Summer in the courtyard at David Alsop’s new home and gallery is going to be good. The walls will reverberate with the energy of Wayne Youle’s paint design, whose sculptures will soon be accompanied by Anton Parsons'. There’ll be sunshine to loll in and kitchen herbs to pick. And that’s just the back-lot of the heritage shop front on Ponsonby Road. The gallery behind the hot-pink door is the second iteration of Suite, which launched in 2007 and opened in Cuba St, Wellington, in 2011.
“I’ve wanted to move up here for quite a while,” says Alsop. “As the gallery grew and our networks got bigger it became the right thing to do, as none of the artists had any representation here."
Alsop resides upstairs. With its airy stud and generous proportions, the heritage building easily lends itself to both gallery and home. Ponsonby Rd is a thoroughfare, but the living room is a restful, contemplative place. The outlook through tall sash windows takes in traditional facades on the other side of Ponsonby Rd, a giant billboard – almost comical in size from this perspective – and plenty of sky. Alsop has created a new home in this space, wrapped it with art-lined walls and added an edited selection of collectible furniture, and his Dad’s prized Proac speakers.
Alsop is particularly pleased to see the tombstone by Wayne Youle in position on the fireplace hearth. In Loving Memory of Painting, Photography and Sculpture has been on loan for public exhibitions and this is the first opportunity he’s had to display it. While Alsop laboured over the placement and hanging of other works, the fireplace as focal point was the clear choice for the polished slab of stone, its form traced by the black curve of the Victorian fireplace.
Sunflowers by Jakob Nieweg hangs above the fireplace. Nieweg was a loose acquaintance of Vincent van Gogh and Alsop purchased the piece while he was living in the Netherlands. A former lawyer, Alsop grew up in Rotorua and studied law, geography and political science at Waikato University, before entering into private practice in Wellington, then relocating to Amsterdam to nut out the legalities of aircraft leasing and trading. His interest in visual arts, particularly photography, began evolving during his law clerk days, his private collection growing over the years.
Many of these pieces hang in his living room, each resonating with memories – some are connected to his childhood in Rotorua, others reference different events and times in his life. The room is set it up to observe and absorb what it contains, rather than what could be imported via a screen. “Sitting in the rocking chair, listening to something good and contemplating the photos is what I find really enjoyable,” says Alsop. “There’s a calmness to the room, even though it’s on Ponsonby Road.”
The rocking chair, purchased in a second-hand shop in Amsterdam, is a prototype by Geoffrey Harcourt for Artifort, a design that’s still in production today. The chair faces the patchwork of art on the northern wall, and a de Sede sofa faces the fireplace and tombstone to the south. There’s a lot to take in. And, for Alsop, just a little schadenfreude in the Trevor Moffit painting Wheatfields of Canterbury, which he recently bought at auction from the Chapman Tripp collection. Having worked at the practice, it feels like getting “some flesh back”, he says. While the tombstone would fare relatively well in a fire, one of the pieces Alsop would grab in an emergency exit is ‘From One David to Another’ by Wayne Youle, which grew out of the long-standing artist-dealer relationship.
Another significant piece by Youle hangs in the stairwell that leads from the main gallery. Like the tombstone, Youle’s giant spider web was destined to hang against this towering forest-green wall, its links of silver chain picking up hints of light like rain drops in damp New Zealand bushland. From the deep green, you step up into the light where Alsop has dedicated a hallway to the work of Ans Westra.
Alsop’s first love was photography and his dedication to the medium has never wavered. It’s what drew him to Westra, whose career he started following in the 1990s. The pair began working together in 2008 and Alsop now manages the 84-year-old photographer’s archive and copyright. Her archive amounts to about 300,000 images, representing the most comprehensive visual documentation of New Zealand history. In a project between Suite and the National Library of New Zealand, where the collection is held, all of Westra’s negatives have been digitised, a laborious process that started with a tangle of unmarked work.
Westra’s work is like a magnet for visitors. Any New Zealander who grew up with sepia tones would respond to the pull – and stay there for some time, drawn to what the photographer felt compelled to document. It's satisfying for Alsop, who continues to respond in much the same way himself, even after all this time.