Lisa Fehily is the collector-turned-curator behind Finkelstein Gallery, an all-women art gallery in Australia. Having just been featured as one of Vogue’s ‘60 Names That Will Define the Next 60 Years in Australia’, she tells Hive Life how this brainchild came to be.
Lisa Fehily wasn’t always artistically inclined. She started as an observer, someone who appreciated art from afar by collecting pieces with her husband. Her passion only became a vocation much later in life when she was looking into decor for their home. “We got immersed in the world of commercial galleries, institutions, artists’ careers, and it became a whole journey. At that time, I wanted to understand what it took to be an artist, so I went back to studying.”
Lisa was taken by how the mind of an artist operated, and this was the true catalyst for what would become the Finkelstein Gallery. “I wanted to understand if anyone could make art. I wanted to understand that process because we were so immersed in the world of art and artists, supporting their careers by collecting.” Soon, she realised that it took a certain mindset to be able to do what artists do. “It sounds really glamorous, but what I discovered was that you have to be in a certain headspace to be an artist. If I write an essay, I can sit down for an hour, get my tools, plan and write an essay. But, with art, you have to be in a headspace that allows you to plan the work and then make the work in a way that expresses. I really had no true understanding of that until I went to university.”
The decision to study art was one that opened many doors for Lisa. “What I discovered in that period of study was a different awareness of feminism. One of the problems with patriarchy in our society is that women have been disadvantaged because of the way the world has been set up. But men have also been disadvantaged in a different way. So, I switched to art theory because I realised that I’d be better off helping artists than to continue trying to become one,” laughs Lisa. “I was then drawn to the female practice and to the issues that were surrounding female artists. I wanted to make a difference in that space.”
Upon delving deeper into the industry, meeting more extraordinary women who lacked the opportunity to exhibit their art in spaces where they would be seen, Lisa toyed with the reasons she wanted to focus on women’s art only. “In some ways, you get a greater depth in a lot of women’s work. Maybe it’s stereotyping a little bit, which everyone does at times. But, you know, there’s often an emotional intelligence. This understanding of people brings a depth to women’s practice that is extraordinary,” she explains, recalling how the Finkelstein Gallery opened earlier this year in August. “For example, in my opening exhibition, I have an artist that I work with called Kate Baker, who’s a glass artist. She made a wonderful work called ‘Between Intimacy and Trespass.’ It’s work done on mirror panels that she’s etched her technical notes into. As a glass artist, she has a lot of technical notes with the liquid glass she uses. She then added some beautiful, very abstract photographs of her daughter. It was really to discuss the dilemma between work and family, the dilemma between motherhood and this tremendous commitment to your career. And that’s something that I think some female artists struggle with a lot.”
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Inspired by the #FiveWomenArtists campaign started by the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington D.C., Lisa is looking to address underrepresentation with the space she’s created for women. Her efforts are part of a wider movement that has been going on for decades, considering initiatives such as The Women’s Gallery, an exhibition space running from 1988 to 1995 that offered women artists opportunities to host their first solo exhibitions, reignite their careers after having children, and establish a strong, supportive network for greater visibility in the art industry. In 2020, Finkelstein Gallery will be holding solo exhibitions for some of Australia’s most burgeoning and celebrated artists: Kate Baker, Jacqui Stockdale, Deborah Kelly, Cigdem Aydemir, Lisa Roet and Monika Behrens.
With the intention to help spotlight women artists, Lisa plans to offer a program that will include talks and events to allow people to engage with the 10 handpicked artists and their work. Recently listed as one of Vogue’s ‘60 Names That Will Define Australia in the Next 60 Years,’ Lisa aims to use Finkelstein Gallery to nurture the careers of these artists in the years to come.