Potts Point landmark Yellow House holds an iconic place in Australia’s artistic heritage.
We take a look.
Yellow House at 57 – 59 Macleay Street was built in 1897 as part of a ten-house row of terraces. At that time, the buildings were known as ‘San Diego’ (number 57) and ‘Amador’ (number 59). Designed by architect Maurice B. Halligan, the row stands out from other Sydney Federation terraces thanks to its Queen Anne style, visible in its unique gables and balconies set back behind Roman arches.
Artistic seeds are sown
The building was predominantly residential until the 1950s. Writer Frank Clune and his art dealer wife Thelma lived with their family at 59 Macleay Street, and in 1957 their son Terry established Terry Clune Galleries in the front rooms of the family home. The Clune home had been a haven for artists for many years, and Terry Clune Galleries soon built a reputation as an avant-garde space exhibiting Sydney’s up and coming abstract and modernist artists. Some of those, including John Olsen, John Passmore, Robert Klippel and Robert Hughes, amongst others, went on to become some of Australia’s most prominent and well-recognised artists.
In 1967 the gallery moved to Macquarie Street, leaving the space at Macleay Street empty. When illustrator Martin Sharp returned from London in 1969, he was dissatisfied with the local gallery scene and approached Thelma Clune about using the vacant gallery space. Sharp presented his first two exhibitions there after his return from the UK, and it was from these that the Yellow House was born.
The yellow period
Inspired by Vincent Van Gogh, who had dreamed of establishing a centre in his Yellow House in Arles for artists to live, work and exhibit, Sharp began an artist’s collective in the building in 1970. He turned the gallery into what he described as “an artist community in the south, in the sun, and probably one of the greatest pieces of conceptual art ever achieved”. The house itself became the canvas as almost every surface was painted with images inspired by the Surrealists and Van Gogh, and the façade was painted the eponymous yellow. The house became a multimedia performance art space, with artists collaborating on and exhibiting work ranging from painting to sculpture, film to cabaret, photography to light shows, and more. Well-known artists such as Brett Whiteley, George Gittoes, Bruce Goold, Peter Weir, Philip Noyce, Albie Thomas and Aggie Read were amongst the Yellow House’s most notable members.
Following financial problems and artistic tensions, the Yellow House closed at the end of 1971. It returned to residential use and was a boarding house for many years. It sat derelict for four years before being rehabilitated in 2003. Following its heritage listing, new artworks were commissioned for the building as part of its redevelopment. Four sculptural balconies by artist Michael Snape front Macleay Street, with one symbolising each of the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire.
At the rear of the building, apartments sit behind a colourful 10 x 10-metre timber cut-out screen by artist Matthew Johnson. The work is inspired by the artist’s visits to Terry Clune Galleries as a child, where he was given a game of pick-up-sticks to play with by Thelma Clune. Original Martin Sharp works were uncovered on site during the refurbishment. They were transported brick by brick to the foyer and touched up by Martin himself before he died in 2013.
Today, the building is a tightly held residential oasis in the Parisian end of Potts Point. With nine apartments upstairs and a gallery and the two-hatted vegetarian bistro Yellow downstairs, Yellow House offers a genuine slice of the bohemian ambience that Potts Point is so famous for. Until recently, Sydney Art Quartet, famous for their sensory collaborations with local businesses and personalities, were in residence at the gallery.
The interior design of the apartments reflects the building’s artistic DNA with generously proportioned, flexible living spaces and industrial-style metal-framed opaque glass walls. Photographs of the Yellow House rooms in their creative heyday line the entry hall of the building, reminding residents of the building’s incredible artistic legacy.
Apartment 4, a one-bedroom apartment facing Macleay Street with a gorgeous Michael Snape balcony of its very own, is for sale. Featuring exposed brick feature walls, luscious original dark timber floorboards and high ceilings throughout, it offers a peaceful and spacious oasis and a rare chance to own a piece of Potts Point’s bohemian history.
If you’d like to make Yellow House your home, get in touch today.