Nicole Schoeni

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 June, 2006, 12:00am

'I wake up at nine. I work at home for a little bit and mentally get ready for the day. I don't have breakfast - I'll just have a cup of coffee. I usually get up and want to go straight to work. I'm a typical Hong Kong kid - I'm not very domesticated. I just don't take the time to make breakfast, unless I'm really hungry. Then I drive to work from my flat in Pokfulam.

For the past two years, the gallery has become my life. Before that I was studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. As a kid, I was brought up in a gallery and you could say I was groomed to take over one day. My father always said that one of his biggest obstacles was language because he never spoke Cantonese, even though he lived in Hong Kong for 28 years. He knew numbers and what's needed for business, but not conversation skills. So he always pushed me to learn Cantonese. I speak very little Cantonese. My mother's from Hong Kong and her side of the family speaks Cantonese. But they tease me all the time, so I stopped speaking it. I speak to them in Putonghua now.

I was born and bred in Hong Kong.

Being your own boss, you don't know what to expect on any day. It's not like someone's telling you what to do.

One day could be quiet in the gallery and it's all about paperwork, e-mails, thinking about the next exhibition or designing the next exhibition catalogue. But on another day, it could be client after client and non-stop talking. If regular clients come, I will speak to them. I think 80 per cent of our clients are from overseas and a lot of them will come through Hong Kong and make appointments to see me. And if an artist is here because of an exhibition, I have to entertain the artist and take them out for lunch.

Sometimes, I spend the whole day setting up an exhibition. It's not just a matter of putting up a painting - I wish it was - but it also involves curating. I like to think of a concept. For example, with mixed shows, you want to make sure the paintings work together rather than against each other.

For lunch, I get Chinese food delivered. If clients are in town, I'll take them out to lunch in SoHo. I always eat around SoHo, never further away. We are busier with clients in the afternoons. We close at 6.30pm but I like to stay until eight in the evening because it's quiet and it's a better time to think.

I'm very impatient. I have so many ideas and visions that I want to carry out. But there's only so much time. Time is the only thing I can't control. I'd love to do more projects overseas, in art, but outside the gallery.

Art is my life. I was born into art. Since the age of nine, I've been visiting artists with my father. I would like to be an artist if I could get away with it and have a gallery to look after me. I paint if I have free time, which is very rare. I started one piece, but I haven't touched it for a month. I like to do portraits because I'm bad at it, so I force myself to improve. I'm doing a portrait of my father, because I promised him I'd do one a long time ago.

For dinner I usually head home. I live with four other friends at my mum's old apartment, which is gorgeous, because at the back there are mountains and in front we've got a harbour view. It's one of those old buildings with a high ceiling.

One of my flatmates, Anja, is a little older than me and I call her the house goddess. She cooks us all dinner every night. She was brought up in Japan, so she makes a lot of Japanese food. She's excellent. The house is really organised. I'm so spoilt. The rest of them are boys and they are pretty hopeless.

I'm not the type to go to a bar or a pub. It's always nice to go home and chill out with my friends. I don't like alcohol. After about one drink, I'm falling asleep. My way of unwinding is to go home, see my flatmates, have a nice meal together and just veg on the couch.

I took over the gallery two years ago in May. I was just going to start my final exams but I couldn't because I had to rush back here. The idea originally was that I would come back in August, after graduating, go to China for three months to tune up my Putonghua then come and work with my father for two years, after which he would retire. He was getting really excited about it, but then dad passed away [Manfred Schoeni was murdered along with three others during a robbery on the Philippine island of Boracay on May 2, 2004], so I had to come back.

I decided I couldn't take my exams, because of my responsibilities. Luckily, my university still gave me my degree anyway.

My father's case is still [being investigated]. I'm still in denial about it, to be frank. The only news I get is from the newspapers - from the South China Morning Post. I don't think the case is closed yet. I'm not involved at all. There's no point, it's not going to bring dad back. Of course, I think mentally it would be nice to know what happened but I haven't even gone close to facing it yet. I've been too preoccupied with the gallery and filling his shoes and taking his responsibility.

I refuse to feel sorry for myself. My father and mother always told me to be positive, so rather than think about it all the time and being negative, I put that energy into the gallery. One of the victim's daughter is very active. She's the one who got the German authorities involved [suspect Uwe Friesl jumped bail in the Philippines a year ago and is living in Germany], so she'll update me every now and then. But mum and I decided from the beginning that we don't want to be involved. I don't think about it. I channel all my energy into the gallery. This is my baby now.

I do have a lot of future plans [for the gallery], but I'm still finding my feet. My mother is always telling me

to slow down, take one step at a time, because I'm still learning. It's always been my intention to expand internationally - London, New York, all the main cities. It's definitely on the cards. I gave myself five years from when my dad passed away, so maybe in three years. I'm just taking it one step at a time.'