Showcasing your artwork in a gallery ranks high on most art students’ to-do lists, but tracking down the perfect one for you can be a challenge. That is, unless you open your own.
Fine art graduate Nicole Porter set up The Nicole Porter Gallery in her hometown of Aberdeen in 2010, just two years after graduating from Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. At the time, the recession was swallowing up employment opportunities in the creative sector and support for the venture was low. “Everyone thought it was a ridiculous idea because the economy was very unstable, but sometimes the bet thing to do is the one thing everyone is telling you not to do,” says the 29-year-old. “It’s a lot of responsibility but if you believe in your own work, then you’ve got to take the risk. It was actually my mum’s idea so I can’t take all the credit.”
Nicole admits she’s not naturally business minded and “winged it” a little when she spoke to the banks about funding, but her drive and determination was unquestionable. She had worked part-time in commercial galleries during her time at art school and knew from experience that she benefited from the interaction with people.
“It’s a welcome break from the solitary activity of being in the studio painting on your own,” says Nicole. “Plus, I get to work with and represent other artists too. Skill and craftsmanship is very important to me in my own work so that’s always been a criteria for selecting artists to exhibit in the gallery.”
Nicole cleverly chose a retail unit positioned by a set of traffic lights, knowing that a beautiful painting could easily catch the gaze of anyone waiting for the lights to change.
The space also doubles up as Nicole’s studio, which has come in handy since the artist began a Masters in Contextualised Practice at Gray’s School of Art. “The course is really appealing to me because it’s about thinking about your work creatively within different contexts, which is especially interesting coming from the point of view of a gallery owner,” she says. “I’m lucky that I can do my Masters full-time because the gallery is family-run and I’ve got everyone roped in to help me. I decided to only show my own work during this period to ease the workload in the gallery, because it wouldn’t be fair to take on other artists if I can’t give them my full attention.”
Nicole is concurrently building a body of work that focuses on communicating societal and political notions. Last year’s Scottish Referendum had a huge impact on her thinking, as her painting Yes or No? demonstrates, and she’s excited to see where this train of thought will tae her. “Yes or No?” was a large piece and there was a lot of work involved but I felt I wanted to put forward my take on this historical moment for democracy,” she says. “It made me think how a painting can be used to help people visualise these ideas and how it can provide another venue for reflection on these occasions.”
Spare moments of quiet relaxation are few and far between for Nicole these days, but that suits her personality. The ability to keep oneself busy and to always have your eyes on the prize is a must, she says if you’re thinking of starting your own gallery.
“You’ve got to be 100% committed to it before you can make it work because it’s hard and challenging,” she says. “If you’re doing it because you’ve got no other options or you can’t think of anything else to then that’s not the way. It’s got to be something you want which I did and still do.”