An interview with a founder of Kudos

Interview with Nick Vickers by Elaine Kim

August 2021 

Q. Kudos Gallery has provided a beginning for many of Sydney’s emerging artists and art students. What does the name Kudos mean? Where did you get your inspiration for the name Kudos? 

Kudos is a Greek word that relates to achievement /praise received as an honour. I was speaking to Anita Lever about the origins of the name and she has a vague memory that it was suggested by Laura Jordan, who was, at that time, President of the Students' Association . 

Q. What was your vision behind establishing the Kudos gallery? Please tell us about the situation when you founded Kudos Gallery. 

Kudos was the 4th gallery in a long line of student galleries that I set up on behalf of the Students' Association, the first, around 1984, was Arthaus at 20 Palmer Lane in East Sydney. That building also had a connection to the college and had been used as a gallery before Arthaus - it was called the Butcher's Exhibit and was established by Gill Moonie, Steve Fasan, Ian Jackson and one other student from the college when it was called Alexander Mackie CAE. 

Arthaus 1, became Arthaus 2 and that was on the corner of South Dowling Street and Hannam Street - it's now a café. Then it was owned by a printmaker called Stephen who rented the whole building out to the Students' Association (or ARC as it is now called). The gallery was downstairs and student accommodation was upstairs. 

Kudos was established between the time that Arthaus 2 closed and Arthaus 3 opened in Newtown (Enmore Rd - now a Buddhist meditation centre opposite Oporto) and The Works Gallery was also established on campus around 1988 - AD space occupies a fraction of The Works. 

Q. Can you tell us a bit about; The Works, Arthaus 1, Arthaus 2 & Arthaus 3? 

In brief, because there are many stories that relate to each. Arthaus 1 was the first and although it was located in a lane off a lane in Darlinghurst it provided a really good space for many emerging artists to have their first exhibitions. Nice to see that the originators of Dinosaur Designs had their first show there amongst many others. 

The owner of the building where Arthaus 1 was located eventually sold the property and Arhaus was forced to re-locate to the corner of South Dowling and Hannam where the whole building became a gallery downstairs and student accommodation upstairs. At that time F Block was being built and the art college was located on Flinders Street, so Arthaus 2 was well situated. Student accommodation was a new and not particularly successful venture but the gallery increased the size of available exhibiting space for students.  

Eventually the owner of the building that housed Arthaus 2 decided to occupy the space another premises in Newtown was taken over and refurbished into Arthaus 3. 

Part of The Works still remains and is now AD Space. The Works was a gigantic space with ceilings that went right up to the roof of EBlock before the 1st floor was installed. A lighting rack was suspended from the rafter joists and was able to be raised and lowered by two separate winches. There were stairs that led to a mezzanine and the mezzanine was connected to the student common room that was established above the existing toilet block. As the academic program progressed, The Works became the favoured exhibiting space for Masters students to have their graduating exhibitions. One of the highlights of The Works was an exchange exhibition of contemporary Spanish and Australian photography that was curated by Terence Maloon (now Director of The Drill Hall in Canberra) 

Q. Can you tell us about the student accommodation above Arthaus 1, and why you started it and why it was important to have a resident curator? 

Both Arthaus 1 and Arthaus 2 had upstairs sections that provided accommodation so it seemed logical to offer affordable rental space to students from A&D who would also take care of security for the gallery space below . Arthaus 1 had a single bedroom bed-sit and Arthaus 2 had 4 rooms upstairs and kitchen facilities behind the gallery spaces downstairs. Being able to offer subsidised accommodation in Arthaus 1 worked better than Arthaus 2 and in many ways the involvement in the gallery activities worked well for the resident curator of Arthaus 1 whereas Arthaus 2 was more like a shared household. There are many stories and not enough space or time to uncover those recollections. 

Q. Kudos Gallery provides affordable space to artists and students and is providing a springboard where artists can freely experiment and experience, enjoy, and share creative ideas. Does this align with the vision you had in the early stages when founding this gallery? 

Absolutely! You have to remember that the whole ARI (artist run initiative) movement was a reaction in the 1980s to a closed shop attitude of the establishment. Art colleges were going through an amazing period and pumping out talented graduates who had very few exhibiting options. Working at UNSW A&D, I was in a fortunate position at that time and as long as the committee of students who were responsible for the budget could see the need, we had the capabilities to provide this tremendous resource. 

It was also a matter of timing. The Saint Sophia Hall was vacant, the Greek Orthodox community understood the rationale and one of the high points of the relationship was the day that we signed the lease!! An important proviso was that all the exhibitions per annum except one were student exhibitions. The one exception was the Annual Greek Community Exhibition and that was a delight because it worked in favour of the students from the college from Greek backgrounds. 

Q. What was the most touching moment during your time working in Kudos Gallery? What did you enjoy? 

What was heartening was to see the bonds that were created, trust and support amongst emerging artist's being formed. There are some periods in art colleges where the dynamics between some students are just incredible and bonds shared produce amazing friendships and tremendous outcomes. An example of an ARI that evolved from this dynamic is Imperial Slacks in Surry Hills. 

Q. What did you learn about starting an artist-run-space? What were the challenges? 

Actually, Arthaus 1 was my first experience in establishing an art gallery. It was the steepest learning curve of all but each gallery was a challenge.  

The challenges with Artist Run Initiatives are promotion and credibility. Credibility is easy to promote to the true believers but more difficult to involve the viewing public and even more difficult to involve the wider community. Many Artist Run Initiatives exist brilliantly but often for limited periods of time - First Draft is an exception. My first lesson was when I opened the gallery on a day and the person who was supposed to be minding the space did not show up, was greeted by the business card from the critic at the Sydney Morning Herald with a terse message that stated ..."please adhere to advertised opening hours..." The financial backing from an organisation like ARC can often be the make or break of an ARI. 

Q. Do you have any advice for emerging artists and students who are interested in starting their own artist-run-initiatives? 

These are different and difficult times for artists. It is worth mentioning that when the first commercial galleries were established in the 1950's and 60's, those gallery owners were in their early to mid 20's and rents were cheap. Now rents make the establishment of new ventures a risky business. In the past, galleries were located within easy reach of the centre of Sydney and premises were affordable. This is now not the case but , as art institutions continue to graduate more students, there is definitely still the need for artist run initiatives. My advice to anyone embarking upon an ARI is to realise that it's going to be more about the art than the money. In hindsight, those artists from Arthaus 1 ,2 & 3, Kudos and The Works all had to start somewhere and maybe would not have achieved such stellar careers if it had not been for the establishment of those ARIs. The changing world of online profiles for emerging artists also changes the purpose and relevance of physical space galleries and constant revaluation is necessary... 

I'd like to add that some of the key people involved in the success of the ARC student galleries have been Anita Lever and Penelope Benton and beginning with Alex Luscombe, a myriad of interns who, really each and every one of them, have added to the story and will have stories of their own.