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10 things you never knew about REDSEA Gallery

 

With more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world, Singapore seems an obvious place for an art gallery to thrive, yet we all know that it takes more than just a cool white space and a selection of contemporary art on the walls to make a success story.

For Chris and Charlie Churcher, the owners of REDSEA Gallery in Dempsey, the secret lies not only in dealing with a fine product but in dealing with people. It’s all down to relationships: the connections made with the artists and with everyone who walks through the gallery doors.

This year, REDSEA celebrates ten successful years of business. To mark the milestone, we asked Chris to reflect on ten different aspects of the gallery’s journey from a small shophouse on River Valley Road to a sought-after space in trendy Dempsey Hill.

1. Discovering new talent

 

“While most of our artists come to us through my contacts in the art world, I also believe in gut instinct. Some of my most successful artists have come from the unlikeliest of beginnings. Take Malik, an Indonesian artist, who walked into the gallery one day, off the street. He was virtually blind in one eye after an injury and a botched operation in Indonesia. So he came to Singapore with nothing but an artwork in hand, to see if he could sell it to pay for better medical attention. I not only bought his artwork immediately but I sold it almost as immediately; in fact, I could have sold it ten times over. His work – pen and ink artworks of traditional Indonesian scenes – is incredible. He has become one of our most popular artists and likes to be known as the ‘one-eyed’ artist.”

2. A memorable sale

“A few years back we represented an artist who painted stunning, colourful images of families on beaches. One day, a mother and daughter came in and immediately bought one of these paintings – a trio of a father, mother and child together. It turned out that this was exactly the same scene as a photograph that they had taken previously on a family holiday. Soon after the photo was taken, an aeroplane that the father had been piloting crashed and he sadly died. It was incredible seeing this mother and daughter so touched by the painting and so openly sharing their story with me.”

 

3. Selling a painting twice

“I haven’t done this, but a member of staff has. We had two paintings by Vietnamese artist, Truc, which were similar but different, one grey and one green, of lovely tranquil Vietnamese scenes. They were hung together in the gallery as a set but could be sold separately. One of the staff members at the time got herself confused and managed to sell the same picture, the grey one, twice within a matter of hours. I had to go back to one of the clients and come clean, embarrassing to say the least, but they did go on to buy the unsold one in the end.”

4. The conman

“Back in our River Valley days, a well-to-do gentleman came into the gallery and spun a story about holding a private viewing for the Sultan of Brunei’s daughter, who was in Singapore at that time, as there was a picture that she wanted to purchase. After much discussion about the process and the etiquette involved and a ‘confirmation’ phone call to the Royal entourage, he asked if I could provide refreshments – no alcohol of course. Well, in those days it was just me in the gallery and I couldn’t just nip out to the shops so the gentleman offered to go for me. I gave him $50 cash and, of course, I never saw him again. I never thought I could actually be conned. But, you know what, for the sake of $50, it was worth it; he had me!”

5. Never work with children or animals

“They say you shouldn’t, but we do. We hold lots of different events at the gallery: private, corporate, parties, dinners and weddings. So we have plenty of people coming through our doors, including families with children. One of our most memorable events was a wedding featuring a couple and their dog, very much a part of the family, whose role it was to wear the ring on a ribbon around its neck and take it up the gallery ‘aisle’ to the happy couple. It spent the rest of the afternoon running excitedly around the guests. There was a bit of clearing up to do afterwards…”

6. Being moved to tears by art

 

“Art excites people, it depresses them, it provokes them and of course it can make them cry – that includes me. In a recent exhibition for the French sculptor Val, we showed a piece called L’Adieu, a bronze with two figures, one seated while the other ascends away. Val told me its story, of her friend back in France losing her twin and finally coming to terms with his journey into the next world. As Val spoke, it started to become a very personal story for me also; the more she spoke, the more overcome I became. I think that because I work so closely with my artists, their lives and emotions often become entangled with my own. It was a very powerful and emotional moment.”

7. An embarrassing moment

“When I first set the business up on River Valley Road, I’d come straight from working in the city, so I continued to go out on the Thursday night city-drinking scene – purely keeping up my contacts of course! But now that I had my own shop, I could catch up on sleep in my own time. I used to make up a bed at the back of the gallery from rolls of bubble wrap in the stockroom. When the doorbell rang, I would just have time to wake up and rush out pretending that I’d been wrapping a painting out back. One time, though, I didn’t wake up and a woman found me fast asleep on the gallery floor! But she did actually buy something, and bad habits die hard so I continued to do it, but made sure to turn up the doorbell volume. Obviously that doesn’t happen anymore…”

8. Local cuisine

“I used to have a friend on River Valley Road who I regularly ate chicken rice with. He was a lovely man called James – a karung guni man, one of those guys who push trolleys around collecting cardboard and paper. He was so skinny that I used to take him out for chicken rice. He became my friend and would pop by to say hello. One Saturday, he came in just as I was closing on a deal. A husband and wife were there, quite smart, and James just walks right in, no shirt on, saying ‘Hello Chris, ah’ and settling himself in. The clients didn’t mind a bit. Can you imagine that in Fifth Avenue or Mayfair? That’s what I love about Singapore.”

9. Local customs

“The longer I’m in Asia, the more drawn I am to local customs and culture and the value they hold to business – and I don’t just mean working with local clients. When we first started out, one of our local neighbours dropped by to take a look. She turned out to be a feng shui expert. We had a money plant facing the door, to bring wealth into the business, but she said instantly that it was ‘choking’ our business with its dry, dead leaves. I didn’t believe a word of it but nonetheless I let her clear the plant and water it. I’m not kidding, within the next hour we sold three, maybe four, paintings. We kept that same money plant for the next eight years and when it finally needed replacing, there was no question about it, we immediately got a new and bigger one – one that cost $88!”

10. The pig in the window

 

“Ah, the pig. People always react to our pig – from hilarity to downright disgust – but she really gets people in. I got her from a gallery in Hong Kong. I was walking past and saw people crowding around the window looking at this pig. When I asked the gallery owner about it, he said, ‘You need a pig; everyone needs a pig in the window.’ So I bought her. She’s been in the gallery ever since. She’s made from silicone and has real pig hair but no, we haven’t got a name for her… yet.”

 

REDSEA Gallery

#01-10 Block 9 Dempsey Road

6732 6711 | redseagallery.com

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