S otheby's upcoming sales, Yellow Ball, The Frank and Lorna Dunphy Collection in London on 20 September and Yellow Ball: The Frank and Lorna Dunphy Collection Online from 11-21 September, will feature the collection of Damien Hirst's longtime manager and friend Frank Dunphy and his wife Lorna. Sotheby's Antonia Gardner spoke to Frank and Lorna to find out more about how they got started as collectors, and how their relationship with Damien Hirst began.
Antonia Gardner: Can you tell us a bit about how you both first met?
Frank Dunphy: Well, actually we met in a small actor’s club called The Green Room Club in London and Lorna came, it was our first night there. I was playing Snooker.
Lorna Dunphy: It was the first night they allowed ladies in. It was the billiard room.
FD: Yes, that’s right. Lorna had come in and I was playing snooker and I saw her while I was about to play the yellow ball. I played the yellow ball and missed it. Then, eventually I met Lorna again in the evening. I said, “would you like to have a drink with me?” I met her again several months later when I had tickets to see Elizabeth Taylor in Little Foxes at the Victoria Palace Theatre. It was the first night.
LD: …And I only accepted because I’d never been to a first night.
FD: I didn’t have anyone to go with and I thought to myself, ah, that little one I met that day at The Green Room Club. I rang you and said, “would you like to come to the first night?” And you did!
LD: And I immediately went out and spent a whole month’s salary on a little black dress. I didn’t eat for the next month!
FD: We had a fantastic night. We went to see Elizabeth Taylor and then after, with my great friend, Ian Lavender, from Dad’s Army and his wife and ended up having dinner at Ronnie Scott’s club to hear the Buddy Rich Big Band. Now can you get a better evening than that?
AG: Definitely not! Is that where the name Yellow Ball comes from? It seems to have informed so many different aspects of your life.
FD: Well, we had a little company and I said, ah, you know what’d be a great name for it, Yellow Ball? Named after how we first met! So it became a large part of our life.
AG: Is that when Damien made the Yellow Ball Painting?
FD: It was around the time when I was retiring, hence the title Smashing Yellow Ball at Peace Painting. We were closing the company, that was it, full stop.
AG: And how did you both start collecting?
LD: Oh, well I’ve been collecting since I was a child. Every time I went on holiday or I had a bit of spare cash or got a bonus, then I would buy a piece of art or a piece of antique furniture or a piece of glass, because that’s my thing. Glass and silver. I’ve always been a collector, actually.
FD: And then I started my work with Damien. I was very fortunate in the sense that he knew I needed to wise up on art and everything. So, he said, let’s start with the National Gallery and we would go to all these galleries really early in the morning and he would take me around and spoke to me about various artists.
LD: He bought you all the books, the catalogues, every time you went.
FD: Then we went to America and did the same thing. He introduced me to lots of people in the art world there. It’s such a fantastic thing he did. It really got us into contemporary art. He also took us to all sorts of different artists’ studios such as Willem de Kooning, John Baldessari, Julian Schnabel and even Jeff Koons. So we went round all the studios, which was really cool. Therefore, I developed an interest in it all. I then, as it progressed, helped in the buying of some of the works Damien had chosen for his collection. Sitting here at the table late at night in London while telephone bidding in the sales in New York.
LD: We were watching The Vicar of Dibley at the same time. Recordings of The Vicar of Dibley at three o’clock in the morning.
FD: As that went on, we started to buy ourselves, didn’t we? We bought the Fontana at Sotheby’s. The other one from Ben Brown.
LD: The Warhol Dollar Sign. We’ve had a lot of fun, actually. Haven’t we? We’ve enjoyed it all. It’s been great.
AG: Your collection spans so many genres and mediums, how do you choose which works form your collection?
LD: We buy what we like. In fact, we never had any intention to sell anything!
FD: I already bought a new painting last week… a beautiful painting and written across it are the words, “everything is going to be alright”.
LD: We’ve got a few holes to fill! You could say that.
AG: The question that everyone always wants to know, how did you meet Damien?
FD: How did I meet Damien? I met Damien, and it’s disputed, but I’m the one who knows. We met in the Groucho Club, via his mother, Mary.
LD: Mary came over and said to Frank, in so many words, “I hear that you’re the chap who can help my son,” or something like that. After that, you met Damien through Honey Luard?
FD: I met Damien at The Green Room Club one morning and he said to me, if I remember correctly, “do you play snooker?” And I said, “yes”. He said, “let’s go and have a game of snooker.” So we went to a snooker hall in Hammersmith, where we had a couple of pints and a game of snooker. On the way out, he said, “I’d like ya to look after me affairs”. Whether that was the result of him grilling me over a game of snooker or what?
LD: Or the fact you let him win?
FD: I didn’t let him win!
AG: What was your involvement with Damien?
FD: First of all, I got involved with him as an accountant. Then, I sort of drifted into his overall business and his relationship with the galleries. Started to look at all of that.
AG: How did the Pharmacy sale come about? Did you expect it to be as successful as it was?
FD: As we were going on preparing for it, I knew it was going to be a great success. The Pharmacy sale came about through conversations with Olly Barker at Sotheby’s. On the day that they were going to chuck all the contents of Pharmacy restaurant in a skip after its closure I suggested the clearance guy take the floorboards, the ceiling, the windows, everything.
FD: All the old stationery, yeah, the matchboxes.
FD: All the condiments. Everything.
LD: He probably thought it was his lucky day, getting that sort of money for items that were going to the skip!
FD: We still, however, couldn’t get Damien’s permission for the sale until one night when I was in a cab with him, I said, “what about the pharmacy?” and he said, “let’s do it”. Just like that. It was interesting, on the morning of the sale, I was having breakfast with Damien, in the Wolseley. Overnight, I’d had an offer from a collector in New York, to buy the whole thing and let the sale go through, I think he offered me £5 million…
AG: How did the Beautiful Inside my Head Forever sale come about?
FD: I remember Damien saying, I want to do something really big and I was saying that’d be brilliant, we would make a wide spread of all your work and your new work. Eventually it was agreed, and it was done under such great secrecy.
LD: We were talking about it for a good year and a half. It was very exciting, though, wasn’t it? On the night?
FD: It was. Once the auction gathered momentum, it was fantastic. There was no doubt that the second sale of smaller pieces, people would rush to buy.
LD: It was just unfortunate that it was the day of Lehman Brothers going down. We were listening to the news at six o’clock in the morning. Frank said, “oh, God, that’s it”.
LD: Frank got dressed in some very dull clothes and I said, “oh, for heaven’s sake”. I said, “go and get your striped suit on, get your bow tie on, that’s how you always go into work. You know, it’s going to take off”. That’s what you did. And it was such a success.
AG: What did you do before your work with Damien?
FD: I was an accountant dealing with show business. I started off with my most famous client, Coco the Clown. I looked after a lot of artists, Ian Lavender, from Dad’s Army, Imelda Staunton, Julie McKenzie, Jim Carter. I looked after a lot of rock and roll groups, Marty Wilde, Gene Pitney.
AG: You have the brilliant Richard Prince painting Untitled (Gene Pitney), how did you acquire that?
FD: Good question. I saw that Richard Prince had done this series of Tiffany Paintings and when I was looking them up I saw this Gene Pitney one that had an account of Gene’s death, which I was quite involved in because I got the first phone call, from his road manager from the hotel in Cardiff. He says, “I can’t wake Gene up”. Just like that. I’d known Gene for years. It was very, very sad, especially because he looked after himself. Always talking about me drinking too much and eating too much. Eating it too quickly. Gene would never!
AG: When you were working with Damien, did you work with any of the other YBAs?
FD: None in the same way as Damien, but I would often speak with Rachel Whiteread, Angus Fairhurst… a lot of them.
LD: You gave them a lot of advice, a lot of very good advice, I might add.
FD: But no, I didn’t work with them in the same way, I was always busy working with Damien’s business.
LD: 24 hours a day!
AG: Can you tell us a bit about beautiful, all round, lovely day, big toys for big kids, Frank and Lorna, when we are no longer children we are already dead, painting, how did that work come about? Wasn’t this made on the same day as David Bowie’s collaboration?
LD: Yes. That wasn’t very long after you started working for Damien, was it? I didn’t know Damien very well. Didn’t know any of the artists yet, in fact.
FD: We went to Damien’s studio, which was in Brixton, to help make the spin painting.
LD: We were up on two ladders with –
LD: Dressed in overalls.
FD: – Beakers of paint, pouring it on. It was that morning that David Bowie had been with Damien making his Spin Painting and Damien says, “Just chuck it on”. Then he said to us whilst we were still pouring, and I will always remember this…
LD: He said, “the art of this is in knowing when to stop…”
FD: …“And the pub has just opened!”
LD: “C’mon we’re going!”
AG: Your gorilla, A Couple of Differences between Thinking and Feeling, by Angus Fairhurst, did it not have a memorable role at home?
LD: What, Cedric? We had it at our place in Melchbourne, we had two apartments, one of which we used mainly because it had a nice big dining room. We used to have all the house parties there and family parties and everything. If there were only thirteen people, which actually happened quite often, as there’s always one odd person, we’d always put Cedric at the end of the table, wouldn’t we? So that he was number 14.
FD: Yes, and I loved that piece of art. It’s a great piece.
LD: We always thought that Angus was one of the nicest young people I ever met.
FD: I told you about that night Angus’ dad died. He and Damien came back to The Ivy. Poor Angus, he was understandably terribly upset. It was Damien, Angus and myself. I asked Angus, what was his dad like, etc.? I said, for example, “what would he like to eat tonight?” Angus said to me, “he loved cottage pie”. I said, “what would he drink?” He said “bottles of Worthington Ale”. So, I said, “tonight Angus, we’re going to order his favourite meal here in The Ivy”, and so I had a word with the manager there and they could make a cottage pie. They went out to the pub and bought the bottled beers. As we had our meal there was lads coming in saying, “is this person coming?” I said, “yes, he will be along shortly, just don’t touch anything”. Then, we had his father’s favourite custard and apple pie.
AG: The amazing Medicine Cabinet, Psst, can you tell us a little bit about the history of that work?
FD: Well, the Medicine Cabinet was sent to me as a get better soon present by Damien when I was ill, I was in the hospital. Anyway, it arrived and it was put up and we had a burglary in the place while we were away. Our neighbours called the police and let the police in. The policeman came in and said, “Is this gentleman on prescribed medication?” He said, “no, that’s a piece of art”. “If you say so, sir…”, he says. [Laughs]
LD: And off they went.
FD: They didn’t steal anything!
AG: And the bust of you by Damien?
FD: It was a gift from Damien for my seventieth birthday at Home House. They completely redecorated the whole club and this bust of me that Damien made for the night replaced an old statue, might have been Caesar, in the fabulous alcove in the centre of the stairs, I couldn’t get over it when I came in.
LD: On every painting or portrait, they also put Frank’s photograph, in some form or other. It was just Frank all over the place.
FD: Then, afterwards, I used to have that in my office. Then, Damien said, “you know what we should do with that? Spin that?” He sent it off to the studio and he put a spin on it.
AG: I know you have decided to keep a few extremely personal works from your collection, including the cabinet Frank and Lorna as Adam and Eve. How did Damien go about creating this work and choosing all the items within it?
LD: For the cabinets he said, “I’m going to come along why don’t you Frank, put all your special pieces on one end of the table and you, Lorna, put yours on the other end of the table. I’ll pick out what I want to put in”.
FD: Which is exactly what he did. He picked out everything. Rearranged it, in the cabinets and had a look at them again, took pieces out, put other pieces in. You know, he spent a lot of time on it.
LD: And a few boxes of your medication, as well, went in.
AG: What are both or your fondest memories with Damien?
LD: Oh, god, I mean, lots of them.
LD: Mexico, but also, I think with his children. We have had lots of fun times, as well. Particularly, Mexico, I think, it was very special, wasn’t it?
FD: Yes. We had the best of times there.
AG: Can you tell us a bit about Mexico?
FD: The fun we had there… the dinners in the evening. The people that came, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Julian Schnabel… loads of people. We had just the best of fun with Damien and the family.
LD: We used to go round in this great big white van, which had cow horns on the front of it. Great big graffiti in red on the side with all the kids in the back.
FD: That was great fun. Generally, I’ve just really enjoyed working with Damien all along. We have had such great times. Travels to Japan, oh we had some fun there.
AG: Can you tell us about the after party for Damien’s exhibition at Galería Hilario Galguera, in Mexico City in 2006?
FD: Hilario arranged for this totally outlandish party with Mexican wrestling. I’d never seen anything like it, open air, you know? As part of the attraction, there was this huge wrestling group that came on. But you know, wrestling gets boring after a while…
LD: Frank got bored and he said, “I’ve had enough of this, I’m gonna get in the ring!” He said, “I’ve always wanted to bang something down in the corner”.
FD: I borrowed from one of the fellows, a suit and mask, and a golden cape, which he very reluctantly gave to me because it was a prized cape.
LD: Granny had made it.
FD: Anyway, I appeared in the ring. Nobody saw me getting in. Because there was several guys coming in. I got up on top.
LD: In his pin striped suit. He’d rolled up the trousers. You know?
FD: I climbed up on top of the ropes and jumped into the air, but I came down and broke my glasses. Didn’t remember they were in my pocket! Nobody knew I was there with the mask on until the presentation to Damien of the belt and I said, “well done, mate”. He looked up completely shocked! [Laughs]
AG: And how did you get involved with Pallant House?
LD: Well, since moving to Chichester, we became patrons. Quite early on, didn’t we?
FD: Yes. We supported a number of events there. Always involved with it. We have always loved the art that they have there. It is a very important gallery. Some of the shows they’ve had on there… They’ve had Paula Rego, Frida Kahlo, which was a wonderful, wonderful show. Anyway, we just got involved with them and then we decided, in terms of the gift to them, that it’d be nice to leave something to the gallery, to fill in gaps that they don’t have already in their collection. They were delighted to have the Gavin Turk Bin Bag and the Rachel Whiteread Bookcases. the Damien butterfly painting, the Tracey Emin Roman pole which is now in the courtyard there, the Michael Craig Martin, the Peter Blake…
AG: What are both of your favourite pieces in your collection and which pieces have the fondest memories for you?
FD: I just love Damien and I love the Damiens we had in our collection.
LD: We’ve kept one piece back, which was the piece that he gave us on our tenth wedding anniversary.
FD: Yes, a lovely pink butterfly painting. I’ve loved all Damien’s painting, his art puts such terrific colour into your house or wherever you hang it.
LD: I mean, we’ve loved all the paintings we’ve bought, haven’t we? We’ve never bought anything thinking well, we’ll just have it for a short while and then get rid of it. Everything we’ve thought about carefully. The Scottish colourists, the Irish paintings, it all sort of works together somehow, I think.
AG: What advice would you give to people who are just starting out collecting?
FD: Buy something you like.
LD: I was just going to say that. And don’t be influenced by other people.
AG: Finally, is there anything you regret not buying when you had the opportunity to?
FD: Oh, yeah. Peter Doig, who we knew.
LD: We knew him when he was a barman in the Two Brydges Club.
FD: I was always thinking I’d buy one, but I never did. And again I wanted to buy his work just because I liked it.
LD: There’s a piece of Jim Lambie that you wanted to buy and I said, no. It was a very big keyhole… Real regrets, though, I don’t think we have any. They’re just things that you look back on and think oh that could have been nice.
FD: We’ve been very fortunate, in acquiring all that we have acquired. Yes, very fortunate.
LD: And enjoyed it all. I mean, waking up in the morning to the pieces up in the bedroom there, it was just an absolute joy. It’s been great. It’s been so lovely.