“Art is universal. Everyone can appreciate it, no matter your background or language, and there shouldn’t be any barriers to accessing it. That’s why Five Walls is such important work for us.”
Aaron Martin and his wife Missy Ueda are the co-directors of Five Walls, an independent contemporary art gallery in the heart of Footscray that started in 2012.
“I am a practising abstract artist and took on the lease of suite 4 of the building originally to set up a studio space for myself and some friends,” explains Aaron. “Then I realised that I could put a gallery at the front, and that’s how Five Walls was started – it is literally named after that first room, which has five walls!”
Missy laughs at her recollection of the start of Five Walls. “I went on holiday back to Japan for four weeks and when I returned Aaron was covered in dust and barely eating. I asked him what he’d been doing and he said he was building a gallery! It started as a small project – we didn’t expect it to become so big.”
Five Walls now provides five professional galleries and sixteen artist spaces within a converted mid-century theatre building.
Aaron has been immersed in the world of art since he was a teenager, eventually studying visual arts at Victoria College of the Arts. He started his practice with figurative painting but now focuses on minimalist abstraction.
“We’ve got a unique focus on expanding the artistic ideas of abstraction. While some people view abstraction as something that happened back in the 1960s, we feel it’s a continuing legacy,” Aaron explains. “There’s actually a large community of minimalist abstract artists around the world, but only around twenty galleries offering exhibition opportunities.
“Every show we mount lasts three weeks presented across five spaces. Within a year we have fifteen selection rounds so as to provide as many artists as possible with the opportunity to show and sell their works.”
While COVID hit the arts industry hard, Aaron found the time to be very fruitful creatively, taking time out to work on his paintings in his studio. The time out also reinforced his commitment to continue to help artists to exhibit their work.
Missy has also taken a greater role within the gallery, applying her decades of retail expertise to handle business operations and manage the growing portfolio of art sales to collectors and other galleries.
What’s in store for Five Walls now that it has come out the other side of the past two years’ challenges?
Aaron says that they will continue to offer a public space for artists and art lovers. They are also looking to increase their public programming in order to offer more access to art for the community.
“We currently provide artist talks, curator talks and gallery owner tours at no charge to high school and university students. Our goal is to seek funding so that we can expand our impact to even more people. Because art should be for everybody.”
Art in cover image by Ebony Gulliver