Collecting art may feel for some like an expensive and intimidating venture, but we’re here to tell you that there are plenty of ways to design your home creatively—not all art has to be “fine” to be wall worthy. We recently visited the home of local artist and collector Phoenix Ostermann, whose eclectic collection is a mixture of original art and ephemera purchased from artists, found at estate sales, or uncovered in thrift stores. Drawn to the unusual and unique, Phoenix abides by one rule when collecting: there are no rules.
“I think people get caught up with the right way to do something, but it’s your house…do what you want.”
Phoenix describes herself as maximalist, and while we agree that there’s no shortage of visual pleasure in her historic K Street home, the space itself feels well curated and uncluttered. Original pieces are displayed throughout, including several works by local artist and friend Dennis Reynolds, alongside quirky and unexpected items like a 4-foot papier-mache replica of Abraham Lincoln (an adventurous KSL purchase) or a set of plastic teeth (an estate sale score) neatly hung salon-style on her striped kitchen wall. An original vent hood designed after Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup can was the result of a deep internet search and lucky artist interaction online, while the abstract mural above the living room couch she painted herself, inspired by a modern Czech artist. Kitschy and quirky, beautiful and bizarre, Phoenix’s art collection defies any named genre or specific style; rather, it’s a highly personal reflection of the owner’s tastes, interests, and experiences.
“I just want to love where I live,” says Phoenix, “and I think that’s what everyone needs to do. Whether it’s being minimalist or maximalist, choosing a wall color or whatever…you just want to be happy in your home.”
Kelly Carper: People tend to think that art collecting is reserved for those with a sizable disposable income. What is your approach to collecting and how would you encourage others who are limited by budget or space?
Phoenix Ostermann: I am pretty sure that the "wealthy" of the world have the most boring art collections. My approach, and what I would tell others who want to start collecting art would be, is to find pieces that fill your soul and not stroke your ego. So if you are ready to adorn your walls and surfaces with eye candy, I would encourage a new collector to try the following: visit local artists in their studios by educating yourself about open studio events. Poor Yorick Studios tend to have biannual events (when pandemics are not a thing, of course). It might be easier in the current climate to find local artists on Instagram. Watch for posted pieces that are up your alley and reach out to the artist for a studio visit. Next, follow those estate sale signs you’ve been noticing in your neighborhood for original art at good prices. And lastly, support local vintage stores and ubiquitous thrift stores…they always guarantee eclecticism. But I can’t forget my fave pandemic art-buying destination... KSL Classified! It’s so fun to type in keywords for specific things you are looking for and see what pops up. And if you are tight on space, I’m a big fan of the salon-style hang. And I have two pieces that I’ve wrapped around corners where real estate was hard to come by. Get creative!
KC: Your eclectic collection mixes original artwork with quirky, found objects. Can you describe your style? What draws you to bring a piece of art or ephemera into your home?
PO: I don’t take style in general very seriously, so I would say that my collection of art could be described as ‘anything-goes,’ especially taking into account the upper dentures hanging on my kitchen wall. There are never any rules for art! I am always drawn to the unusual, the unique, and the grotesque. Those are the common threads between most of what I have, however I do try to leave some room for just-plain pretty pieces.
KC: You describe yourself as a “maximalist,” yet your home feels very intentionally curated rather than cluttered. How do you pull it off? Can you talk to us about how you made some of the art and design choices in your home that reflect that feeling?
PO: I love visual pleasure. And for me that means being a maximalist, in terms of both color and physical items. Current design trends tend to say “less is more”. I’ve always said “more is more!” The trick for me to get it just right is in creating vignettes; several focal points in each room with pieces that have something to say to each other, and using plants and tchotchkes to complement them. It’s trial and error, and I can’t say I’m always good at it. To be fair, our house has been cluttered in the past, but for me it reflected the life of a busy family with young children, and I loved the energy that naturally followed. These days, with mostly adult children, I tend to crave calm. I’ve always been a fan of rotating the art 3 or 4 times a year, even storing some pieces away from time to time. The pieces in my bedroom are the most intentional because I want it to be a personal sanctuary; pieces that I want to open my eyes to and set the tone for the day. But including the framed thrift store prints, I have 13 pieces on the walls of a modestly sized bedroom! I know that’s not for everyone.
KC: Who are some of the local artists in your collection you’d like to shout out? And any favorite thrift stores where you’ve scored collectibles?
PO: We are so lucky to have as many working artists in Salt Lake City as we do! And over the last 22 years I’ve managed to acquire art from ONLY SHOUT-OUT WORTHY ARTISTS: Dennis Reynolds, Steven Larson, Evan Smith, Tony Smith, Tracy Slaugh, Brad Slaugh, John Sproul, Trish Empey, Jonathan Frioux, Marcee Blackerbee, Gary of Classic Configuration, James Joel Holmes, Chris Maggio, Gailon Justus, Stephanie Dykes, Claire Taylor, Paul Vincnet Bernard, Roland Thompson, Christine Baczek, David Hyams, and Chad Crane. As far as fave thrift stores go, they are ALL so great for art-finding, but I really love that Goodwill store on State St in Murray for quality framed prints. But all of my best collectibles have come from estate sales!