Terri Lew is a striking woman. Not just in poise, but in the way she speaks about her work. With a long history in publishing and tourism on the Gold Coast, she switched careers in 2008, sold her business and opened an art gallery in a warehouse just off the highway at Mermaid Beach.
At the time it was an odd thing to do. People didn’t generally run galleries in warehouses back then. Terri also had no experience in the art scene.
Fast forward eight years and she’s learned a lot. Not just about running a gallery but about the local art community and the people who attend exhibitions and openings. And while she thought running a gallery would deal with any compulsion to own art, she was wrong.
“I thought if I had a gallery I wouldn’t need to, but I still collect art for my own collection, you see.”
It was a matter of timing that saw 19Karen first open its doors. Terri collaborated with a young, local emerging artist to establish the gallery and run its early exhibitions. The artist was looking for a space and Terri owned a warehouse.
“When the tenants moved out, I decided that now is the time and it worked out had I sold the [publishing] business at the same time,” she said.
That was 2008, right when the world’s economy took a massive dive.
“It was the wrong time to start up a gallery,” Terri said. “When we opened, when we launched the gallery, this place was packed, swarmed with people.
“She was good at social media,” she said of her then business partner, “but they didn’t buy. They came to have a drink and a party – that went on for a year and a half. But we weren’t selling any artwork.”
When her partner moved on to other things, Terri decided to stick it out.
“I have this gallery, I’m not a quitter.”
Some of those local artists stopped coming, the audience connected to her then partner dropped away and she started afresh, which she says isn’t a bad thing.
“From 2010 had to re-energise the gallery, but I was learning on the job as well,” Terri said. “I was learning what I liked, what I didn’t like, what worked, what didn’t work.”
The major change during that period was 19Karen’s clientele.
“It was no longer the young hipsters who wanted to come and have a party,” Terri said.
“So the quantity of attendance was reduced, but the quality increased. People bought art.”
“And of course, as you are in the business longer and you persevere with it, people start taking notice of you a bit more.”
19Karen has been operating for eight years now and Terri is quite obviously proud of her work with international artists.
“With accessing quite a lot of international artists, I have increased the profile of the gallery overseas,” she said.
“I’ve probably set some kind of standard for other galleries to follow,” she said, “we were the first one, probably in all of Australia to turn a warehouse into an art gallery.”
“Now you see a lot of other galleries move from mainstream street frontage to back streets. They can afford to buy them, do them up, they’re bigger and they already have the clientele.”
The gallery also works with local artists, Filthy The Bear one of them. He says 19Karen is a “gallery for the artists.” Terri elaborates.
“It’s not a gallery you would want to get decorative art, although we have a few of the artists that do stuff like that. We try to keep it more on the other side – it’s more cutting edge stuff that no other gallery would take a chance on.”
“Some of the artists that started with me have gone on to bigger and better things – and they’re still with me,” she said.
“A lot of commercial galleries will not take an emerging artist who’s had no sales record or any exhibitions or art prize on their CV, it’s too risky,” Terri said. “They need to be able to sell work to pay the rent.”
“My benefit is I don’t have a landlord and I’m self-funded and don’t really rely on income from the gallery to support me.”
Terri’s switch from publishing to art came before the City’s current cultural explosion so she’s observed creative small businesses mushroom over that time.
“Young entrepreneurs took risks,” she said. “They’ll open up a bar, a café, a shop that sells creative things. There’s Miami Marketta, even yourself,” she says pointing to me and referring to Blank GC.
“There’s this Start-up Creative group that come here once a year and puts on an event and talks about their successes.”
“You see a lot of that in the last few years and it feels like a bigger city now.”
“We’ve got mostly everything that the bigger cities have got except the population – it’s not quite big enough to sustain this city and every business that exists here.”
When Terri talks about the exhibition highlights over recent years, it’s again the international artists that excite her.
“Where do I start? We’ve had some really exciting exhibitions. I was quite blown away that some of these artists would come all the way from overseas to a place like the Gold Coast to do shows.”
“I’ve had about seven different international artists and I’ve got another one coming this month.”
She’s referring to Monique Van Steen – one of three artists exhibiting at a special triple-header which takes over the gallery from 8 October – 19 November.
Monique is Dutch but lives in Barcelona and will travel to the Gold Coast for the exhibition opening. Monique has created a new series of ‘beauties’ for the exhibition which will be her debut solo show in Australia titled Inner Beauty. She uses a dripping technique that allows her to create loose, fluid lines which are a signature in her art.
Joining Monique for a concurrent exhibition is Jason Bryant from the USA. His hyper realistic paintings bring back romance and glamour as they celebrate Hollywood icons of a time long past. Titled For Your Viewing Pleasure his series will transport you from the modern day gallery to a forgotten world of elegance and glamour in both vibrant colours and striking black and white imagery.
Perth artist Ariel Katzir is also exhibiting with a body of 15 works titled [STAMP] which are causing quite a stir in the art world. Those works show off her fascination with uniform lines and geometry as well as the human form. She’ll also be here for the opening.
And the exhibitions keep rolling around after this one wraps up. Terri has a husband and wife duo from Brasil who will exhibit in December and January and in March the gallery is collaborating with Beautiful Bizarre magazine to curate a group exhibition with more international artists.
19Karen is a stunning, open art space with plenty of natural light supporting an incredible diversity of artists. On the day I visit, as the new exhibition is being installed, there are sculptures, paintings, jewelry, glass figures and ceramics being exhibited and available for sale with prices starting around $100.
Terri says 19Karen is the best-kept secret on the Gold Coast and as I live only two blocks away and had never been here in all its eight year history, I can attest to that.
I ask Terri for any final thoughts and she says simply, “just come, and be blown away.”
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19 Karen’s triple-header exhibition featuring Ariel Katzir, Monique Van Steen and Jason Bryant opens Saturday 8 October from 6.00pm with free entry and entertainment by James Street Preachers.
The gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10.00am – 5.00pm. Get more details at 19karen.com.au.