James Mollison

‘It’s a personal collection, so I think it ought to be fun’

Five London-based collectors present a dazzling variety of objects, from signed photographs and furniture to design and punk memorabilia

  • 1
  • Maryam Eisler The photographer and editor on her cabinet of personal memories

‘The things I keep in this cabinet amount to a kind of self-portrait. The pomegranates are symbols of my Persian heritage. Snoopy stands for my childhood. The figurines were a wedding gift from my Russian father-in-law; they are 19th-century, but look very Pop in that cabinet. The ostrich egg is by Gavin Turk and came from the Art Car Boot Fair, a wonderful event. There are lots of books; I believe a beautiful book is an objet  in its own right. 

Edward Weston is my photographic inspiration. I just spent four days photographing his home in Carmel. And there are many objects that remind me of my travels: Kahlo matchboxes from Mexico; a N-ARCO T-shirt from Medellín; a Lei Xue cola can that recalls a wonderful trip to China. The white LP is a John Currin edition; I love his work because I am obsessed by the divine feminine. The photograph of the nude among the rocks, on the shelf above, is one of my own.’

  • 2
  • Ken Stradling The chairman of the Bristol Guild of Applied Art on his love of design

‘I collect design. I am enormously interested in the man-made things around me. The pot in the centre is by Colin Pearson. The red cast-iron casserole is by Timo Sarpaneva — it’s a classic piece of Finnish design. The pink vacuum cleaner is the first production Dyson. I bought one as soon as it was advertised — I think that is number 61. It didn’t take off in the UK, but the Japanese were delighted with it. I like the animal figures. 

‘Sometimes I buy things just because they make me laugh. It’s a personal collection, so I think it ought to be fun. But there are many important works, too. The large plate with the three figures is by Sam Haile — who would have been one of this country’s leading ceramicists had he not died in a car accident in 1948. He was bringing some pottery back from London when a lorry ran into his van. Everything was destroyed apart from one piece — that piece.’

  • 3
  • Dr John Gayner

    The actor-turned-doctor on his gallery of famous patients

‘My collection of actors’ portraits started from working on a film. When I was a medical student in the late 1960s, by happenstance I had an Equity card and I got an acting job on the film A Man for All Seasons. So when I set up my practice, the industry started coming in my direction. My photographs of Paul Scofield, Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud would have been at the beginning; the collection just evolved because it seemed quite fun.  

‘I like someone in costume; a picture in character is more interesting. That’s why I’ve got Simon Callow in a frock and Ewan McGregor on a motorbike. Dustin Hoffman bought my house and sent me a photograph saying ‘Great House’; I sent him a reply saying: ‘Great Actor’. When I ask younger performers for a photograph, they are delighted. Some have said that it’s like getting their colours at school. They feel like they have arrived.’

  • 4
  • Sophie Pearce

    The Béton Brut founder on the appeal of modernist lighting and furniture

‘I am monochrome and minimalist by nature, more into tones and materials than colour. I can’t handle muddle or clutter, and I like it when forms are stripped back to their simplest possible expression: a perfect circle or a semi-circle. Or a triangle, like that pendant lamp by Mario Botta. He mostly designed churches, and when I look at my collection, I see that a lot of the work is by architects. That is unintentional, but I must be drawn to things with an architectural quality. The leather chair stretched on a metal frame was designed by an architect, too, Tito Agnoli. 

‘In my student days I looked at the politics of space, at how the modernists tried to construct a better physical world. The low-cost furniture they made has a market value that is now way higher, but if I am keeping these pieces in circulation, and promoting a turning point in design history, then I’m cool with that.’

  • 5
  • Toby Mott

    The artist and designer on his collection of punk ephemera

‘I was a teenager during the punk explosion of 1977, and these are mementos of my experience — the fanzines, the posters, the flyers that you would pick up at gigs. My bedroom was covered in this stuff, but it was more than decoration: it was my identity, and I kept it because I treasured it. I wasn’t the only kid asking for the posters when they came down. The difference with me is that I saw the graphic value in them. For most people, these things were talismans linked to the music; I divorced the visual culture from the music. 

‘At the time I wasn’t building a collection — it was just my stuff. Now the prices are astronomical, because it really was a high point of British culture, and institutions want material like this. It is important that punk gets into the museums. I mean, otherwise, what do you want them to have — the Osmonds?’