Western University Be Extraordinary The Campaign For Western

Art, Friends and Memories

The Flora and Ian Tripp collection

by Debora Van Brenk, BA’86, MA’87 | June 26, 2018

Ian Tripp
Ian Tripp, BA'65, and his late wife Flora collected more than 165 pieces of art over the course of 40 years. Recently, he left the entire collection as a bequest to the McIntosh Gallery.

It’s probably not surprising that financial analyst and accountant Ian Tripp, with a predilection for precision, would have kept a monthly tally of household cashflow: income, mortgage, food, kids’ summer camps, education.

But those who didn’t know Tripp or his wife Flora in those early days might have been surprised the family budget always included one more column: art.

This, they agreed, was as important to the family as dinner on the table.

“Right next to the food budget we would have a budget for art – food for the body and nourishment for the soul,” Tripp recalled.

During the course of 40 years, they collected more than 165 pieces that became as welcome a group of friends as the London-area artists who created them.

About 125 of those works went on exhibit at Western’s McIntosh Gallery in April and May, after the Tripps made their eclectic collection a bequest to the gallery.

The planned gift represents some of the best contemporary art created in the Forest City: works of dozens of artists, including Gilbert Moll, Greg Curnoe, Silvia Clarke, Brian Jones, Tom Benner, Paterson Ewen and Helmut Becker.

And, as suggested by the title of the exhibit – The Flora and Ian Tripp Collection: Art, Friends, Memories – the works highlight the kinship the couple has had with both the art on the wall and the creative souls who made them.

“The really sweet part of collecting is that if you like the work, it’s a bonus to like the artist as well. And that happened more often than not,” he said.

Ian Tripp looks at his art collection
Tripp's collection includes works of dozens of local artists, including Gilbert Moll, Greg Curnoe, Silvia Clarke, Brian Jones, Tom Benner, Paterson Ewen and Helmut Becker.

From the time he graduated Western with a BA in Economics in 1965, until his retirement as comptroller 30 years later, Tripp kept financial order for several departments at Western. His portfolio included the McIntosh Gallery, which necessitated frequent contact with artist Maurice Stubbs, the gallery’s first permanent curator and its executive director from 1969-1989.


Tripp says he never considered any other recipient for the donation; his affinity for Western and Stubbs made McIntosh not just the best option, but the only one.

The Tripps’ love of art began the day Stubbs invited them to a McIntosh exhibit of works by Rudolf Bikkers, whose bold creations would soon grace collections around the world. The Tripps found themselves, unexpectedly, entranced.

A Bikkers painting, Without Sight, became the first of their collection; a stunning pointillist painting, Winter Goldenrods by Klaas Verboom, became the second.

“Up until then, we probably had Elvis Presley posters on our walls,” Tripp quipped.

Greg Curnoe
Doc Morton Front Wheel, by Greg Curnoe

Eventually, art adorned every wall of the couple’s home. “I would describe it as growing like Topsy. The collection grew – and we grew with it.”

Sometimes they bought from dealers; more often, directly from artists with whom they connected. Most have London connections, and many have links to Western’s visual arts community and legacy.

“The most important thing about collecting for us was to really like the work to begin with. That was the primary criteria in terms of acquiring a piece. There was absolutely no consideration at all about the future investment value.”

The couple set their parameters early: both had to agree on the purchase; only one purchase per show; it had to fit within their budget; it had to speak to the other pieces they owned; and the couple, ideally, wanted to have an affinity for the artist.

“We’ve come to realize artists have a special gift – they’re able to see the world and many of the things in the world many of us, or most of us, can’t or don’t see. Not only that, they have the need to share their vision and view of the world with others.”

Ra's Voyage, by Ed Zelenak
Ra’s Voyage to the Red X, by Ed Zelenak, captured Ian Tripp’s heart and remains his favourite piece in his vast collection.

In 1990, there came what Tripp calls “the epiphany,” a shift towards abstracts, from representational art.

The work that changed him remains his favourite today: a small piece made with molten metal on gypsum board, with red dots and a vessel circling the ancient Egyptian universe. Ra’s Voyage to the Red X, by Ed Zelenak (assistant professor of sculpture at Western from 1979 to 1988), had captured his heart.

A recent acquisition, Pat Gibson’s Winter, shows the couple’s evolution as collectors; this small abstract, by a female artist, could not be more different in style from the Verboom piece with a similar name. These two paintings, he says are ‘like bookends’ of the collection.

Over the years, the Tripps compared notes about different pieces and where to hang them “so that works could talk to each other without fighting.”

Bold primary-colour pieces congregated on an expansive living room wall like extroverts at a cocktail party, while a small grouping of sepia-toned works adorned a smaller wall, where they could chat in more subdued voices.

Wheel, by James Kirkpatrick
Wheel, by James Kirkpatrick

The couple’s conversations with the artists have been similarly loud, contemplative and collegial as they visited one another’s homes, studios and summer cottages, and even travelled the world together on vacation.

Flora, who died in June 2015, surrounded by the family and art she loved, had the artistic eye of the family, Tripp said.

She most likely would have identified Fenwick’s watercolour Lilac (on the road to Big Bay) as her most prized piece. Ian had first seen it in Fenwick’s home, had asked to buy it and been gently rebuffed.

Years later, with Flora in the final stages of a rare neurodegenerative disorder called multiple system atrophy, Fenwick presented Lilac to Flora as a gift and inscribed on its back, “To Flora, with love.”

It was fitting, then, that artists were the first to see the McIntosh exhibit, in April.

“It was the first time I saw them all in one spot,” Tripp said of his old friends, the artists and their art.

He returned to the gallery often during the show, which ended in May, to conduct formal and informal tours.

After the exhibit, McIntosh installers returned the paintings to the Tripp family home, where he and visitors will enjoy them, until the time comes again to share them more widely.

“This is such an important part of our life. The one constant passion we’ve had over the past 40 years has been collecting art,” Tripp said.

“It’s not so much about the art itself, but about the relationships we’ve developed with the artists. I think it’s safe to say, apart from family – that is, children and grandchildren – the love of our life has been the relationships and friendships we’ve had with artists we’ve come to know over the years.”

For more information, or to donate to the McIntosh Gallery, please contact James Patten, Director, McIntosh Gallery, at 519.661.2111 x84602 or jpatten2@uwo.ca


This article appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of
facebooktwitterYouTubeLinkedInflickrWestern blogiTunesU
Powered by Blackbaud
nonprofit software