“I Got My Freedom Back”

Long-term art patronage the IBEX way

Autumn 2015. Italian graphite drawer Emanuele Descanio picks up a call in his studio. An unknown voice with a German accent says: “Albrecht von Stetten here. I’ve just discovered your work, and I absolutely love it. Mind if I drop by tomorrow?”

Next noon, a black Lamborghini pulls to the curb underneath the gritty low-rise building in Valenza, the ancient city in northern Italy, where Emanuele lives and works. Albrecht, a middle-aged retired businessman and art lover, strides into Emanuele’s studio, brimming with excited curiosity.

Blind commission

“Albrecht isn’t impulsive. But he is decisive, even in that very first meeting,” recalls Emanuele. That afternoon, he had only one graphite drawing to show, and it had already been sold. Still, over photos of his work, they had a heart-to-heart conversation about art.

On the spot, Albrecht gave Emanuele a blind commission at four times the price of his most recent graphite drawing, still standing in the studio. Subject: anything you like. Deadline: whenever you’re ready. Payment: now. “Just make it your masterpiece, please.”

“From that moment onward, I was no longer a slave of gallery owners that wanted me to churn out cookie-cutter best-sellers,” smiles Emanuele.

His masterpiece took two years to make, which didn’t faze his patron in the least. Indeed, Emanuele got paid to visit museums and exhibitions and to try out new materials and techniques—all for the sake of the masterpiece in the making.

Too slow for the market

“Super-realist painting, with its incredible detail, takes huge amounts of time to make, more than the current art market is willing to pay for,” explains Albrecht von Stetten, founder of the IBEX Collection, which specializes in contemporary, figurative, super-realist art.

“Still, we sponsor these super-realist painters, the best of our age, because we believe the world deserves to see these masterpieces that live inside these artists’ minds. Also, we believe some day the market will pay handsomely for these glorious works.”

Too much freedom?

Other painters in the IBEX Collection report the same sense of liberation as Emanuele on that autumn afternoon in Valenza. Christiane Vleugels, a Belgian oil painter who creates super-realist works that often carry a whiff of magic, was invited to “create a true Vleugels”.

This set in motion a guessing game: “What does my collector think a true Vleugels looks like? What is it that I truly want to paint? Not to please or impress, but to express my inner world?”

Learning to embrace liberty

It took two more paintings, months of soul searching, and hours of discussion with Albrecht, Kiki Kim, and David Willson—the fellow art collectors who had by then joined the IBEX Collection management—until all agreed that “a true Vleugels” work had indeed been created.

“It was a rather unexpected struggle to truly embrace my liberty, to descend into and assert my innermost ideas. Listening to my inner voice, I had to project that voice and make what I want to make. I owe it to myself and to the art that wants to get born,” says Christiane in her spacious studio in the park town of Brasschaat near Antwerp.

Dialogue and respect

“We work with the IBEX Collectors, not for them, as is often the case with gallery owners,” adds Emanuele. “We have real dialogue.”

“Many galleries reduce their artists,” concurs Gabriel Picart, the IBEX Master Painter from Catalonia who entered super-realism from a distinguished international career in illustration—which shows in his mastery of color.

“Too many sellers have no idea about art, nor do they care, in my experience,” he adds. “They come from real estate and so on and narrow you down to producing best-sellers.”

Artistic growth

With freedom regained through IBEX’s long-term patronage, covering their work and life expenses for as long as two or three years for one painting, how has their art changed?

Besides simply having more time to make every inch of his drawings technically perfect, his creative process has slowed down, observes Emanuele. He now reaches into deeper recesses of his mind, and his drawings carry deeper meaning and possess greater creativity.

“I now allow myself to paint what I feel truly passionate about and what gives me joy, which is to portray and convey love and hope,” notes Christiane. For her too, having more time and resources (such as a Phase One camera) helps achieve greater technical perfection. “And I’m getting more playful in my work now.”

Redefining contemporary

Meanwhile in Barcelona, Gabriel has been experimenting with 3D sculpting and rendering , which complement the real models from which he paints.

“Contemporary is not what the old scholars say, but what the young people are doing.” Sparring with his IBEX patrons and young fellow artists, Gabriel is pushing back his boundaries to create work he’d never dreamt of a few years ago.

“Overall, what we see among our twenty IBEX Master Painters,” says Albrecht, “is a movement toward more experimentation and innovation in their artistic approaches and a deepening meaning and growing eloquence in their works. They’re contemporary and forward-looking, redefining what super-realism means today. I can’t wait to see what will come out of their studios in the next few years!”

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