My ART | Gallerist: Tim Melville

Gallerist: Tim Melville

Gallerist: Tim Melville

Why did you open your gallery?

I was living in London and I remember the excitement of Tate Modern’s opening in the year of the Millennium … the beyond-human scale of the Turbine Hall … the controversial-at-the-time thematic hang that had Monet installed beside Richard Long … and Olafur Eliasson’s sublime Weather Project. The early 2000’s art-world shake-up shook me up as well and it was incredibly frustrating to watch it all from the outside. It was like looking through a glass wall at an amazing party you’re not invited to. How do I get my name on that list?!

A few other circumstances collided … I’d just finished an Art History degree and new lightbulbs were going off in my head … a friend and mentor, Andrew McIntosh Patrick, introduced me to The Fine Art Society and the work of artists like Christopher Dresser and the Scottish Colourists. And it was a period when I was travelling to New York a lot and seeing exhibitions like Christo’s Gates, MoMA’s Matisse and Richter retrospectives, and the amazing Rothko retrospective at the Whitney. An exciting new world was suddenly opening up and I wondered “How can I make this thing my job?”

I came home to NZ in 2005. I’d been away for 21 years and was homesick for the kindness and ease of life in Aotearoa. Plus I wanted to be living somewhere where I didn’t have to constantly explain what Maori was. I knew I wanted to do something in the NZ art world, but I’d parachuted in, knowing nothing and nobody, so I had some serious catching-up to do.

One of the wonderful things about New Zealand, though, is that people are generous and open. A friend introduced me to Kathlene Fogarty at FHE Galleries, who took me under her wing and I ended up managing one of her two spaces. I worked hard and learned fast and the doors started to open, but having my own gallery felt like something that was far too gigantic to contemplate.

Until suddenly, one day, it didn’t.

It’s the toughest and most demanding job I’ve ever had but is also the most satisfying. It uses every ounce of my brain and my creativity and my nerve and I love it. I remember a conversation with the late great Peter McLeavey who told me that his career as an art dealer had been about finding out who he was. “And yours will be the same”, he said. “It will be about finding the Tim-ness of Tim.” And of course he’s been absolutely right.

If you could own any work of art, what would it be?

Is it bad to covet the Ghent Altarpiece?

What was the first work that really mattered to you?

Rodney Fumpston’s woodblock print Pacific Marriage (1996). I bought it from the Lane Gallery on one of my summer-time Auckland visits and it hung over my London fireplace. Its vibrant red-and-green always made me think of home. It was lovely meeting Rodney himself when I came home permanently, and writing this has reminded me to give him a call.

Share a memory of working with an artist?

I’m grateful to another mentor, Cook Island artist and curator Jim Vivieaere, for introducing me to Star Gossage. I knew Jim through my cousins Wendy Bennett and Wiki Oman (of Food Queens fame) and I hadn’t been back in NZ for long when he phoned and said “Come and pick me up, we’re driving to Pakiri to see Star Gossage. She’s a beautiful artist and you two should meet.” I’d never heard of Star and I barely knew Jim at that time – nor that his plans and schemes sometimes ended up in wild-goose-chases – but he was a fantastic connector. My linear post-London mind went into a spin as we drove over the Harbour Bridge and I asked for Star’s address … Jim held up a copy of Art New Zealand with Star on the cover. He said “I don’t have her address but here she is in Pakiri; we just have to look for these cabbage trees.”

Identify a common misconception about galleries and/or collecting, and help us set the record straight?

To collect art you have to be rich and that artworks bought from dealer galleries are always expensive.

Tell us about a recent discovery?

I first saw Hiria Anderson’s work at her Whitecliffe MFA Grad show in 2017, but for various reasons it’s taken until now for us to book her first solo show in our Main Gallery. December 1st 2020 FYI.

Hiria (Rereahu, Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Apakura) lives and works in her whānau homestead in Ōtorohanga. She starts her paintings from iPhone photographs, just as Lindauer used photographs as a starting point for his paintings of Maori tupuna. Her small, exquisitely rendered photorealist paintings in oil of everyday life on her marae and in her community are of things you might not normally notice … “moments between moments” … a child sleeping … a stack of pudding plates in the wharekai … bored kids mucking around … mattresses in the wharenui.

Lucinda Bennett wrote recently in Art Collector magazine: “While her work may be focussed on depicting the everyday, in concentrating on the minutiae, Anderson’s paintings capture the nuances between Māori culture and 21st century living. Furthermore, in depicting the everyday lives of her community, these paintings interrogate the history of representation of Māori in European art, gently shifting the viewpoint from outside looking in, to inside, looking at one another.”

Why collect?

One of the reasons we collect is to make sense of our lives … because the way artists look at the world encourages us to think about the way we look at the world ourselves.

Another reason is so that we can have things around us that give a flash of joy.

But also, it has to be said, the art world is built on social interaction and art collectors get to have great social lives! Almost all the art collecting groups I’ve met have said that the aim of their group was not just to invest in art – although many have done well in that area too. Rather, their groups were formed to learn about contemporary NZ art in the company of friends. And if you’re a bit nervous about going into a dealer gallery – maybe because you think art dealers are rude and awful – it’s much easier in a group than on your own.

I remember being on the other side of that glass wall myself, trying to find a way in, when actually all I had to do was buy an artwork from a gallery (or an artist) and I would have had free entry. When I think about it now, starting my own gallery was kind of the nuclear option.

What is art for?

To show us who we are and make us think about the lives of others.

May 2020
Tim Melville is the owner and director of Tim Melville Gallery, Auckland
Photo: David Straight