Some people are just very good at multi-tasking. For the past year, Katie de Tilly has been a nurturing mum to two newborn babies - one being her fourth child (born several months ago) and the other her 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, a cavernous showroom of eclectic art. Both are doing extremely well.
I remember receiving an invitation to her inaugural show last year. The first thing I did was reach for a map. Talk about a blink-and-miss-it location: Chancery Lane is a small sliver of a street behind the Central Police Station and prison. But the loft-like space, with its walls awash in crimson red, is a gem for those who like to seek and find. I popped in a few days ago to see de Tilly's first anniversary show and the red walls provided a fantastic backdrop for the cubist figurative works of Wayne Forte, the sensual sculptures of Wang Keping, the stark black and white photos of Serge Clement and the cool canvases of Spaniard Marques de Jadraque (pictured).
De Tilly rushes down from her office in the attic, where her baby son is resting, looking very much in control of the craziness around her. She has a client in the gallery, three more kids and a husband waiting at home, and she is about to head off for a holiday in the United States and Europe - all this without a hair out of place. I, on the other hand, have already managed to forget my pen for the interview.
She beams, saying her pet project (which she started on a whim after dining at a friend's home in the area and spotting the empty space) has far exceeded expectations, despite what most art dealers would say has been a slow year. Unlike many galleries in Hong Kong, which tend to concentrate on a particular medium (such as ink paintings and more ink paintings), her formula of 'showing what she would put in her own home without sticking to a particular discipline' is working like a charm. She showcased nostalgic paintings of Chinese women by Yin Xin as well as rock'n'roll photographs of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones by photographers Robert Freeman and Gered Mankowitz (my personal favourite).
She manages to attract international customers who find their way to the gallery during visits to Hong Kong. The prices are accessible, by all means (Wang is on the more expensive side because he is established but I spotted some fabulous images of Shanghai by Clement running at $8,000 a pop, framed). De Tilly laments that with the economic slump, clients are no longer bashful about asking for big discounts. Despite the slimmer profits, she is soldiering on - literally poring over art magazines and tracking down the artists herself to obtain their representation.
She laughs and says Forte's successful exhibition several months ago wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for her spotting his painting in a friend's home and deciding to track down the artist. In autumn, she is promising to show a painter who is a relative of the famous Soong family in China - known for producing the venerable Soong sisters - but who was born in the United States and has never been to Shanghai. This should be interesting, but we will have to wait until de Tilly gets back in September. For the rest of us, it's just one long summer.