If you’re looking to enjoy some Australian culture, it doesn’t get much more authentic than a piece of aboriginal art. The Gallery Shop in Sydney is a treasure trove of the stuff, combining indigenous pieces with crafts and textiles, located in the heart of Bronte. The shop opened in late 2010 and has already gained a reputation for sourcing exquisite pieces from both emerging and collectable artists from across Australia.
You grew up in central London. Was it always your intention to open a gallery shop with such an eclectic range of pieces from around the world?
No! Though I have had a long love affair with Australia and aboriginal art, going back nearly 25 years. The Gallery Shop has combined these two loves. The most enjoyable part of my job is that every year, I have the privilege to travel to some of the most remote parts of Australia to meet the artists, select the work and get to know more of the country that inspires it. Having built close relationships with many community-run art centres means I can run the gallery confident of the integrity, authenticity and provenance of the work and that the artists are being looked after, which to me is of the upmost importance.
Can you tell us more about aboriginal art in Australia?
The contribution of contemporary Aboriginal Art in Australia has been of rapidly growing significance since the first desert works emerged from Papunya in 1971.
Over subsequent decades, the art movement spread to other remote communities in the Central and Western desert regions of Australia. Women artists joined the men to reveal aspects of their specific cultural and social knowledge, bringing new approaches to colour and subject. Differences in language and culture have developed into regional styles that have come to typify the diversity of Aboriginal communities across Australia.
The rise of contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art has been described by critic and writer Robert Hughes as ‘the last great art movement of the twentieth century’. The contradiction of the modernity of this art movement lies in the fact that Aboriginal culture is counted as the oldest continuous living culture in the world.
Do you have any particularly unusual stories from The Gallery Shop?
The best stories come from the trips we go on to the communities every year and usually involve our 4WD. I usually travel with a friend but not always, and believe me, it is quite hard to change a tyre, after a blowout, in the middle of the desert, on your own!
The gallery has already gained a reputation for sourcing exquisite pieces from both emerging and collectable artists from across Australia. Can you recommend some top emerging Australian artists to our readers?
My top five artists for 2016 would be Bugai Whyoulter, Flora Brown, Yurpiya Lionel, Rosie Taco King and Judy Mengil.
Tell us about the art scene in Sydney.
I can only talk in terms of the aboriginal art scene, which is very much alive. The Gallery Shop is unique to Sydney as no other gallery works with the number of community-run art centres as we do – as a result, we have one of the broadest range of collections in Sydney. This works well for all our customers, as we cover a diverse aesthetic. Rarely do people leave empty handed!
As well as paintings, The Gallery Shop offers a homewares and accessories range. How does the balance between these two work, and what does it mean for your demographic?
This works really well for us as it brings in a diverse range of customers to the gallery. I personally find some art galleries quite intimidating, and the mix of art and homewares seems to make us less so, or at least that is what our customers tell me. People also love recommending us to friends from overseas, as they know they will be able to take a tasteful and authentic piece home with them.
What does the future hold for The Gallery Shop?
That would be telling! However, we are currently working on some exciting new ventures which should come to fruition in the middle of the year. Watch this space!
The Gallery Shop is one of the winners of The Culture Trip’s Sydney Local Favorite 2015 Award. The Local Favorite badge is awarded to our favorite local towns, restaurants, artists, galleries, and everything in between. We are passionate about showcasing popular local talents on a global scale, so we have cultivated a carefully selected, but growing community.
Interview by Henry Oliver