It’s a special thing indeed to be welcomed inside a gallery, particularly when you’re greeted by Otomys Contemporary Directors Megan Dicks and Hannah Abbott. Megan and Hannah live and breathe art — and their passion and energy is infectious. Walking into the physical gallery space at Otomys Contemporary, you’re instantly friendly with their fine art; watching an exhibition unfold and listening to the art being framed.
Megan Dicks founded Otomys Contemporary with friend Nicki Finch, with the aim of bridging the gap between quality art and interiors. For Megan, bringing the two in sync makes a home sing, and the ability to elevate this ‘sacred space’ with a layer of humanity and emotion. The boutique gallery has since grown from focus on photography to a range of unique lithographs, etchings, oils and sculpture, presented by a plethora of homegrown and international artists. This is made possible by both Hannah and Megan now co-directing in Melbourne and co-founder Nicki, who established a new gallery base for Otomys Contemporary near London earlier this year. And with a presence in London, the flood gates have opened for bringing European art to Australia.
Together Megan and Hannah place value in intuition and relationships. They recognise the trust involved in entering an artist’s studio — just as they do entering a client’s own home. It’s made clear by how honoured they are to select works that will be in people’s homes for years; a decision they do not take lightly. Listening to them speak about working with a client, artist, or designer, it’s clear they are exceptionally thorough and thoughtful in everything they do.
We were blessed with a moment out of Megan and Hannah’s busy schedule to talk cultural and artistic diversity, the importance of art in the home and what the future looks like for this thriving gallery.
Megan, could you please tell me a bit about Otomys Contemporary’s beginnings? What is the meaning behind Otomys Contemporary’s name and how is this reflected in your business?
Megan Dicks: The name Otomys is based on a Latin word – it is also the name of a very small mouse that lives in the Sahara desert of Africa. Not only did we love the sound of the name, but we also loved that the little mouse has been around for 2,000 years. It has a tiny body and very large ears. We liked the symbolism of the mouse’s ears because we are a boutique art gallery but also very conscious of listening to the market. We love the longevity of the mouse above all, so that was the basis of the name.
The idea for Otomys Contemporary originated with my Co – Founder Nikki Finch, who is now running Otomys Contemporary in London. Nikki and I are both originally from South Africa; Nikki’s from Cape Town and I’m from Zululand. We combined our passions for art and interiors as we recognised that at the time, art was very seperate from interiors. To go and purchase fabulous quality art, one needed to go to an art gallery which was potentially intimidating. I always felt this was a real loss for the art market because in actual fact, it shouldn’t be overwhelming, it should be really enjoyable. It should feel easy and exciting for buyers, because art can be quite integral to an interior and a well-designed interior can make art sing. We really wanted to bridge the gap.
Obviously that was many years ago and there are quite a few people now working on the same premise, which is wonderful to see. We felt as though we were a frontrunner as we didn’t know of anyone else doing this and consequently we found a niche spot in the market. With Hannah now on board, we have continued to run with this concept. But our grounding is definitely on the art side of the fence, rather than on the interiors. It’s very much about the art while considering the context of the art (the interior).
Hannah, you were appointed co-director at Otomys Contemporary earlier this year. What has it been like to step into this role and what do you enjoy about the projects you’re working on?
Hannah Abbott: Honestly, it’s been a total whirlwind! Yet extraordinary. The way in which Megan and I work together is quite unique and we have a very dynamic growing team to support to our vision. It is a total luxury to walk into the gallery everyday. We operate in a space that is surrounded with honest work by a diverse range of artists who are practicing across varied mediums, intention and story.
With all of our projects, art remains the focus. Our projects are extremely stimulating as we have the opportunity to work with people who are original and innovative. Many challenge design and are open to artwork that has the ability to enhance and transform a space. That is much of the excitement in what we do; working alongside key design leaders within the industry. Educating and sharing the way in which art exists beyond the visual, adding an emotional layer to their spaces.
There really is never a dull moment in our day to day. We can jump from a morning within an artist’s sacred space (their studio) to a meeting on site with a large commercial client. We really are across several stages of the art process, which is most exciting!
How do you ensure artistic and cultural diversity at Otomys Contemporary?
Hannah Abbott: Ensuring we uphold artistic and cultural diversity is paramount! Nikki’s presence in London has allowed Otomys Contemporary to curate in a dynamic way which has been exceptional for our cultural and artistic growth. Otomys Contemporary Tetbury allows us to have a touchpoint overseas – the ability to meet with artists in which we otherwise may not have the opportunity to connect.
Megan Dicks: Our travel allows cultural diversity. I’ve lived around the world; in Holland for a while and obviously in South Africa. Nikki has lived in Africa, China, Belgium and London and Hannah is very well travelled, especially to the United States. Australia is diverse and globalised anyway — you don’t even have to go that far — Melbourne does a very good job in terms of cultural diversity.
With the online platform, we feel diversity is something that we can and should offer. We are really working as a global community online. For us, it’s about wonderful works of art rather than us being locked into any particular culture. While up to two-thirds of our artists are Australian, we still like to keep a real balance deviating from purely Australian work.
In terms of artistic diversity, we started off with photographic work. That was a way of Nikki and I working our way into the market; less risk, more control. It also helped us to understand how a gallery sits in Australia. But very soon we were able to build on that with a physical gallery space. Now we offer lithographs, etchings, photographic work, oils and sculpture. It’s a big range and I think that’s important because many of our clients are repeat clients, so when they come back to us over time they may look for something else. We like to build on their story within their home and offer them a scale and breadth of medium.
Why did you choose to open a gallery near London and what opportunities has this offered you?
Megan Dicks: Bringing international artists to Australia has been major. It’s also been fantastic for our artists to be seen in London. Nikki has done a lot of international art fairs so has taken the work to a wider range of buyers. That is magnificent for the Australian artists. Our idea was always to have a profile that was holistic and not global in scale but in appreciation, so having Nikki across the seas certainly anchors that. It enables us to actually have a sense of what is happening in other parts of the world. Nikki is a fabulous part of the team; from an admin and creative standpoint, she’s invaluable.
Hannah Abbott: Otomys Contemporary Tetbury has given us a greater opportunity to connect, particularly with our artists. Nikki had a beautiful evening in the gallery not so long ago in which many of our artists were in attendance, including the wonderful Ian Rayer Smith. Megan and I have not yet had the opportunity to meet Ian as he resides in England. However Nikki can share on our behalf and Ian can experience Otomys Contemporary from the UK.
How often do you travel and how vital is travel to what you do?
Hannah Abbott: We both value travel enormously. Having grown up in South Africa and now living in Australia, Megan certainly appreciates travel and understands the concept of global living. Half of my immediate family live in America and Megan encourages every trip. This is an incredible support!
Beyond living globally, the two of us love to travel for the experience. From India to Italy, we are forever sharing stories from our time within different cities. We really do love the concept of journey. It’s wonderful to see how other people live and that fills us with energy!
Being in Europe, Nikki’s access to travel is certainly envied. Last month Nikki visited Caroline Denervaud at her studio in the Marais. Nikki had the luxury of jumping on the train and being in Paris within a few hours.
Megan Dicks: There’s something about going across the sea and gaining a new perspective. We love travel because it’s obviously educational. Having a breadth of experience assists us to having more of a global practice. It’s important to sit amongst other cultures and learn what their rhythm is. We both share a sensitivity to the person behind the story; whether it’s the artist or the buyer.
How important do you think art is in the home?
Megan Dicks: From my perspective, the intention of great architecture and interior design shows an appreciation of form, texture and colour, line and light, but is based on the fact that it needs to be both visually pleasing and practical. If you go into a well-designed home and all of those elements are absolutely maximised yet there is no art, there is a sense of void on an emotional level. I believe that a work of art adds the last ten per cent to the experience — a strong and effective piece will add that emotional layer. As a result, the space may resonate with one on a deeper level. Art creates something a little bit more theatrical in the home.
The intention behind the work we feature is to be expressive and our artists do draw from something that is deeper within themselves. They are expressing something internal. It’s not about sitting in any specific space visually, it’s about tapping into their emotions. That definitely comes through in the work. There are a lot of works out there where the intention is more about the visual. However, the artists that we are representing are much more focused on their journey. So many of them are uncommercial in the sense that if we ask them to create a work similar to something they have created before, they can’t. They can’t tap into those emotional spaces, they’ve moved on. That’s why it is important to harness works from artists that have that integrity and authenticity. It’s also why galleries are so important, because these artists often don’t have a commercial aspect to their practice.
Our buyers are investing a lot of money into really beautiful finishes and design for their residential project, so it’s integral that they’re choosing a work that ties it all together.
Hannah Abbott: Furthermore, when working within a home – we are working within a sacred place. To be given the task of helping someone find an artwork that they’re going to grow and live with is an honour.
We really do feel that the energy within the home shifts from the initial consultation to the installation. What Megan said is really important; there’s a real honesty about the work that we represent. And we’re very careful about the way in which we specify and house this artwork – for both the artist and the buyer. It’s very intuitive; we’re always drawing on a feeling as to whether a work works.
We recently met a wonderful couple, who had seven grandchildren under five. They wanted a work for their living room that was playful and fun so that their grandchildren could engage with the piece. That’s what we love, when people understand art is far more than a visual element. It may be central to the home, thus so worthy of time and consideration.
How do you work with local artists and designers?
Megan Dicks: Half of our work is with designers. The basis of Otomys Contemporary is about appreciating the design aesthetic created in a home, so it makes sense that we work very closely with designers. We’re often in a situation where designers will sit with their plans and mood boards and converse with us in regards to the mood, the variety, the feeling they want to evoke and the story. Once we have that brief, Hannah and I have a conversation about how can we pull the project together and propose pieces to sit throughout the home.
When we built both the gallery online and physical galleries, we made it clear that yes, we’re art dealers, but we’re also art consultants. We understand design practices and we also understand what an artist is capable of. Being an art dealer and an art consultant goes hand in hand. We’ve got art consultants in Sydney and Brisbane as well.
It’s important for us to keep cutting edge pieces and new work online. There needs to be that turn over of new work and constant relaying of feedback and guidance with an artist. The dealer and the artist work well when there’s good communication.
Hannah Abbott: One thing in which we are sure that we uphold is that we understand the aesthetic or the intention of each individual — architect, designer or brand — and that we can nail their brief. We ensure we can deliver the best artwork for a space and that it is a unique offering. We’re very conscious that we read all of the information that a designer provides us with in order to tailor their project. That’s the beauty of working with diverse artists and diverse mediums.
How often are your approached and how often do you reach out to artists? How important is social media to your relations?
Megan Dicks: If we had more time we would reach out. We hardly do, even though we know we should. Predominantly we have artists contacting us. Social media, particularly Instagram, is about having a voice out there in a room of likeminded people. It’s not about followers at all.
Hannah Abbott: Megan and I have a pretty healthy shared thread on instagram – we are constantly sending each other artists, artworks and spaces that we admire. It’s critical in this day and age to be aware of what’s going on on social media and using these tool in the most respectful and professional manner. Our instagram feed is a great spot for people to follow our pursuits and keep up with what’s happening in the gallery. We also use social media to share insight to an opening or an artist’s studio. Everything that goes online is meaningful — and that can be a full time job! We want to ensure that we are sharing our unique voice (which reflects our values).
Looking to the future, what new and innovative projects, collections or events do we have to look forward to?
Megan Dicks: We’ve got a huge schedule for the next six months. We’re pulling together a spring exhibition and we’ve been working alongside an Australian celebrity (still undisclosed) on a book about art and nature that will be released early next year. We are expecting to have another solo artist exhibition before the year is out.
Going forward as a business, we’re conscious of aiming high yet ensuring that Otomys Contemporary always remains sincere and obtains a sense of control about what we’re doing. We’re not about scale, we’re about ensuring there is integrity to what we’re doing. Our whole practice is based on our relationship with artists and it’s grounded in this. It’s about building to a size where we’re doing the artists justice. We want to make it something that we’re proud of at the end of the day and it’s paramount that we enjoy what we do. One of the reasons we can work as hard as we do is that our lives come first. We have a life-work balance rather than a work-life balance.