In her former life, the striking Kitty Clark landed a dream role as a luxury fashion merchandiser at Gucci...
It was a role which took her to Europe frequently, and one which primed her well for the next chapter in her life. She’s now a mother of two and the founder of Paddington art gallery Saint Cloche, where every fortnight, you’ll discover a new exhibition from the likes of Bec Smith, Emily Imeson, Olympia Antoniadis, Katie Daniels, Bettina Willner Browne and many more. Kitty’s main focus is championing emerging artists. “I wanted to create a space that wasn’t your traditional ‘white cube gallery’, that didn’t have that eerie, uptight silence when you walked in and was instead, friendly in feeling and accessible to all,” she says.
Artists who exhibit at Saint Cloche don’t have to have a traditional fine art background. “We have exhibited and represent a few artists that are award-winning and highly respected designers in their field or previous profession. The key is to be able to see the potential, that with time, exhibiting experience and working together, their artistic ‘eye’ and practice can evolve and grow,” she says.
Kitty fell pregnant with her first child when the gallery was two. And while running her business is undeniably non-stop, it also comes with that one thing all working mothers need – flexibility. “Having the freedom to decide how much time I can spend nurturing my young family.” It’s just one of the many things she loves about running Saint Cloche. “Also, breaking new ground as an avant-garde gallery – Saint Cloche is quite unique in that we change our exhibitions fortnightly, and can manage up to 40-50 artists per year (this includes artists in group shows too),” she says.
Here, we dive deeper into her wonderfully creative world.
Go to saintcloche.com
Saint Cloche founder Kitty Clark
Tell me about your main focus, which is championing emerging artists – tell me where this passion comes from?
I love discovering new talent and presenting them to audiences in innovative and unusual ways. As a creative, I have always strived to find unique ways to express my individualism, whether it’s in fashion, art or simply dishing up my favourite home cooked meal. I wanted to create a space that wasn’t your traditional ‘white cube gallery’, that didn’t have that eerie, uptight silence when you walked in and was instead, friendly in feeling and accessible to all. Saint Cloche’s opening events have become a mainstay in our community’s social calendar and even though we’ve had to halt our opening night parties at the gallery, our virtual tours have become just as sought after.
Australia is such an amazing country with a rich and diverse art community, yet it is also very competitive and can be challenging for emerging artists to find a democratic space to exhibit their art. Whether you are an artist or a keen art collector, the art world can be intimidating and tense. We take the angst out of the whole process and don’t mind going against the grain and being a bit tongue-in-cheek.
You don’t have to have a traditional fine art background to exhibit in Saint Cloche – tell me about this approach?
There are a lot of artists who are ‘self-taught’, some artists developed their art from being a creative from a different background. We have exhibited and represent a few artists that are award-winning and highly respected designers in their field or previous profession. The key is to be able to see the potential, that with time, exhibiting experience and working together, their artistic ‘eye’ and practice can evolve and grow.
Your background is in fashion merchandising – tell me about your career path?
I have always been a passionate creative, I was an artist in the early years, eventually my creative energy found its place in the world of fashion which I absolutely loved, it was fast paced and exciting. I learnt a lot working my way up from the retail floor, it was invaluable practical experience – one of the most important lessons I took away from working in retail was that everyone and anyone that walks in the door is a potential client, regardless of age or how they are presented. I learned how to be sales driven.
Eventually dabbling in design for a little while then landing a dream role as a luxury fashion merchandiser at Gucci, travelling to Europe frequently. Within the role I had a to work with various teams within the company locally and globally, there was constant communication with category directors, regional merchandising teams, Marketing, E-commerce and most importantly the stores. Working together with multiples teams on a global scale was hard work and long hours but also very rewarding in so many ways. Working in luxury broadened my viewpoint in my approach to new ideas, they had to be innovative to be ahead of the game. There was always a 360 degree view across all channels of operation, it enabled us to deliver rich and personalized experiences to our customers.
As a seasoned merchandiser, I knew who our clients were very well, their likes, their dislikes and what they aspired to like. There was always a strong sense of achievement when the collections that were bought performed well and exceeded expectations. I thrived on buying the ‘right’ merchandise for our market.
My creative passion grew with the role, I was tiring of the familiar and needed to be challenged creatively. I needed to be constantly evolving to feel nourished, to grow. Working in such an innovative industry inspired me to seek out undiscovered terrain. I believe in order to grow, change is important.
Was it a hard decision to step away from Gucci?
To be honest, I was at a crossroads. I was doing very well at Gucci and had secured my position in the company as a valued and very knowledgeable employee. How could I let all the years of hard work and knowledge go? In the end I decided, if you have the drive and patience, then knowledge and life lessons learnt can be just as valuable applied into anything you’re passionate about.
Was launching your own business always part of your plan? What gave you the courage to step away from a secure job and go out on your own?
Creative challenges have always been a key driver in my modus operandi, I delved into other creative activities while working in the corporate world. However my creativity was limited by the change of seasons in the fashion world, even if the fashions were innovative, there was still a repetitive pattern each year working in a corporate environment. A lot of time was spent with colleagues, strong friendships were formed which I cherish. I was ready to embark on a new journey, form new connections with creatives outside the fashion world.
Launching my own business became part of the plan when I became more confident in what I had achieved while working as a merchandiser and team supervisor.
Creativity and innovation is all about taking risks. Taking risks pushes your boundaries and limitations.
What role does courage play in running your own business?
I had a very stringent Asian upbringing, without sounding too cheesy, I’ve just always had the mentality to seize the moment, grab the bull by its horn and go for it. My merchandising background has also taught me how to problem solve, think on my feet.
You have to be incredibly self-sufficient when running your own business – how do you navigate this/what lessons have you learnt?
This definitely had its challenges in the beginning, such as not being able to pick up the phone if you needed IT help, administration is time consuming, attending to artists all while having to be at the front of house as well was a juggle. I no longer had a support system on call. There was less time to actually to be creative!
The hyper-connected world has however been a great learning tool, I learnt a lot about the business by seeing the way audiences responded. Witnessing the evolution of Saint Cloche through social media has been the most important guidance. In a sense Saint Cloche and its audience have grownup organically together.
What are some of the biggest challenges of running a small business?
Challenges in running a small business/art gallery = cash flow. Every new exhibition, new artist that is presented is a risk, you need to trust that you know your market well enough and in turn know that your audience trusts your instincts. Some exhibitions can be a bigger risk than others, less commercial. The risks I take are calculated, I wouldn’t plan a ‘risky’ exhibition without having planned several less risky exhibitions.
What is the most rewarding part of running your own business?
Having the freedom to decide how much time I can spend nurturing my young family. Also, breaking new ground as an avant-garde gallery – Saint Cloche is quite unique in that we change our exhibitions fortnightly, and can manage up to 40-50 artists per year (this includes artists in group shows too).
Can you share any upcoming exhibitions?
In the spirit of collaboration I have made it a Saint Cloche tradition to end the year with a Grand Finale Group Show and these exhibitions are curated by me to create a dialogue, promote and celebrate the diverse, creative talent of a special group of Australian artists have been handpicked to illuminate the curatorial concept.
This year we have two of these group shows; NAUTILUS downstairs – a masterpiece containing masterpieces – inspired by the sacred geometry of the Nautilus Shell, and the Golden Mean – a symbol for inner beauty and patterns of nature. The chambers of the nautilus shell are symbolic of the stages each individual passes through life. The spiral itself is a symbol of creation, movement, fluidity and evolution.
Upstairs at the gallery we will have THE SECRET GARDEN; a metaphor for the cultivation of the human mind and the power of positive thinking…inspired by the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, as well as the most-beloved 1949 film adaptation.
This month we are so excited to reveal the inimitable and effervescent Rachel Burke with her remarkable first Sydney solo show – Cute Tomb. Celebrated for her glorious over-the-top tinsel creations, Brisbane based designer, stylist and artist will debut at Saint Cloche with a deeply personal new body of work.
Using keepsake letters to friends from her school days as inspiration and also a benchmark for understanding her own personal journey through those days and beyond, Rachel’s works are representative of the therapeutic process of her life. The letters are mummified and incorporated into some of the works as a process of purification. Glittery mixed-media wall sculptures are textural, brightly adorned and embellished shrines, visually representing aspects of identity with some facets revealed and laid bare or hidden, covered and concealed. Plaster and foil vessels hold the symbolic powder of our past selves, identities, friendships, relationships. It is Rachel’s intention that some of these handcrafted vessels, made with reverence and love, may be destined for use as urns, to memorialise a loved one’s passing and hold precious ashes and stardust.
Who are some of the artists you’ve worked with recently?
What makes a great piece of art?
A great piece of art is something from your feeling world made manifest in the physical. Something that resonates and reverberates with your own heart – it’s connection. When it comes to buying art follow your heart – If there’s a place in your heart, there’ll be a place in your life for it. I don’t believe in buying art purely as an investment or following popular trends. Buy something you love. Every. Single. Time. Something that thrills you and makes your heart skip a beat or feel something every time you see it.
Tell me how you approach colour in your gallery?
I’ve always been naturally drawn to colour, as a young child growing up in a developing Asian country, I remember clearly first being introduced to Disney cartoons in black and white, then later, when it became available in colour, I was captivated. I started to see colour in a whole new light literally. It must have, in some ways, heightened my sense of colour. Throughout my life it has played a big part in the way I view the world.
Colour has the ability to make you feel, connect and be inspired. I love when I discover an artist that has achieved this successfully. Art is timeless, however occasionally I do plan Saint Cloche’s exhibitions to sync with future trends, current issues and changing colours of the seasons, the sky, nature. Sometimes I add additional design elements in complimentary colours to further elevate the concept.
Tell me about your journey to motherhood – can you share any ups/downs?
Late starters, my husband and I established our careers before settling down. It took us a while but eventually I got pregnant with my first child Eva two years into starting Saint Cloche. We were over the moon!
It was hard at the beginning of the pregnancy, I was extremely fatigued and felt sick most of the time. When it’s your own business that you are trying to mould into something unique that expresses your individuality as a creative, a gallerist, it was hard to let go and trust your team, guest curators, collaborators. Excited and aware of how much we had been trying to start a family, I wanted to enjoy the journey as much as possible.
What were the early days of motherhood like for you?
I enjoyed having a little girl for our first child – a ‘mini me’. Sleepless nights didn’t matter, I just adored her and still do.
How do you manage your time – running a business with raising two small children?
Sleepless nights and early starts… I stopped drinking coffee during both pregnancies, that changed very quickly when my son Coby came along. The energy needed to keep up with a three and one year old and a growing small business is like running a marathon that never ends. But honestly, I wouldn’t change anything about it, my children have given me a new lease on life, they empower me to strive to embrace new challenges.
What has been the most challenging stage of motherhood, and how have you overcome any challenges?
The guilt of not being more present for the children. It’s hard running a business and yet at the same time easier in today’s world. The smart phone has made it possible for mothers to work remotely any time, any place. So I make it a point, to completely switch off when it’s our time together. I think it’s important for my kids to see what I do, sometimes they come along to studio visits and to the gallery. To gain a better understanding of what Mummy’s work is all about. I have also recently been able to hire extra help, the Saint Cloche team has grown to better service the ever growing Saint Cloche community.
What do you love most about being a mother?
I love every moment of seeing my children learn, develop and grow, discover new things for the first time, communicate, cultivate their own unique sense of humour, care for each other and everyone around them, and develop into their own little characters.