I first met the Piermarq boys via my old job, where they were quickly integrated within the tight-knit ‘happy hour’ clique. Robbie Russell and Justin Callanan were laddish and whip-smart, with a highbrow yet grounded essence. The larrikin gallerists’ work was secondary to their personality, at least at first; a hovering ghost on the periphery of boujelais-fuelled nights that only hinted at their rich and colourful artistic worlds.
Our crew attended openings to lend support and drink more booze of course, as is customary at these gallery functions. Conversations vibrated within walls adorned by iconic works by Tommy Watson and Tim Storrier, indigenous stories mixing with intergalactic worlds in a most natural way.
The Piermarq Boys, as has become their offical moniker, entertained us with tales of Outback adventures, working with legendary local painters like Watson and Naata Nungurrayi. Callanan and Russell inspired me to learn more about art, first to be around their jolly party, but eventually as a stand-alone interest.
Enthusiasm has transference, and soon it was impossible to attend an event without spending at least an hour talking about the works, discovering the art and inevitably pine for the budget or wall space to enable investment in one of these majestic pieces.
Still, Piermarq gallery’s allure, then in Walsh Bay, remained a welcome afterthought amidst the buzz of life – until it moved into a Paddington space not far from my home and brightened up an otherwise conservative, quiet street (currently the Kanye Loves Kanye work by Scottie Marsh hangs rebelliously in the window).
Piermarq exhibits Australian contemporary and Aboriginal art – and also functions as an art advisory to help users understand art in an anti-pompous way. The team have access to Australia’s edgier works and offer unique art advisory services that strike through the core of Sydney’s small but considerable art scene.
Currently, the market consists of traditional art dealers and galleries which represent a specific stable of artists and sell works mainly to traditional collectors. The dealers of today organise exhibitions they also curate, and list the prices while also guiding buyers through the works on the wall.
However, Piermarq Art Advisory appreciates that clients are looking for more depth of understanding.
So how do they select their artists?
“Fine art is first about people,” says Russell. “Technical and conceptual ability needs to be used to communicate effectively, but we are inspired by artists that are driven by a creative force. Not someone with a grandiose sense of themselves, but someone who is happy to knuckle down and produce good work.”
‘Important Australian art’ is something that has built-in traction for an extended period of time, for instance, it’s been collected by large corporates and independent collectors, received ongoing recognition by art critics, and pegged as something both integral and unique by wider media. And Russell says, a fashion industry favourite also helps: “it’s easy to refer people to where there is a market interest and what we have an eye for, as described on the sartorial stage.”
“To present a body of work through Piermarq you must have a high standard and quality, beyond decorative, more than ink and canvas,” says Callanan. “We want to build a career with the artists, nurture them over the next 30 years.”
“Fine art scratches around something deeper than the retinas behind your eyes. Its heart, gut, major organ. Decoration and fine art,” Russell completes the sentence, as is customary in their dynamic.
What then, makes a solid art collector?
“We must hit their own organic interest in art, and educate them about different formats and mediums.” says Russell. “The picture asks questions of you – that’s how you know you need it. Whether you love it or hate it, as long as there’s that strong reaction – it’s OK.”
Interestingly, the gallery was initially just a consultancy, yet it soon became apparent that established artists need their work to be seen. It is this raw and instinctive approach to the collections that has ensured their success.
“The educated person doesn’t always want to see fully how art lives and breathes. When you come from a clean base, the process of exploring is a lot more organic. Come in and take your time with the works! People are intimidated by art because they think they need an education. We want to turn that premise on its head, create a rebellion of sorts, so more people can enjoy the works”, explains Callanan.
In a gallery space (and homes) where traditional Aboriginal styles hang alongside a deconstructed Caleb Reid in perfect cacophony, misconceptions, walls and barriers we often feel towards enjoying art just melt away, replaced with possibility.
“The best thing are those two big gallery windows is turning the light on so the works can shine at night… but we still encourage people to come in. We get a lot of gazing, but nothing happens if you don’t step over the threshold,” says Russell.
Needless to say, Russell and Callanan don’t welcome snobbery into their space, for this attitude creates a sense of obstruction by way of prejudiced subjectivity, and can block the ability to experience a work simply. Nor do they have much time for the contemporary art establishment (or more colloquially, the ‘contemporary mafia’), with its cliques and nepotistic rituals.
“The intellectuals have the vernacular, but are missing the soul. It’s become too political. We however watch each artist create the works from scratch, entering their world and aligning with how they see it. If someone is too in their head, this is not the gallery for them…we would rather the beer drinking wine lover who wants to engage in something magical beyond their day-job!” says Russell.
“It’s refreshing to be greeted warmly,” concedes Callanan. “It’s not intimidating. We are not about that. We just want to create interest and excitement about art again.”
Indeed, I now understand why despite it’s peripheral beginnings, Piermarq were my gateway for deeper bonding with the art world. The gallery experience should be welcoming and interactive in so many more spaces. I want to see more talks and tours and merry functions… But the biggest bridge from being a mere art gazer to collector is actual investment in the medium. The Piermarq clientele are looking to learn about art as an asset class, so advisory around how to do thisforms a large part of Callanan and Russell’s strategy.
The typical Piermarq buyer is a business owner who is looking for either an asset or a collectable. “Business owners are very future-focused and when they get a dividend, we want to show them that art is an incredible investment to make bank on their funds.”
“Our goal is certainly to communicate about great quality Australian art from an investment perspective. A lot of market research goes into the nuts and bolts of demystifying the art market and Rob leverages personal relationships and lights up when he explains it to them.”
We often talk about investing in resources for our future, yet art tells the symbolic story of our times. To be a carrier of this legacy perhaps should be our most pressing focus.
“We want to be accessible so people learn about art and be engaged in art. We are the renegade of the art scene. Be so good they cant ignore us,” Russell completes before we depart, slightly heady from the flow of Pinot Noir, from our interview.
With a packed out space and world-class works that fly off the walls weekly, they’re on their way.
Main image, Brock Q. Piper, To be matched by our will (2016), Mixed media on canvas, 120 x 120cm