Gallery Notebook, Wellington High School (1999)

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it would take to open my own gallery. I read a review of Peter McLeavey’s biography by Jill Trevelyan in an old Art New Zealand the other day, and it made me think about Peter McLeavey Gallery, and my first encounter with the space in 1999, aged 16.

Peter McLeavey passed away yesterday and I’ve been feeling heavy hearted because I suspect (like many people whose lives he touched) his influence may have steered my path clearly, and confidently, towards a life of art.

At 16, I was quite shy, but an art history assignment at Wellington High School required students to visit local galleries in order to write reviews and observations in a Gallery Notebook. I remember going to Janne Land Gallery, City Gallery Wellington and Photospace once or twice, but I returned to Peter McLeavey Gallery over and over again. I had conversations with Peter every time I visited, he took the time to talk to a shy teenager about painting and history, Māori-Pākehā dynamics, about installation and visual language. I think he was slowly blowing my mind, and I started to feel completely at ease and empowered in the space between art and audience.

I went from high school to art school, and into the workforce; I peaked pretty early, running a Council funded gallery at 23, producing festival programmes, shows upon shows, editing publications, banging on about Pacific art to everyone I met. In the midst of the awkward process of re-entering the full-time workforce having worked myself into a fairly defined niche, I’m now measuring, planning, psyching myself up to do it solo: open my own gallery, because literally, it’s where my path has led me.

I moved away from Wellington and didn’t get the opportunity to speak to Peter McLeavey again, although I popped in whenever I was in town. I started following Richard Killeen on Instagram this year, and spent three gorgeous weeks in Wellington in January, across the landing at Enjoy Public Art Gallery for their Summer Residency. I keep encountering Peter McLeavey indirectly, and keep thinking about those early visits and the way they shaped my trajectory.

Art dealing in South Auckland in the 21st century is another kettle of fish, but the space between art and audience remains, and it’s here I think Peter McLeavey showed me the power and potential of informing, listening, engaging, opening minds, enabling and celebrating art and artists. What an amazing individual, a complete game changer.

RIL Peter McLeavey

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