Since opening Talisman in 1982 Ken Bolan has been championing a unique style of interior design, mixing grand antiques with contemporary sculpture. As he shifts his focus to London he tells us the story behind Talisman and his top picks from the sale.
How did Talisman begin?
I started Talisman in the West Country in 1982. I’d been working in Switzerland in the same business but I came to England to settle down and have a family. We’ve had a very successful run with our Dorset store, from 1982 to 2014, and our connections originally stem from Talisman’s beginning in the West Country. We recently decided to close the Gillingham showroom and focus on our two stores in London, one on the New King’s Road and one on Ebury Street. This was my main reason for approaching Christie’s in the first place. They have been incredibly enthusiastic about the sale and have picked from our entire stock – diverse pieces that represent the full cross-section of what we do – everything from antiques to modern works of art. Our business covers that whole gamut, I don’t have a discipline, I just buy things I thoroughly enjoy and I’ve been very fortunate over the years that many other people enjoy them as well!
How did you start out in the antiques business?
I started in the 70s and prior to that I was dealing in vintage and racing cars so my background has always really been just enjoying fantastic objects. I think I’ve got quite a sculptural eye, I look at things in a different way to many.
How do you seek out these objects?
I have a very good network of people throughout Europe and North and South America who are constantly uncovering unusual items of interest for me. I have a very good relationship with them all, in some cases I have been working with families for three generations so we have a great deal of trust and mutual respect and we have a great deal of fun doing what we do together.
What is it you’re looking for in a piece, what makes it stand out for you?
Something has to talk to you in the first instance, to grab your attention – it’s got to be interesting. From a purely commercial point of view there are of course certain pieces which are sure fire sellers but I love experimenting – looking at new ideas and discovering and rediscovering designers.
In the last five or six years we’ve been looking at the 20th century very carefully and we’ve been buying a lot of the American designers who came from Europe originally and went over to America prior to the Second World War or shortly afterwards. You’ve got all the big names such as Paul Evans (lots 51 & 89), Karl Springer (58 & 69) – people of that ilk who had a great opportunity in America because it was incredibly wealthy after the war; everybody suddenly showed an interest. Every American aspired to own a car, a house and they wanted to furnish it completely and at the highest end, investing in these wonderful designers, established as well as those less well known, who had the resources to create these fantastic pieces.
What are your top picks from the sale?
We have a late 18th century Coade stone torso which was made by Eleanor Coade circa 1800 (lot 100). That’s certainly one of the top lots. We also have a Philip and Kelvin Laverne bronze library table from 1967 which represents Matisse’s Bathers by a River (lot 88) which I think is an exceptional example of their work and on a great scale. There is an aluminium life size Rhino which sat pride of place in the Dorset sculpture garden by the sculptor Christian Maas (lot 120) which is certainly a one-off! We have done very well with his work to date. There are also some great sculptural light fittings which I believe make any interior come alive such as the Rougier lamps (lots 73 and 131) and the Murano wall lights (lot 147). People say ‘how can you bear to sell it?’ but if I don’t sell it I can’t discover something else.
How much are you involved in Talisman’s Bespoke range?
We are all very involved in the design and execution of the Talisman Bespoke pieces and work closely with the workshops which are in house. It is all hand made in Britain which is very important to us for this expanding collection – we are all very passionate in the process, so much so that we have various disputes along the way which I think is healthy!
How would you describe Talisman’s signature style?
It’s ‘Talisman style’, it’s indescribable. People come to us for theatricality, adventure, quality and eclecticism – we’re renowned for a bold mix of design on a grand scale. We’re a very brave company, that’s how we operate; it’s a constant remix and a challenge.
Who or what has most influenced your taste?
Probably my mother being in the theatre – she was a set designer at one point. The education I had from her growing up was all about the classics and everything else that goes with it. I was also dragged around every church in the United Kingdom as a child, every art gallery, and I have to say they didn’t have to drag me too hard, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Which contemporary artists have you got your eye on?
I suppose in a sculptural sense Nicolas Lavarenne who has remained under the Talisman radar for several years now. He has various items in the catalogue (lots 76–80). Nicolas is a figural sculptor living in France who has been extremely successful and is always pushing the envelope. We are not strictly artists but in the realm of design I think the Talisman twist on some modern pieces (coined Talisman Editions) are worth watching – the pair of vibrant red plaster mirrors in the style of Serge Roche (lot 188) are an example of this.
Are there any golden rules you follow when it comes to interior design?
Yes, throw the rule book straight out of the window. Follow your instincts and your passion.