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  • Robert Kingdom

My First Open House Art Exhibition

For several months, at least, I had been mulling over the idea of holding an open house art exhibition at my house. I had been to one held by an artist friend of mine years earlier and thought it was a great way to go about exhibiting one's work. A formal exhibition in an art gallery has its advantages - especially when they draw visitors from the art-loving world and the wider community. I have done two of these in the past - one at Burrinja Gallery in Upwey, Melbourne and the other at King Henry Arts Cafe in Sassafras - in the heart of the Dandenong Ranges. They were both exciting, enriching and gave some good exposure. Yet, I didn't sell any artworks during either events.

Living, as I do, in Melbourne's outer-west, there are fewer galleries and artist communities. This partly influenced my decision to exhibit in my home. Galleries will often charge a sizeable fee for hiring a space and/or take a significant percentage of any sales. Living on an artist's wage, I didn't have the funds to hire a space and pay for catering, etc., and so it made sense to pursue the open house option. I would have gone ahead sooner but I was holding out hoping that the fallen-down side fence where I am renting would have been replaced closer to Christmas 2023 but sadly, I'm still waiting - and so, I decided to just put up with a somewhat dishevelled looking backyard and go ahead with the exhibition in mid-April.

After advertising on social media to friends and followers, I began thinking logistics. Looking at the physical space, I thought about the best way to set things up. I have many antique pieces of furniture in the cozy three-bedroom house and a large farmhouse style dining table that takes up much of the dining space. I needed to consider the flow of foot-traffic through the house and how to ensure that there were adequate spaces for visitors to view the artworks from a reasonable distance without bumping into one-another. In the end, I removed all of the dining chairs and moved the dining table against a wall (with the view to place cards and prints on the table). Pieces of furniture were also removed from the lounge area. These changes brought about the desired extra space and made for better flow of traffic. To make up for the lack of hanging space on the walls, I placed a bamboo-constructed room divider in the middle of the lounge-room, wrapped it partly around my coffee table for extra stability and hung a number of framed artworks from the cross-beams within the divider. As you can see in the photos, it proved to be a good solution and held up well.

As I started typing up labels for the framed artworks, what was originally intended to be key details and a very brief write-up about each work soon turned into more lengthy descriptions that included snippets of personal history. With the help of a friend, these were compiled into display folders which visitors could read through as they walked around looking at the artworks. As seen in the photos, small labels on thick board were placed next to the frames. All of this was quite a lengthy process but well worth it and I had many comments from people mentioning how they enjoyed reading about the artworks and learning more of my personal story.

Another key aspect of all this was the food and drinks preparation. It was decided quite quickly to provide scones and tea/coffee. A lot of time was spent looking online and searching multiple shops of different kinds locally and near my parents' house to source the various disposable paper cups, napkins, etc. that would be needed. It was hard to know how much of each item to buy given that I didn't have a clear idea of numbers for the attendees. As is often the case with events, I ended up with a significant amount of unused items but I don't mind at all because I'll have them on hand for future events. The scones were prepared on the Friday - the day before the exhibition started - amidst the flurry of other activity. I delved into my Secrets of the Beechworth Bakery cookbook for their lemonade scone recipe. It uses cream instead of butter which in my opinion saves a bit of time. I was pleased to read that scones can be frozen prior to cooking and placed in the oven direct from the freezer - requiring just a few minutes of extra baking time. This will come in very handy in future - meaning that I can prepare them weeks in advance when I'm not so stretched for time. In addition to the lemonade scones, I prepared a batch of lemon and blueberry gluten free scones (which I would enjoy even if no-one else went for them). A large box of Cadbury Roses chocolates added a little extra something to the fare. I borrowed a large electric urn and a water dispenser from a friend to help with the beverage side of things. I've since bought my own - seeing how useful they would be for future events. Having them on hand will help buy me some time so I don't need to go chasing up things.

A downside of having an exhibition in your own home is that you are also responsible for cleaning (before and after), for tidying up the garden and doing the set-up/pack-up. Considerable time was spent in all this. However, it did feel rather lovely to sit back once it was all over and see a well-manicured garden (aside from the dodgy fence) and a clean house. These are practicalities that need to be factored into planning such events - it's not all just artsy stuff!

On both mornings of the exhibition, I removed my dining chairs and placed them under covered areas outside. I needed to clear more space and I thought if things got a little crowded indoors it would help to have some overflow spaces. They weren't needed in the end but it all added to the look anyway. Early Saturday morning, I prepared and baked the gluten free scones (I ran out of time for them the previous day). By 10:00 am the lemonade scones were coming out of the oven and though tired, I was looking forward to seeing who would come through the door and how the day would pan out.

Over the three sessions (two on Saturday and one on Sunday), I had forty people come through my doors - many familiar faces and some I had never met before. More had indicated an interest in coming but couldn't make it on those dates. It was a delight to see people reading through the folders as they viewed the artworks and hearing comments as they responded to what they were seeing and reading. Some visitors were deeply moved by some of the artworks and descriptions/reflections - especially my two lion-themed images. Each person was drawn to different artworks as being among their favourites and this was fun to observe. The scones and tea/coffee went down a treat and many warm conversations took place. A few other Christian artists were among the visitors and I enjoyed meeting them and sharing about various aspects of my art-making processes and the business side of things. One of these artists has asked me to run a pen and ink workshop for a small group of friends in a couple of months time! I ended up selling four original artworks and a large amount of cards and other print products and making more money than I had anticipated.

In summary, despite the amount of time, effort and costs that went into planning and preparing for the exhibition - and in packing away afterwards, I was very pleased with how everything came together and the fruit that has already resulted. Considering that in my earlier exhibitions, I didn't sell any artworks, I am very thankful to have sold four originals and to see great interest in my print products. It was a leap of faith to run an open house art exhibition and my faith has been strengthened looking back on the success of the weekend. Many of you are aware of how challenging the past few years have been for me in a number of areas and how many of my former "supports" have been stripped away. With shaky faith I looked to God to lead me and provide for me and He has clearly done just that through this event - affirming the truth that those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength and mount up with wings as eagles. Looking forward now, I am keen to host more open house exhibitions. I know that a lot of the legwork/brainwork has already been done and so the subsequent exhibitions should come together more smoothly, speedily and efficiently. I'm currently contemplating opening my home for one day between now and the July school holidays for those that couldn't make it to the last one and I'm keen to do a "Christmas in July" themed exhibition in the middle of winter when Melburnians are in need of some festive cheer.

Thank you to all those who came along to support me and to those who have sent words of encouragement along the way. And thank you to all who have been praying for me in my journey of "all things art" in the months leading up to the exhibition - the fruits of your prayers are clearly showing.



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