Art Collector’s Home: The Serene Byron Bay Hut of Steve Munro
Over the last few months we’ve been fascinated by a series of artworks trekking all the way out to the Byron Bay hut where artist Steve Munro lives and works. As his art collection has grown, we’ve become increasingly curious to see it in full – so we sat down and chatted to him about experiencing both sides of the art market. Get to know more below and revel in his collection of contemporary art from some of Bluethumb’s finest.
Tell us a bit about your home. How long have you lived here?
I live in a private nature reserve that’s a pretty incredible space to be in – it has a no dogs or cats rule so the wildlife around here is sensational; I created a pollinating garden with lots of flowers for pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies to explore.
One of my favourite times is later in the afternoon when scores of butterflies just appear and dance in this vertical column above the garden – it’s an incredible sight. Before that, I can pretty much tell what time of day it is based on which bird species appears to pick away at the caterpillars. The kookaburras seem to rotate the area of the reserve they feed in, as they often come and go, but when they are here they spend days on end smashing the garden on the hunt for worms. When I first moved here nearly three years ago I saw one dropping with a load of weighty food. When it crash-landed I saw a green tree snake in its beak that it was losing control over – the snake shot under the house and it has lived there ever since.
Early in the morning, before anything else happens, the bees arrive. The honeybees go wild over everything and then a stunning solitary native blue-banded bee will show up. So yeah, I pretty much love that about my home; oh yeah, it’s a Balinese cabin – it gets hot in the summer!
How did you end up in Australia?
Professionally, I’m a documentary cinematographer and I’ve worked for pretty much all of the Australian and UK production companies and networks – most notably and frequently with the ABC in Sydney. I work in documentary series and back in the UK I specialised in underwater cinematography. At that time I was just starting out, only beginning to build my client list for marine and underwater work when a friend from film school moved out here and convinced me to come over. So I did. Initially I came on a three-month tourist visa and then just never left. I’m a citizen now and love that I got to choose where my home is.
What drew you to Byron Bay?
I’d paid off all my business assets such as car and camera gear and decided a move away from pollution was necessary as I now needed to work only a few days a month. It became one of those chance happenings – a friend knew a friend who was building, so right time, right place.
How do you spend your time at home?
Most of the time I’m working either on my art or on my art business but I do also read, spend time in the garden, watch movies and get on the PS4.
Have you always been interested in art? What first drew your interest?
Yes – growing up in Europe and all it has to offer, with a big emphasis on the importance of art in our lives, it was impossible not to get engaged. That I could get within a nose’s distance to world famous art was just a wow factor for me. And it was the combination of the two that sealed the deal. When I get asked what it is about not living in the UK that I miss, my answer is always “access to mainland Europe.”
What drove you to collect art?
My biggest influences have always been my contemporaries, my peers, and so I began to want to have their work in my home. Obviously I’ve ingested massive influences from the old masters and modern art from the turn of the 20th century, but it’s what is happening in my time that I want to collect. I love that I can live in a home where walls are covered with art, both my own and the work of others and that is what drove me to become a collector.
What do you look for in a piece?
A couple of things – first and foremost, the work has to resonate with me; being within its space must evoke some sort of deep feeling. Secondly, I like the sensation I get when I can support an artist which neatly ties in with the contemporary work that I like to buy – the artist benefits in their lifetime. I’m a big fan of illustrative work and much prefer it over abstracts but if I do choose an abstract, then it will have energy and dynamism.
Do the pieces you collect align with your own painting style or are they quite different?
They’re very different usually. I like variety.
What was the first piece you bought? Why that one?
I genuinely cannot remember what the first piece I bought was but I can remember one of the first pieces I bought in Australia – it was from a Sydney based artist called Claire Nakazawa and it was on display at my local cocktail bar in Newtown; I loved the rhythm of the piece and that the artist frequented the bar as well so there’s a unique connection to the painting. I ended up buying two more from her, but she told me the first piece I bought held a strong emotional bond for her as it was one of her first pieces. I just loved it.
Has there been an artwork that really changed your life or perspective?
I don’t think so – it’s more that art as an umbrella has such a grip on me. Although, I always wanted to see the work of Jake and Dinos Chapman whenever I could – massively graphic!
Do you have a favourite style or subject matter?
What is your favourite part of filling your home with art?
I think walls can be so muted when they are not supporting art; so bland and tasteless. Art on your walls destroys that blandness and the more of the wall I can fill, the happier I am. I couldn’t have a wall that had just one piece as a “feature canvas” – I have to try and cover as much surface as I can. But the walls in my home are not uniform so they really do offer up a great gallery to play with.
Does your collection have a coherent theme?
Not at all – I love diversity and variety and I never choose a piece for its compatibility with another.
When you buy art, do you buy it to suit the space or design the space around the artwork?
A lot of interior design is really suited to this approach but I want my art to be alive as a singular yet cohesive group. For me, if I have a space to fill then I will fill it. It’s got to the point now where I have to store a lot of pieces because I just don’t have the wall capacity but that in itself is great as I get to move pieces around like a rotating gallery space. I have a handful of really large canvasses that need to be reframed and I will do that one day but at the moment I have no space for them.
What’s your favourite part of using Bluethumb to buy art online?
I love the simplicity of buying from Bluethumb’s artists. As an artist with Bluethumb myself I’m in a unique position to be better informed because I’ve built relationships with a lot of artists. I love that I can get the work within a few days even though I live in a fairly remote area and I’m comforted by the option to return work within a set period if it doesn’t suit what I had in mind. Fortunately, I’ve never had to return a piece. And free shipping of course! It doesn’t matter what I’ve bought – small or large – the shipping always remains the same. Free.
Do you have a piece in mind to collect next?
Absolutely! I have two I’m considering at the moment but I’ll be keeping them quiet for now!
What is your dream artwork to own, out of any in history?
Yes! ‘House’ by the English artist Rachel Whiteread. As a cinematographer I’ve always played with negative space and this work is exactly that! It’s literally a solid example of our ordinary and everyday and she executed it brilliantly.
Do you have any advice for budding collectors?
Yes – trust yourself. Have faith in your ability to spot a piece that instantly resonates with you. Don’t ever buy anything because you think you should buy it; you have to live with it every day and you don’t ever want buyer’s remorse floating in your vision. Get online; search for pieces and build up a cart wish-list. If you’re like me then you’ll buy several pieces but if you refine it to the one or two that really make your stomach float, then they’re the pieces for you.