At Home with Amy Ellenbogen, Founder of THATCH, Independent Curator and Art Adviser
November 22, 2022
Meet Amy Ellenbogen: Founder of THATCH, Independent Curator and Art AdvisorAmy isn’t just an internationally renowned art curator; she’s also one of the most creative people we know. With an uncanny knack for spotting upcoming talent, Amy throws herself behind the people and products she believes in. A fierce advocate for local design, we love the way Amy has curated her home and life.
Tell us a little about your career journey...
It’s been very, very wonky—but wonky in a good way. I’ve worked in the bush, been a teacher, then worked in the magazine industry. I studied later in life, and along the way, I realised that although I love art, I’m far more drawn to other people’s processes and artwork... that’s how I sort of fell into curating. Having co-launched SMITH gallery in Cape Town, and then curated the Johannesburg Art Fair and various international exhibitions, I then started to curate differently.
What does ‘curating differently’ look like?
Well, a lot of the art world is toxic and full of shit. I firmly believe that artists should make more money than art dealers. Having worked on both sides of this equation, the only way I could honour this conviction was to stand away and consult and curate independently.
Now that I’m on the ‘periphery’ of the art scene, I don’t care if I’m seen as this sweet lady in Scarborough. I can say and do whatever I like, and I’m so grateful for that. The artists and collectors I work with know and trust me, and I’ve never
been so excited or confident about what we’re doing together.
In your line of work, so much comes down to a personal ‘gut feel’ of what’s hot and what’s not... how do you know when you’ve found something of value?
I think I’ve always had it, but I’ve also been lucky to have some amazing friends and mentors - people who have inspired me along the way. These are people who simply know – they know what’s good, what to back, and when, and they do it all
I’ve grown braver at knowing that I know what good work looks like – and so I choose to bring together people and pieces that inspire me. I love investing in really good talent, early on, and continuing to invest in it so that something truly remarkable can be created.
Where do you find inspiration when you hit a bit of a block?
I spend time with my mom and my dad. My dad consistently inspires me, he has this incredible giving force, and my mom is this maternal force... I love them.
Your home is a curated masterpiece! It’s beautiful, functional, and unique. Tell us a bit about your personal style...
The kind of taste that I have is brave... I’m not afraid of colour, or clever clutter which is different from just clutter, it’s the clever integration of things. During the lockdowns, I became freshly aware of what a big impact art can make... I was stuck at home, and yet I had art all around me. It was a big lesson to me on just how important it is to live in a space that impacts your mental health positively.
I would love to live with floor-to-wall art—and live on top and over and under art... with no gaps between. The artist Cameron Platter actually does that – he lives on his art... it’s even on the chairs he sits on... it’s sublime. I’ve bought a surf shack in Scarborough, and so I can’t hang half of my art. Instead, I try to rotate it when I can. I find it bizarre how so many people are afraid to drill some new holes or fill up old ones in order to move art around or accommodate something beautiful... it’s a bit of work, but the rewards are always bigger.
Any interior tips to pass on?
Surround yourself with art. If you can’t buy art, buy books with art and look at them. We’re flooded with imagery all day and the images we see aren’t all good... plus, they can never replace the feeling of art right in front of you. No technology can replace that.
Don’t be afraid of colour and change... move things around, and make space for what you love. Make space for your art, not art for your space.
Tell us about your relationship with P+L...
I’ve always embraced their design and had Pedersen + Lennard pieces in my home. Even when I couldn’t afford it, I bought just one side lamp—because it was a beautiful thing. Functional and beautiful.
What’s your current favourite P+L piece?
My fridge magnets – I love them. And they hold up art that I love too.
Do you have a life motto that you strive to live by?
Play in nature.
Tell us a little more about your latest venture...
During the pandemic, I was getting calls from artists who couldn’t make rent or even eat. So I started a WhatsApp App group with a bunch of collectors that have followed me since day 1, and it’s become this amazing community that’s benefitting everyone – artists and collectors alike. At the moment, I’m working with extraordinary young painters – young people taking big risks.
I’m also the curator for the Lion Sands residency program and gallery. Robert More has been brave enough to put the program together and it’s going incredibly well—marrying two great passions of mine—the bush and art. I think opening up the wildlife art space to a more conceptual abstract perspective that incorporates other mediums will really enrich the entire experience. THATCH has provided me with the opportunity to work with craftsmen and craftswomen... I come up with an idea, then go to a master of their craft and they make it happen.
How’s the local art scene doing?
Durban is incredibly exciting – what’s coming out of there is amazing. In general, there is so much opportunity for patrons to make a difference at the moment... places like Rorke’s Drift are these incredible hubs of creativity, and it’s a handful of people keeping those places alive. There are beautiful studios and craft centres in the Transkei that have just died because they don’t have funds, even the National Gallery can’t keep the lights on. Anyone with a genuine love of art, South Africa, and the means to support them can really help.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
You can’t hang on to anyone or anything forever – things are fleeting and moments are important.
Also, failure and betrayal are wonderful gifts... they lead you back to yourself, again and again.
Photography: Lea Crafford