A Day in the Life of an ... Art Dealer

Article excerpt

Byline: DAMON SYSON

THERE'S a freshly-painted image of a crocodile on the pavement outside the Rebecca Hossack Gallery. "It's Kalpurtu, the Aboriginal rain god," explains Hossack, 46, adding that Jimmy Pike, the artist who painted it, had promised it would bring a big storm. He was right. When I arrive, the paint is barely dry and a torrential downpour has just started.

When it comes to Hossack's career, the gods have been more benevolent. She admits it has often been a case of throwing caution to the wind.

Born and raised in Melbourne, she gained degrees in law and history of art before coming to London in 1981 to study for the Bar.

Deciding her real passion was art, she took an art diploma course at Christies. She spent most of the following five years working in an antiquarian bookshop, cataloguing art books. At one point, she was so strapped for cash she slept in the basement.

Things took a dramatic turn when she was cycling down Windmill Street in Fitzrovia, and saw a "shop to let" sign.

She stopped and talked to a man washing the front step, who turned out to be the owner. He offered her a 20-year lease. "I had no money," Hossack recalls, "but it was the Eighties when it was easier to borrow. I went to a bank and they gave me a ?000 overdraft. I'm still so grateful to the bank manager."

The Rebecca Hossack Gallery opened in March 1988 and somehow the business stayed afloat during the recession. In 1991, Hossack opened the Sculpture Garden in St James's, Piccadilly, and in 1995 she was appointed cultural attach?at the Australian High Commission in London.

Fans of Barry Humphries's Dame Edna Everidge will be aware that this was the post held by Edna's alter-ego, slovenly bon viveur Sir Les Patterson. "Barry is a fantastic man, a truly great Australian," says Hossack.

"He sent me a postcard saying, 'All the best, Becky, with love from your unworthy predecessor, Sir Les.' Everywhere I went I used to get jokes about Sir Les." One joke she tired of, however, was this: What's the difference between Australia and a yoghurt? There's culture in a yoghurt.

It was Hossack's aim to change people's perceptions of Australia. "It was a hell of a lot of work," she says. "But I really enjoyed it, and there was tremendous support from the Australian expat community. The highlight of my career was taking Aboriginal artist Clifford Possum to meet the Queen."

Hossack gave up the post in 1998, though she still does whatever she can to promote Australian culture in Britain. …

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