"Coming back as a single woman to my place of birth, Tasmania gave me a massive opportunity to follow my dreams. I needed to prove a lot of things to myself. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to do that here."
"I hadn’t actually set out to have another gallery, but the building came up for sale. I wondered at the time if I’d done the right thing. I knew after we had finished the work, that I really had."
A heritage town in Tasmania’s southern midlands is probably not the first place you’d expect to find a contemporary art gallery.
Oatlands is perhaps better known for its antique stores, convict-built sandstone buildings, and the distinctive profile of Callington Mill’s Windmill which peeks out from behind carefully kept roofs and manicured hedges.
Nestled amongst these historic buildings, however, on the wide main road that passes through Oatlands, is An Artistic Affair; a gallery of Tasmanian artists curated by RebeccA Kissling.
“I hadn’t actually set out to have another gallery,” says RebeccA now, settled in her studio space at An Artistic Affair. “But the building came up for sale, and we lived behind it. It was a very uninspiring building when I bought it. It was plagued with water issues and mouldy walls, along with threadbare carpets. It was very unloved. I wondered at the time if I’d done the right thing, but I knew after we had finished the work, that I really had.”
The personal and professional paths that brought RebeccA to Oatlands were not simple. She was born in Hobart but left in her late teens, spending 26 years in Melbourne raising her children and running Pots and Plotz, a landscape gardening business.
“My family were here in Tasmania, so I’d come back home each year for a visit,” RebeccA remembers. “Each time I would fly into Hobart and see the mountain ranges, I’d burst into tears. We grew up at the very top of Forest Road in West Hobart, with Mount Wellington under our nose. We had full view of the mountain, the Knocklofty Reserve was our backyard — that’s where my heart really was.”
When RebeccA separated from her husband in 2008, she decided to return to Tasmania permanently. Focusing on textile and felt-making, she ran a gallery in Battery Point for several years, and spent ten years as a stallholder at Salamanca Market – continuing with that weekly stall even after moving to Oatlands in 2014.
“At Salamanca, you really had to create things that people would buy,” she says. “I was relying on that money to feed myself. Now that I have left the market and I have my gallery, I want to explore other avenues in felt, rather than scarves and jackets all the time. I do miss my Salamanca Market family at times, I try to go down and visit every so often. However, I never miss getting up at 3am, travelling down icy roads in the middle of winter and standing in the cold for eleven hours, not at all.”
Oatlands was originally developed as a Garrison town in 1821, with a military precinct, courthouse, gaol, and commissariat. While RebeccA’s house is one of the oldest buildings in the town, originally built as quarters for the commanding officers, the gallery building in front was a 1950s addition. After making the decision to buy it in 2020, Rebecca took on most of the restoration work herself.
When it came to establishing the gallery’s residents, many of RebeccA’s existing relationships from her previous gallery in Battery Point, and her connections with other artisans at Salamanca Market, proved useful. As sole owner and curator of An Artistic Affair, RebeccA now splits her time between running the business side of the gallery, supporting her artists, and focusing on her own artistic practices when time permits.
“When I approached some of the artists who were with me before, they were keen to come on board,” RebeccA says, looking around the gallery fondly. “I also sought out people I’d met on my own journey, and a few new ones — though now I’m finding that more people are coming to me all the time because they have heard of the gallery, and want to be part of this special space we have here. There are also a lot of good people that I’ve turned away. Not because their work is not wonderful, but just because it hasn’t been the right fit. I have learnt much in my years of running business, and now I curate to what I feel is the perfect balance for our Tasmanian, interstate and overseas visitors.”
I’m a girl that wears my heart on my sleeve, and that means I attract broken winged birds. I’ve been very broken winged myself in the past, I have an empathy for people like that. If I can give them a platform to fly… I am happy about that, there is no greater reward or joy for me.
“The money has never been the motivation,” continues RebeccA. “I try and work with everyone on their own merit, I don’t tie anybody up with contracts and I try to give everybody a platform and the same opportunity. I am passionate about my fellow Tasmanian artists and their magnificent works. I’m a girl that wears my heart on my sleeve, and that means I attract broken winged birds. I’ve been very broken winged myself in the past, I have an empathy for people like that. If I can give them a platform to fly… I am happy about that, there is no greater reward or joy for me.”
RebeccA clearly feels a very strong sense of commitment to the artists who exhibit with her, and a responsibility to offer them a safe, respectful, and welcoming space. Having now stepped away from the commercial pressures of exhibiting or selling through other outlets, RebeccA is enjoying the freedom to not having to create with the masses in mind.
“I am very fortunate that I have worked the hard yards, making some good choices along the way. At this point in time, I am here doing what I love for however long I wish to, not because I have to.”
“I’m always thinking about our flora and fauna,” she continues. “Another one of my passions is to create fabric that looks a bit like animal skin. I’ve been playing around with some machinery that I purchased many years ago, like my big industrial needling machine, creating my own felt pelts that emulates animal skin, but without an animal involved. I always enjoy pushing the boundaries of myself a little bit further, to stay original and authentic to myself and my craft.”
“Coming back as a single woman to my place of birth, Tasmania gave me a massive opportunity to follow my dreams. I needed to prove a lot of things to myself. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to do that here in Tasmania. It has no doubt been a journey of navigation through unchartered waters, but with a lot of determination and self-belief, anything is always possible. My mantra has always been, ‘I’m just a girl who decided to go for it.’”