Tucked away amongst the warehouses of Wickham is the exhibition space known as Art Systems Wickham. When it's open, tall red flags fly in the harbour breeze, when it's closed it looks like any other modern residence.
For owner, Colin Lawson, 2019 marks a milestone. The gallery is celebrating 10 years of hosting local emerging and established artists in solo, curated and group exhibitions. Originally set-up as a rental space, it has evolved into what Lawson describes as "more of a commercial art space".
The gallery's first exhibition was called NOW, it was held just as Lawson had completed his own Masters of Fine Art in painting and was working as a technician at The University of Newcastle.
"It was an opportune time, I suppose, I loved art, of course, John Miller Gallery had just closed, Damien Minton had moved to Sydney and Von Bertouch had already retired," Lawson says.
"I had space, I used it as a studio for my masters and thought it was a good business opportunity. I threw up walls, painted them white, painted the floor grey and asked work colleagues and artist friends to be in the first exhibition."
Since then, Art Systems Wickham has averaged 15 exhibitions a year for the past 10 years.
Lawson is a reserved character, friendly and laid-back, it was difficult at first to be sure if he was excited that he had reached and survived a decade in the gallery-owing business, but he admitted to being "thrilled to be celebrating 10 years and happy to keep going".
"I've built up a regular clientele of both art buyers and artists wanting to exhibit," he says. "The key is to just keep it simple and don't try to over-complicate running an art gallery.
"I've also maintained the hours I have, you have to be consistent with the hours you keep, when you say you're going to be open, even if only two people visit that day, you still have to open that door."
The gallery is one of a few galleries operating in Newcastle at the moment that focuses on exhibitions only - there's no gallery shop nor is the artwork on display with other items.
Lawson confirms "it's a purpose-built gallery space".
"I like the idea of having one show, a solo show or a group, with all the works on display, not distracted by other things (then) visitors come and see what they came to see," he says.
There is a small stockroom of artworks left over from past exhibitors, but it's behind the gallery wall in the kitchen area where Lawson says "people feel like they are imposing in my living space, it's not ideal, that's an area I would like to have".
As well as the annual You'll Fest '19 Christmas exhibition, the gallery has over the years gathered what Lawson describes as "a natural group of artists that come back every second year or so to exhibit at the gallery".
Although, he admits "I don't like to tie artists down, like a commercial gallery", he named Dan Nelson, Kerrie Coles, Eric and Robyn Werkhoven, Susan Ryman, Shelagh Lummis, John Barnes and Josh McGregor as artists who regularly exhibit.
"2020 is fully booked and artists who have had solo exhibitions this year are booking in for 2021," Lawson says. "There's also a few new artists who are having solo exhibitions next year, Rebecca Rath, Clare O'Hara and Patrick Van Dahl who are also part of this year's You'll Fest".
Lawson realised he has taken on a more curatorial role.
"I try to keep that always first and foremost and remind the artists it's about the exhibition, the sales are great, they help the artist, they help me but it's mainly about putting a strong show, don't you think," he says.
"I find a lot of people that come in off the street, they say, 'I'm not here to buy', I'll say you don't have to buy, just come in and look at the art, enjoy, it's about educating the community too, that they can look at art, with no pressure to buy."
He also says that art in Newcastle is under-priced for it's skill and quality and much-more affordable than most people realise.