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Broome artist cleans up

WHILE artwork on tea towels and fridge magnets is not a traditional path for many contemporary Australian artists, Paul Gullotti and the Cockatoo Galleries are determined to make Helen Norton’s art and business more popular than Ken Done.

Ms Norton is the telethon artist for 2001, so thousands of viewers will be exposed to her unique style.

It’s an aggressive marketing strategy the art establishment has problems stomaching, but it also proves that passion and sound business sense are at the heart of many cultural success stories.

Ms Norton, a self-taught contemporary artist spent many years travelling and working in the Australian bush before settling in Broome.

The first Cockatoo Gallery was opened in Broome to sell Ms Norton’s art works and, as their popularity grew, a gallery was opened in King Street in Perth to sell works to visitors and local collectors.

Mr Gullotti said he can’t explain his connection with Ms Norton’s work but he was captivated by the passion expressed in the work. Ever since then he’s worked to promote and market these remarkable works.

The immodest comodification of the art is all part of a wholesale rejection of the highbrow snobbery Ms Norton sees in the traditional gallery scene.

“I bumped into Helen two years ago and started promoting her work and opened the gallery here,” Mr Gullotti said.

“I came out of the furniture-making business. I opened a furniture gallery and put a few of Helen’s work there – I saw interest in the artwork and saw the potential to promote the person, she was very underexposed.”

It’s art and business and it’s making money. In an average week the two Cockatoo Galleries have a combined turn over of around $90,000.

And this is only the beginning, Mr Gullotti uses comparisons with the Versace brand for the future of Helen Norton.

“What we’ve done with Telethon is we’ve made her the Telethon artist so she’s a celebrity artist on TV,” Mr Gullotti said.

“We’re really into protecting how this develops … there’s interest in opening Cockatoo Galleries in Sydney and Melbourne.”

“I see her as bigger than Ken Done – more human and a lady who’s got a lot to say about social issues.”

It’s all come together at a good time for Ms Norton and Mr Gullotti.

With a soft market investors are more interested in putting their money in art and Mr Gullotti predicts US interest in Ms Norton’s work will further inflate the value of the art.

The distinctly Australian colours in the works and the humour and honesty of both the human and animal figures look tailor made for popular culture, while the warmth of the artist resonates in the stories on the canvases.

With only a third of the works sold locally, a growing number of high-profile collectors both here and abroad are aware of Ms Norton’s burgeoning profile.

“We’re now going to promote the person rather than the business – it’s an opportunity for business,” Mr Gullotti said.

“ Who knows … a big advertising brand could pick her up and make her their brand.”

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