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A Home of  World Culture

A Home of World Culture


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I’ve always had this love of human creativity, what people can create, and what nature can create…”

A few years ago, one Fitzrovian opened my eyes a little wider to the neighbourhood… and the world beyond. She encouraged me to look, to listen and to really see this village in the city through her eyes. Her name is Rebecca Hossack. She’s beautiful, seemingly ageless, and strikingly tall. She’s intellectual and influential, a respected businesswoman, an established art dealer, and a member of the local council. And considering how remarkably down-to-earth she is, it’s easy to forget the success of her eponymously named galleries here in Fitzrovia and across the pond in New York City. She’s remarkably open when discussing her business, and her abiding love of Fitzrovia, but Rebecca values her privacy too, especially when it comes to her home environment and her own personal art collection, so I was delighted when she invited me into this very special place.

Born in 1955, Rebecca has a Scottish family heritage and was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. She began studying for the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in the early 1980s when she first came to England, but soon after opted for a career in art. After borrowing £20,000 to open her first gallery on Windmill Street in 1988, Rebecca has gone on to establish two successful Fitzrovia-based galleries, on Charlotte Street and Conway Street, with another in the heart of Lower Manhattan, New York. Today, her presence and her mission are as uncompromising as ever: she wants to create a sanctuary where people can come to find themselves among the artworks, greenery and peace of her galleries.

The same approach to creating a unique space extends to her domestic environment. Just round the corner from Conway Street, in a classic, flat-fronted Fitzrovia terrace, she and her husband Matthew Sturgis have created a beautiful home that’s as full of the unexpected as her galleries, and filled with Rebecca’s extensive personal collection of non-Western art and artefacts. It begs the question: is her home is an extension of her galleries, or her galleries an extension of her home?

As we stand in the kitchen, Rebecca talks to me while making a pot of tea. “This is a house of world culture. Everything in the house isn’t just a thing – it has meaning and a personal touch. Everything is made or created by somebody I or my husband knows. In the kitchen alone, all of the cups and saucers are made by the octogenarian potter, Anne Stokes, from Hampstead,” she says, handing to me a plate inspired by the Aboriginal artist Jimmy Pike. We step down into the basement of the house, which Rebecca’s refers to as her ‘earth room’. “Everything in here is homemade. Because it’s downstairs, I wanted this to be the earth room. Everything down here is made from the earth. The floor is leather and the curtains are woven leather,” she tells me. From a rare wooden medieval chest, to a woven high-back Orkney Scottish chair and a Haitian voodoo flag, the contents of the earth room rival the displays at the British Museum or the V&A, both of whom have taken objects and artefacts from her home on loan through the years. Rebecca walks me to the end of the room, where she introduces me to a series of paintings, and two aboriginal funeral poles. “These are our hollow log coffins. When Matthew and I die, I’ll go in this one, and he’ll go in that one; your bones gone in there. Traditionally, the aboriginals would hang your dead body on a tree until you’d fully decomposed, then bleach your bones, and stuff them in the log. I’m hoping my log can be planted in Fitzroy Square. I’m not sure how the residents will take to it though!” she laughs.

Her relationship with art and collecting has been a long one, growing throughout her life. It began when she was a child in Melbourne. “Ever since I was tiny, I have been collecting. I’ve always had this love of human creativity, what people can create, and what nature can create. I’ve always had an obsession with flowers,” she says. “I’ve had many, many collections during my life; my first one was of glass animals. I have always loved collecting – what humans have made is a source of infinite delight to me. I am not delighted by many modern things: the public realm constantly disappoints me.”

Rebecca’s lifelong love affair with aboriginal and non-Western art   is an unmistakable product of her Australian origins. “I am from a family of three generations of Scottish weavers. My father was a doctor, and all of my family were tradespeople and factory workers. I was the first member of the family to break from the norm. It’s funny how suddenly that happens, and why,“ she observes. “Through the galleries I represent 40 artists, all non-Western. I kind of made it my mission to work with only non-Western artists. Today, I think we have more pictures and paintings than any other house in Fitzrovia – somewhere in the region of 430 – and an extensive book collection made up of my and my husband’s personal collections. I don’t know what to do now, because I really have run out of room on the walls. Each one is personal and like a jewel, with so much knowledge and meaning. That’s maybe my biggest existential problem in life now!” she laughs. “It’s really hard to have a minimalist house filled with this many books and pictures. Everything on the walls is rare enough to be in the British Museum – some of it has been at one time or another!” Rebecca and I walk through the entrance hall of her house. I am examining a series of solid bronze cactuses when she draws my attention to a painting that covers most of the wall space. “The picture you are looking at here is by the Spinifex people. I went to the most remote place on the earth on Christmas Day to meet them some years ago in the Great Victoria Desert. Little was known about these people – so much so that the British used the site for nuclear weapons testing,” she says. “The painting tells the story of a nuclear weapons test, in which they evacuated their homeland.”

The Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery has been an established presence in Fitzrovia for almost 30 years now, and is renowned for showing exciting, often eye-opening work by international artists. Walking around Rebecca’s galleries, as in her home, you are greeted at every turn by figurative drawings, paintings and sculptures that go against existing trends in the art world and are quite unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere. The galleries frequently show work on paper by Aboriginal artists from Australia, and are undoubtedly among London’s most enviably independent and original gallery spaces. Rebecca Hossack is a Fitzrovia institution. Despite her protestations about lack of space, I suspect her extensive personal art collection will continue to grow, just as her galleries will continue to showcase some of the most exciting and unexpected art to be seen in Fitzrovia. Home and gallery are, in the end, of a piece, and 100 per cent Rebecca.

Contemporary Cave Painting

Contemporary Cave Painting

Words Jonathan Velardi

Photography Kirk Truman


Fitzrovia is no stranger to underground activity. A boring machine, 40 metres shy of the height of the BT Tower tunnels, with precision below the streets of its southern edge with neighbouring Soho, in the name of Crossrail railway. In parallel with the underground works carving its way through the capital, a different kind of excavation all together surfaced at the beginning of the year when artist, Thomas Allen unearthed a cave – less subterranean, more subconscious – for his latest artwork. Thomas took up residence at contemporary aboriginal art specialist, Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery on Charlotte Street over the course of a month in January to embark on a decidedly analogue investigation of the area and its community for source material towards the production of an immersive installation titled, ‘Contemporary Cave Painting’.

“My aim was to design a calm, meditative space,” Thomas tells me of his conceptual cave. A prescription for the local community consumed with construction and disruption, or a refuge for the West Sussex-based artist transplanted into metropolitan madness, I wondered. “In the same way prehistoric man would have retreated into deep, dark chambers underground in order to turn inward – performing rites and rituals – I turned inwards to create a record of the internal world,” he explains. This record, or ‘mindscape’ as Thomas refers to it, was central to the cave’s conception, which orbited around emergent and collective phenomena: the interaction of a multiplicity of individual units. The artist’s background as a graduate in sociology informs his approach to art-making. “I’ve been interested in emergent phenomena for a while now, whether it’s the way thousands of termites conspire to create what is an incredibly complex structure: a termite cathedral; or the way a number of essentially abstract marks come together on a piece of paper to form a recognisable representation of something.” During an application for an artist residency a few years ago, Thomas had the idea of representing his interest in collective phenomena into the collective unconscious of a locality. He looked at the Surrealist method of automatic drawing from the early twentieth century, whereby the hand is allowed to draw freely on paper as a means of tapping into the unconscious of individuals, in order to reach some idea of the collective unconscious.

Having approached Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, a platform that has championed non-Western artistic traditions from artisans around the world, with his intentions of creating a twenty-first century primal mural, Thomas soon began work on the installation at the gallery’s Charlotte Street address. He spent time walking around and observing daily life, drawing inspiration from the sights and sounds of Fitzrovia. With only the use of pen and paper he solicited scribbles from members of the public to engage with their individual unconscious. “The public were surprisingly receptive to the idea, so long as they didn’t assume I was carrying out a survey or asking for money when I approached them with my clipboard,” he laughs. Hundreds of automated drawings were collected on the street as well as from visitors to the gallery who watched Thomas install his painting with the sole use of a handheld lamp; an ironic caveman’s torch. With a comical wave of his hands, he illustrates how he then turned ‘art medium’, deciphering the random scribbles that created an introspective landscape of strokes and textures, which in turn were translated onto the gallery walls in charcoal, sanguine and graphite. I asked Thomas how the public reacted to his elementary request in an age of universal image-making – whether it be society’s ‘curated’ eye with various photographic apps or drawing tools on their tablets:  “the diversity of these archetypes were fantastic. I could often recognise different artistic styles in embryonic form embodied on the page, such as Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse or Mondrian. However, I hadn’t expected the considerable number of people who struggled with the idea of scribbling without thinking about it, without drawing anything in particular. It seems like such a simple idea and yet, quite often they froze up.”

Visitors to the space were confronted with a hessian curtain hung at the entrance of the cave that acted as a veil between the internal and external worlds; ‘a receptacle for the collective unconscious of Fitzrovia’ reveals the artist. Once inside, a single lamp illuminated the blacked out space and its warm ochre-wash interior that had been created from approximately 300 tea bags, which stained twelve square metres of paper to line the walls. The unique portrait undulated from corner to corner, floor to ceiling and commanded greater intrigue by the fact it was born organically from the artist’s direct relationship with the local environment and the hundreds of contributions from the public. Thomas explains, “the only thing I couldn’t plan for in advance was the drawing itself; that had to emerge spontaneously.”

The ‘Contemporary Cave Painting’ embodied multi-contextual collaborative and performative qualities, not least a possibility for this topographic artwork to perform a visual commentary at various travelling sites and locations. While there are no immediate plans for him to take his conceptual cave elsewhere, Thomas is considering new angles to source these topographic portraits. “Today’s use of technology is really interesting to me. I’ve flirted with the idea of obtaining contributions from the public via an online app and I wonder how the medium might affect the scribbles.” He tells me he’s also very interested in comparing the communities where he carries out his projects by identifying not only the differences but also the similarities between social areas. Thomas continues, “I’ve always found that my enquiries – artistic and philosophical – tend towards an investigation of universalities,” before posing the eternal question that bridges the worlds of art, archaeology and sociology together: “what do we all have in common?”