27 March 2023

Tyger Gallery set to roar into Yass

| Sally Hopman
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Martyn Pearce with his dog Archie

Martyn Pearce, from Tyger Gallery at Yass, with his trusty art adviser Archie, take a break in preparation for the gallery’s opening. Photo: Hannah Cole.

Martyn Pearce was living and working in Canberra. He was thinking at the time that he wanted a better quality of living, a place where there was more space for him – and his dogs.

He drove out to Yass, the first time he’d travelled to the historic town about an hour’s drive from Canberra, and instantly felt a connection.

It helped that on that day he bought a raffle ticket from a charity stall in the main street – he won first prize (a hamper). And just as helpfully, he discovered the stairs that led up to the Oddfellows Gallery – and artist in that residence, Kim Nelson.

“I was just blown away by what Kim was doing in the gallery, and what people were doing in Yass, I guess it played in bringing ‘everything’ all together.

“I only met Kim once, but that was enough.” (Nelson, the popular artist and former Yass Citizen of the Year, died suddenly in 2015.)

Woman fixing lights in gallery

Tyger “Wrangler” Kirsty Bunfield checks the lights in the new Yass gallery. “She has been an integral part of this process,” ‘Head Tyger’ Martyn Pearce said. Photo: Hannah Cole.

“Everything” is Tyger Gallery – named for the William Blake poem – a new gallery for the historic township, which will open on 23 March with an exhibition of 10 artists from the Southern Tablelands and beyond.

But it’s not just another gallery in another country town. Martyn, an avid collector and supporter of the arts, already has a full-time job in the communications field in Canberra and produces podcasts. In an already busy business life, though, he is passionate about bringing art to the people who normally have to drive hours to see it – or artists who have to drive even further to exhibit.

But wait, there’s more. Martyn will also give half the profit made by the gallery to local charities. Tyger will be a gallery run as a social enterprise – its mission, to help and enhance community, and build on the region’s thriving arts community.

The dream started looking like it could come true for Martyn back in late 2022 when the Yass Valley Council ran an expression of interest process for two spaces in the Memorial Hall in the main street of town.

“They were looking for businesses that would enhance and activate that end of town,” Martyn said.

“Tyger was born of my frustration that the region’s incredible artists had limited opportunities to show their works and build and develop their careers in Yass,” he said.

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“Yass Council owns a number of buildings in and around town which had potential for an art gallery. So I reached out to them to see if any of their vacant spaces could become available.”

Martyn, who describes himself as ‘Head Tyger’, picked up the keys to the rooms just before Christmas and has spent almost every spare moment, night and weekend, with either a paintbrush, sander or hammer in his hands working on the walls, floor and stunning gallery desk he built out of recycled wood.

Previously used as a youth centre but lying dormant for about three years, he has brought the rooms back to life, making the most of their natural light and high ceilings to best display the works of 10 artists: Lucy Hersey (paints on earth in Bunerong country), Emmaleen Diaz (abstract impressionist), Sara Phemister (visual artist), Jeffree Skewes (living an artistic life on ancient land), Benjamin Gallagher (metal artist), Lani Shea-An (painter on Ngunnawal land), Jenny Blake (artist, Ngunnawal land), Woman of the South (Natalie Childs, emerging artist living on Yuin country), Carla Jackett (visual artist on Dharawal land) and Jennifer Baird (multi-media 2D).

Woman and man look at paintings on floor

Artist Jenny Blake checks her work has arrived safely in the hands of Tyger Gallery’s Martyn Pearce in Yass. Photo: Sally Hopman.

Martyn said none of the work or the passion – or the end result, could have been possible without his Tyger “Wrangler” Kirsty Bunfield. “She’s been the integral part to this whole process,” he said.

Two other key members of the Tyger team include Beppo – CEO (Chief Enthusiasm Officer), the handsome black labrador who Martyn describes as Tyger’s muse, inspiration, and pig’s ear chewer-in-chief. Sadly, Martyn’s dog of 15 years, the equally handsome and talented gallery dog Archie, died about two weeks ago. But his legendary art advice, and penchant for pats, will never be forgotten.

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Tyger’s first exhibition will be Bryter, officially opening on 23 March and running until 24 April.

“Everyone at Tyger is excited about the incredible work in Bryter,” Martyn said. “It’s a gloriously eclectic mix of styles and influences, and genuinely interesting to see how the artists have interpreted the brief of the show – hope and optimism for the future.

Bryter is about the things that sustain us and keep us going, the steadying stuff in unsteady times, and the hope we all hold that encourages us to keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

For more information about the new gallery, go to the website.

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