Beyond the Bio: Shalini Ramanathan & Chris Tomlinson

Beyond the Bio is a series that takes you past the canvas and into the minds of the artists and curators who build the contemporary arts community.

Collectors Shalini Ramanathan & Chris Tomlinson will be featured at grayDUCK Gallery’s upcoming exhibit, Collectors Show. Join Art Alliance Austin for an exclusive preview of this show, including conversation with the collectors moderated by gallery owner, Jill Schroeder, on May 17th as a part of our Austin Art Break series. RSVP to rsvp@artallianceaustin.org

Tell us about your collection.

We’ve been fortunate to live abroad and travel widely. Our collection is a mix of art + objects we picked up along the way, with a priority given to contemporary artists who live in our community. We tend to buy from artists and gallerists that we know, and we’re often drawn to pieces that have a sense of history/philosophy and that make a statement. And things we think are beautiful, even if it’s not obvious why.

When (where) did you start collecting? Was there something specific that caught your eye about the piece that started it all?

Chris spent years reporting on death and destruction as a war correspondent in Africa and the Middle East. After watching young people tearing apart communities and countries, he decided in his personal life he would support people who create and build communities with art. He wanted to support something hopeful and positive. Shalini enjoys design as a creative outlet, and buying art is part of that.

How do you choose the artworks that you purchase?

Step one: we train our (collective) eye. We go to shows and museums, read art journalism, listen to artists and curators talk. We track artists we’re interested in and, when we see the right piece, we grab it. We’ve also commissioned a couple of pieces from artist friends to fill specific needs. We believe that a thriving art scene is the definition of a civilized society and try in invest in artists with promise and tenacity.

Is it important for you to collect a body of work by an artist or are you only interested in singular pieces?

It’s not a philosophy. We have multiple pieces from some artists, but there are more artists we want to collect than there is money to buy pieces. We also believe in supporting the institutions that support a creative community, whether it’s Co-Lab, The Contemporary or galleries such as Grayduck. Community is important to us.

Left: Image © The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Moody Rooftop. Photograph: Brian Fitzsimmons

Is there a particular theme to your collection?

Worldly cool – is that a theme? Chris thinks of it as art by our contemporaries.

Do you live with all of the artworks that you purchase?

We do. Sometimes, pieces get rotated out. But our goal is to live with the pieces we buy.

Chris Tomlinsonis on the advisory board of Co-Lab as well as a New York Times bestselling-author and journalist. He writes a column for the Houston Chronicle and spent 20 years as a correspondent for The Associated Press reporting from 30 countries and nine war zones. He is the author of Tomlinson Hill, which chronicles the history of two Tomlinson families, one black and one white, who trace their history to a Central Texas slave plantation.

Shalini Ramanathan is on the Board of Trustees of The Contemporary Austin. As a Vice President at RES Americas, she negotiates deals to sell power from large green energy projects to clients such as General Motors, Google, and Microsoft, as well as to electric power utilities. She has closed deals with $2B+ in transaction value. She previously worked for CAMCO, a British company, in Kenya and for the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in DC.