ART DEALER NICHOLA DARE’s home brings a new meaning to the concept of “living above the shop”. 10 years ago, London-born Nichola established the Indigenous art gallery Aboriginal Contemporary after buying All Hand Made, the Bronte Road ceramics gallery founded by Helen Stephens. Architect Virginia Wong-See adapted the original 1861 sandstone worker’s cottage and added a two-floor apartment to the rear of the building for Helen. The warm sandstone walls of the gallery, the poured concrete floors throughout, the high ceilings and the clever use of natural light are all reminders that great design does not have to be grand design.
Nichola was thrilled to find a property that could double as a beautiful home for her young family and the perfect setting to display and sell the art she sources direct from Indigenous art centres. “It is a wonderful place to live. I love the smooth wooden handrail over the rough concrete stairs and the place has incredible light,” says Nichola, who shares the space with her 11- and 14-year-old daughters (and a well-chosen art collection).
As a dealer, Nichola confesses that it is often hard to sell work she admires. One such piece is a painting of an owl by Mabel Juli sourced from Warmun Art Centre in The Kimberley. “It sat in the gallery for a while and I loved it, but I was just setting up the business and thought ‘I can’t start buying up all the work’. Then a guy came in and he was very serious about buying it. I woke up the next morning and like a childthought, ‘you can’t have it,’ and I bought it!”
The much-loved owl now hangs above the sofa, beside a work by Melbourne graffiti artist Ghost Patrol. A portrait in oil by American artist Paul Brown, gifted to Nichola by her father, is above the stairs. “People are quite cautious about mixing styles, I say don’t worry about that as long as the tone works. I call my collection thoughtfully eclectic,” she says with a laugh.
Aboriginal Contemporary does not operate on a rotating exhibition schedule; rather Nichola has ongoing relationships with a number of Indigenous art centres that specialise in a variety of artistic endeavours. This means you will find a selection of small ceramic works by Ernabella Arts from the APY Lands, Tjanpi Desert Weaver animals, pandanus work from Arnhem Land and paintings from a number of different communities. The paintings range in price from $150 for works 30 by 30 centimetres to $5,000 for large works.
Nichola warns buyers should be very careful before purchasing Ab- original art; “Don’t feel bad about grilling a seller about the provenance of a work. The two key questions to ask are: Is the gallery a member of the Indigenous Art Code? And what Art Centre is the work from?”
Nichola’s favourite part of the year is the time she spends in remote communities. “I get behind the 4-wheel drive and I know that for the next two weeks I get my life blood back. I have an extraordinary attachment to Country.”