Queenstown art consultant Pauline Bianchi launched 10 years ago with nothing but newly-printed business cards and a phone book.
“I rang all the designers in town, the architects, the hotel chains.”
Within three months she had her first contract – supplying quarter of a million dollars’ worth of art to a local development – and since then she’s never looked back.
Now she employs six staff, represents 45 New Zealand artists, has Artbay Gallery in Queenstown’s CBD and personally chooses art for at least one new home every month.
Raised in Australia, Bianchi studied art in Cairns but then had a 12-year retail career with the Bonz Group owned by part-time Queenstowner Bonnie Rodwell.
For 10 years she was group retail and human resources manager, overseeing 13 stores.
Based out of Queenstown from 1997, she also helped set up the local Bonz store’s art gallery in The Mall.
“Having a career with another company is great but you do get to the state where you go, ‘am I going to work 70 hours a week for the rest of my life for someone else?’
“I thought, ‘what is it I’m most passionate about’, and it’s the art.
“I just saw an opportunity, 11, 12 years ago, with all the development going on, for art consultancy.”
Bianchi says the first four years were brilliant – “I was doing homes all over the place, for people around the world as well”.
“Then things on the development front in Queenstown started to slow right down.”
Needing to take a new direction, she opened Artbay Gallery in the new Mountaineer Building five-and-a-half years ago.
Bianchi’s aim has been to exhibit the best of contemporary NZ artists, and she’s now also expanding into international artists.
Bianchi says her internet marketing has also taken off this year – “people are buying more online”.
“Fortunately some of the cream of NZ artists live here, people like Rachael Errington, Simon Morrison-Deaker, Peter Beadle and now Ilya Volykhine.
“There’s something about Queenstown, people come to live here because they feel inspired, not only by looking at the mountains but by the energy which then gives them what they need.”
Bianchi says she’s advised aspiring artists to chase awards to improve their marketability, and paint bigger canvases.
“I like to get them to push their boundaries.”
Apart from curating exhibitions, Bianchi spends little time at the gallery.
She adds: “If I had to rely on retail alone, it wouldn’t have worked.
“If I’m doing a house a month and they’re spending $100,000, all your costs are covered and everything else on the top is just cream.”
Ahead of celebrating her consultancy’s 10th birthday later this month, including giving away $10,000, she’s also launching a world-first app, designed by a New York company, along with a new website.
“You take a picture of your wall at home, download our app and then you can drag and drop any of our artwork onto your wall and it scales to size.”
Next year she’s also planning to move the gallery to a more prominent location and host events like degustation art dinners.
Bianchi, who delivers paintings in a converted 1950 Daimler Consort named ‘Doris’, after painter Doris Lusk, says seeing how art makes people happy keeps her going.
“I love seeing my customers’ reactions to the artworks, seeing them connect, then ultimately playing a part in them purchasing something they are going to love and treasure for a lifetime. I’m ready for another 10, 20 years.”