Words by Jamie Burnett| Photos by Dwight O’Neil
“I always had this vision of sitting out the front, having a beer and watching the bulldozers tear this place down. But now it’s seven years on and it’s still here, it’s a blur.”
It’s safe to say Alex Miller didn’t think The Corner Gallery would still exist in 2020. Seven years ago, he and J’aime Fazackerley took over an old, pretty-much abandoned building on Subiaco’s main drag and turned it into a gallery and party spot for local artists.
“Everything was covered in dust, no one had been here for years so we cleaned it up, covered it in murals and got it together. We built a skate ramp in the other room and on the opening night there were like 600 people here. It was really chaotic but the owners came down that night and talked to us about moving in and running events… so we thought ‘fuck it, let’s do it,’ explains Alex.”
And do it they did. There were exhibitions, fundraisers, live art displays and gigs. And while the Hay Street gallery became a magnet for local creatives, there were also challenges.
“Back then there was no council approval or anything. We ran these awesome parties, featuring local artists but the parties were pretty loose. The council caught wind of what we were doing and told us we needed to close it down and go through the regulation. We did that typical thing and kind of ignored that but the council sent us a letter threatening a fine of $250k if we didn’t close down and set this up properly.
“It was time to get real and it was at that point that we went through all the proper channels and council regulations and approvals. After that, the venue felt a lot nicer to be in. We refined what we were doing and had less party time, but we started to build this platform where local artists could show their work. Bands started to play and it became a launch pad for local crew to do what they do.”
With the regulations in place, The Corner Gallery ran hot for another four years, serving as a launching pad for many Perth artists. But with uncertainty over the lease, the doors closed in 2018. Alex thought that would be it. But The Corner Gallery has a habit of making a comeback. And this time, it’s for a good cause.
“It’s about to reopen on Feb 7. We’re continuing where we left off. In the past we did a lot of live art events. They were really popular because people can take a peek behind the curtain. They’re used to seeing a finished painting on a wall, but this way they can see the artist, chat to them, watch them and look at their technique. Everyone was really into it so we will do that a lot more.
“Reopening night I started planning back in November and it’s been tough seeing what’s coming out on the news with the bushfires. You feel helpless here so I wanted to make the opening night special and bring people together. Once I saw how bad the fires are I decided to make that the focus.”
The Corner Gallery reopening ’20Twenty Fire Relief ‘ Group Show will feature more than 20 artists including James Giddy, Pippa McManus, Alice Ford and others – with 50 per cent of all art sales being donated to the fire relief effort. Charity events and fundraisers have been a constant theme of The Corner Gallery’s history, along with catching bands and artists on the way up.
“I look back and think about all the artists that have come through here. King Giz (King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard) was the first band here. They played here on the floor. There was Porn Crumpets (Psychedelic Porn Crumpets) too… so many amazing bands played their first gigs here. The night that we had DZ Deathrays playing here too, that was psycho. That still haunts me, it was chaos.
“At the time they were just my mates but seeing what they have all done now is pretty amazing. There’s so much history in here. I love looking back, at the time it was just a good fun time but now all these careers have blossomed.”
Looking back, Alex takes pride in where these artists have ended up. But he says the original goal wasn’t to find the next big thing, it was to provide a space where everyone felt welcome.
“I think a lot of galleries can be intimidating for artists to approach and show their work. A lot of galleries are more established and showing established artists, so something we focussed on early on was making this an approachable place for up and comers or people who just discovered that they have a talent for art. We wanted to nurture those first steps for artists and making it an inclusive environment for all sorts of artists at all levels.”
So after seven years, a council shut-down, a closing down party and a relaunch to come, what’s next?
“Fuck knows! If you asked me that in 2013 I would’ve said a high rise apartment. Now I don’t know, who knows.”
It seems for now, the beer out the front, to the sound of bulldozers is on ice.
The Corner Gallery Reopening “20twenty Fire Relief” Group Show is happening Feb 7. More details here. It’s followed by the Corner Gallery’s Creative Conference (Feb 12 to 21) – a six night event that provides an affordable opportunity for young artists, musicians, creatives & anyone avoiding a real job to gain valuable knowledge, inspiration and to connect with industry professionals, like minded peers and potential collaborators.