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August 25, 2021 9 min read

Nestled in the beautiful suburb of St Heliers you will find Turua Gallery, a relaxed and intimate space showcasing a curated collection of contemporary New Zealand art. In July we visited the gallery to photograph our latest collection Wild Garden against the backdrop of sold out show 'In Contrast' by artist Carmel Van der Hoeven. We sat down with gallery owner Melissa (affectionately known as 'Liss') to find out how she ended up in the art world, her advice for budding artists, and her favourite Saben handbag of course.
melissa from turua gallery standing in front of carmel van der hoeven painting with Saben handbag in ivy green

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what led you into the art world

I grew up in Auckland, with my Mum & Dad and brother and had a classic Kiwi kid upbringing. Dad has his own business & Mum worked too. Summer holidays at beaches, playing on the street at night after school with the neighbourhood kids. I’m married to Dean – we got engaged after a few weeks, but it took us 10 years to get married, after having our two gorgeous girls Ruby & Lucy. 

I studied art at school & loved it! Had the most amazing teacher in high school. Diane McKissock-Davis. Unfortunately in the last term of my last year at school my Mum was diagnosed with cancer & were told she probably wouldn’t be with us by that Christmas. After I had finished my exams, I went into school and my art teacher asked what my plans were for the following year as the only tertiary option where applications hadn’t closed was Graphic Design at AUT. Amazing how quickly Graphic Design at AUT became my plan. I was lucky to be accepted into the course, where I met Dean & made some amazing lifelong friends. Even better, my Mum made a great recovery and was with us for another 10 years.

We started our design agency soon after leaving uni & I primarily worked as our account manager, which was great with having a design background. But after many years I was hankering for something that was more creative and Dean was ready for change as well.

What led to the opening of Turua Gallery? How did the dream begin?

We have both always loved art. One of our first dates was wandering around the art galleries in central Auckland, we still have the very first piece art we bought, a gorgeous Marika Jones painting & we have been known to celebrate birthdays with artworks as well.

So long story short, Dean and I had the design agency for 25 years and a few years ago decided it was time for a change. We had had large corporate clients in the main as well as some wonderful smaller clients. We’d long thought St Heliers, where we live, needed a gallery and decided why not us. So 8 weeks later we had a space, artists and Turua Gallery was born. It took family and friends a bit by surprise. For them it seemed like were just mentioning the idea and next minute we were opening. They were a very intense few months, but so worth it. The beauty of this was that Dean was still able to look after our smaller design clients as well, and my focus was launching and building the gallery. Our daughters were both leaving school and at uni, so we were no longer needed to be available as much so it felt like it was all perfect timing.

It’s a bit of a family affair?

It is!! Obviously Dean and I are married. Dean is also a painter who’s work is represented by our gallery . We are also very lucky to have Ruby & Lucy who have helped above and beyond any call of duty, from helping set up, serving drinks at openings and working in the gallery at times. Family dinners see us all chatting about different ideas and plans for the gallery.

melissa sitting inside turua gallery standing in front of carmel van der hoeven painting with Saben handbag fifi tea rose

The name Turua, does that have any significance?

While it is the name of the street the gallery is located on, once we discovered “Turua” means to be beautiful, handsome & exquisite we decided that was meant to be for a gallery name.

How do you select the artists you showcase? Gut instinct, passion projects or a keen eye?

Gut instinct, along with a bit of a keen eye account for a lot with me. I would only ever represent work I love. I think that is important in terms of being authentic. I am not interested in showing work that I am not invested in myself. The same as selecting pieces to purchase, I always want to fall in love with an artists work. I imagine who will buy it, where it could end up. We have to be very careful as our space is not vast, so I make sure to have a wide selection of style, medium, content & price points. We are lucky to have so many regular visitors to the gallery, we want to make sure every time they visit there is something new and beautiful for them view.

Choosing a piece of art can be a daunting process, how do you guide clients through this process?

I think you start with “Do I love it?” We often have people who start with “I know nothing about art”, but I always say you don’t need to. You just need to know if you like it. Galleries can be a daunting place, but we are a relaxed space and we like people to consider a piece because they are drawn to it. You spend a lot of time with an artwork & so we want you to look at it every time and enjoy it. A good trick is if you decide to think about a piece, when you walk away ponder if you’d be gutted if you come back and its gone. If you realise you’d be heartbroken - come back immediately! If you’re not too worried, then maybe it isn’t the right piece for you.

Looking back, and what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?

Be Brave.

I’d still say take the leap! This change in direction has been so much fun. Much longer hours than I had anticipated, but I am lucky that I am loving what I do. Trust your gut, sometimes I have doubted myself & then later realised I should have listened to that inner voice. So maybe  - have faith in myself & don’t be afraid to make changes.

 

What are some of the highlights from the last 3 years running your beautiful space?

The people – without doubt. Visitors to the gallery and artists alike. An absolute highlight as I get to meet & work with such wonderful people every day. During Covid we had people coming in to see if we were ok, wishing us all the best and making sure we were managing (having only been open for a year when Covid graced our shores).

So many artists having faith in us and agreeing to join our gallery when we very first opened – I will always be very grateful to them for the faith they showed in us and all the artists that have joined us since.

More recently, we had a solo exhibition - Carmel Van Der Hoevens “By Contrast” sell out on opening night – what a thrill!! We had a long queue out the door and down the street for several hours before the show opened. That was an opening I will always remember – an overwhelming joy for both Carmel and us.

melissa from turua gallery standing in front of carmel van der hoeven painting with Saben handbag in ivy green

What advice do you have for young women forging a career in the art world?

Firstly – have faith in yourself, if you think you can, then you will. Work hard & accept help. Great things usually don’t happen overnight and long hours are just part of that, but the results I have always found are worth it.  And do something you love. Life is way too short and you spend way too long at work if you don’t enjoy it. The world has changed for the better in recent decades. Gone are the days where young students are told “you can’t make a living with art, get a real job, paint on the side”. And the possibilities for a career in the arts are quite literally endless and ever evolving, so follow your heart and don’t be afraid to change direction.

melissa from turua gallery standing in front of carmel van der hoeven painting with Saben handbag in ivy green

 Women are multi faceted, how do you manage being a business owner, art maven and mother?

 As a team. Dean and I are very lucky that we have always worked together and love it. Because of that we have had the flexibility to both spend an amazing amount of time with our daughters while both working full time. There is no way I could have done this without him, but also without the incredible support of our family and friends. Never underestimate how that support can keep you going when it is late at night and you’re not heading home any time soon, or a global pandemic hits and you have no idea how you’ll come out the other side. Ruby & Lucy have been incredibly supportive as well, jumping in helping where ever they can, often without us even asking.

 

On a micro level – LISTS! Anyone who knows me knows I love a list. When your juggling multiple tasks, for work and home, put it on list. Not only will you not forget it, there is untold joy in crossing it off (Even if you did forget to write it down, so quickly jot it down to tick it off straight away).

 melissa from turua gallery standing in front of carmel van der hoeven painting with Saben handbag in tea rose fifi

OK, time for a quickfire round….

 Watercolour or charcoal?

 Charcoal

 Photography or sculpture?

 That’s a tough one, if I have to choose, sculpture.

 Colin Mccahon or Ralph Hotere?

Another difficult one, love both, but for me it is all about Don Binney

What do you love most about wearing Saben?

The clean lines of each piece, and wonderful colour pallet. They also sit really well as cross body-bags which is my go to.

 

melissa of turua galler wearing saben tilly crossbody black infront of carmel van der hoeven paintings

How would you describe your personal style? 

A pretty relaxed style. I love long flowing dresses & skirts with boots or sneakers. Black features heavily, although in the last few years I am wearing and loving more & more colour & pattern. Being in Auckland I am also a fan of layers, given our ever changing whether each day. I use different styles to make it feel like the weekend as I often work 7 days. I adore Moochi. Saben + Moochi is my match made in heaven!

And your Saben style – What do you look for in a handbag; Do you swap out your bag or need one that does work-weekend, day-to-night?

 I love a good medium size bag with pockets on the inside for splitting up all the stuff that ends up in my bag. I was lucky enough to be given a Rebe by Dean for my birthday last year and I have used every day since. I do swap to a smaller bag if I go out at night, but during the day I epically fail at the whole small bag gig. I’d love to walk out the door with a phone, lipstick and card, but have never managed it yet. Your medium sizes bags are great for fitting lots in, while appearing streamlined and not too bulky, even the Luka which is much bigger bag doesn’t feel bulky when jam packed with “essentials” .

What drew you to Saben, and how does wearing/carrying it make you feel?

The beautifully soft leather & that you’re a New Zealand brand. Love that you combine form and function so brilliantly. The outer pocket on the Rebe bag is a brainwave because its discrete but you can easily drop your phone into it and then find it quickly again. I know a lot of your styles have the option of the shoulder strip and the longer strap, but I always wear mine as a cross body as it is comfortable and relaxed, which is exactly how I feel when wearing your pieces.

melissa from turua gallery standing in front of carmel van der hoeven painting with Saben handbag in tea rose pink

Where can people keep up to date with the happenings at Turua gallery?

Instagram is our go to, we post all about new artists, events and new pieces to the gallery, and we answer messages through here constantly. But our website is a great place to find out detail.

One of the silvers linings of the global pandemic we have found is that it has made people more comfortable with purchasing pieces like art from platforms like Instagram. But obviously, nothing beats coming into the gallery, saying and hi and seeing the pieces in person.

Melissa wears Frankie in Ivy Green, Fifi in Tea Rose and TillyCrossbody in Black. If you visit Turua Gallery, you can find a great selection of Saben bags at our nearby stockist Crisp Home also in St Heliers.



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