It's never too late to dive into a new career

Published 24 July 2016 in Press

Astrid McLeod is the owner and curator of The Gallery in Riebeek Kasteel. She tells Margaret Harris that, four years ago, she was warned her business in the Western Cape town would not last six months.

Tell me about your work as an art gallery owner. I am a one-man (woman) show. I source, curate, hang and sell art, as well as network and organise workshops and events - all in a seven-day week.I am also passionate about the social-development aspect of art in the area. The Gallery is involved in an event taking place in Riebeek Kasteel next weekend called Solo Studios: a percentage of the proceeds will go to an arts development trust that has been set up to facilitate a programme called The People's Gallery - a pop-up gallery that will provide an outlet for the artworks from this community.I have learnt so much since opening The Gallery. Not just about myself, but about the art industry and what customers want. I love what I do and can say that opening The Gallery was the best thing I ever did.

Why did you decide to move to Riebeek Kasteel from Cape Town to open The Gallery? In what was a leap of faith, I made the decision to up sticks and move to this little town while away for the weekend with friends. I fell in love with the pace of life, the setting and the people that make Riebeek Kasteel what it is. I was newly divorced, and my children had flown the nest. Coming from the fast pace of city life, I was enamoured of the lack of traffic lights, high walls and extensive security measures, rush-hour traffic and general mass of humanity that comes with city living. What I was going to do once I arrived here was quite daunting. But it all fell into place because the many artists living in the valley didn't have an outlet or anyone to represent them. With much persuasion, I managed to convince the landowner to rent out his double garage in the village hub and convert it into a gallery. My space has now doubled in size, and there are plans to open a second gallery. Despite being told that my gallery would not last six months, four years on The Gallery has gone from strength to strength, with more and more top artists approaching it to exhibit their work.

What type of art do you typically show? It is all contemporary: paintings, etchings, ceramics, lino/woodcuts, and some sculptures. I favour contemporary art for its freshness. When I started The Gallery, I felt, and still feel, that the local artists needed a platform to exhibit their talents. The Gallery affords accessibility to the extensive local talent.

What is your background? My interest in art started 20 years ago when I was personal assistant to Margie Garratt, who launched the annual fibre art exhibition Innovative Threads. These were exciting times, as quilting was still considered a craft in South Africa and Garratt single-handedly managed to break the barrier into the art world. I managed to travel to Germany, the Netherlands and the UK with Innovative Threads. Thereafter I organised and curated pop-up exhibitions in Cape Town and its surrounds.These experiences set me on course to establish The Gallery.

What was your first paying job, and what was the most important lesson you learnt from it? I am a teacher by profession. It taught me patience, compassion and hard work. What did you want to be when you were a child? An air hostess, because I thought it would be a glamorous and cheap way to see the world. How wrong I was!

What are some of the challenges you sometimes face in your job, and how do you resolve them? My biggest challenge is to convince some of the better-known artists to exhibit with me. Once their work sells, they change their opinions and I have them on board.

What piece of art would you most like to own? A large landscape by André van Vuuren. They are contemporary, bold and edgy and feed my soul. I never tire of his work; the more I look at it the more I like it. I have been promised one if and when I ever remarry...

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