ages

Is that the one with the chewing gum on it?!”

Their friends noticed too, and being the Christmas break, all visitors passing through the house commented.  Some of them had seen it before, but the return had made it much more visible again.


BD close-up
Details from Odd Painting 1 by Bobby Dowler. Owned by The Collective

Bobby Dowler is a south London based artist, represented by the Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham. Odd Painting 1 is made from found canvas, bits of old book pages, chewing gum and scraps found on the streets of Peckham and woven together with lots of colour.  Based as we are in south London this has added appeal in our household- “it’s from our own back yard “(or very nearly).  It’s a big work for a domestic space and certainly bigger than anything we had bought previously or have bought since, in terms of space occupied on a single wall.  It even requires separate transport to move it every six months as none of us have cars big enough to put it in.  It’s a “degradable” art work in that it will deteriorate with time, unprotected as it is on its found canvas.  But it is still very much in tact, cared for and valued across all the households – like all our works.

Most people will associate “Returns” with one or more products being sent back because they are the wrong kind, not working, damaged or no good – and most definitely “not wanted”.  For Collective members “Returns” can be one of your most treasured and valued works, a personal response that makes them all the more special for having them back. Viewed with a renewed energy it’s as if you are seeing them for the first time but with a familiarity akin to a homecoming.





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