Art Hood Hotel

Curator in residence

At the top of an ongoing series of wooden stairs, high above Foster Street in Surry Hills, sits China Heights Gallery. By all Sydney standards, the gallery is a longstanding fixture which first asserted itself as the answer to the needs of a local art community back in 2004. The space was taken over as an art studio with the dual ambition to also be somewhere for art events, gallery shows, even live music. At first that was all crammed into one half of a small room, a patron of the early days recalls “You’d never manage to see all the pieces in a show because they were covered up by a dense crowd of sweaty people all trying to get a can of beer at the same time.” Now, 15 years on, China Heights has occupied more space in the building, cemented itself in the art scene, and curated an extensive list of artists represented and displayed. Initially the collaborative project of Ed Woodley, Mark Drew, and Benji Phillips, the gallery is now run by Ed and his partner Nina.

Ed at China Heights Gallery

Ed Woodley is tall, sturdy, and thoughtful – a man who knows himself and the space he inhabits. As an artist himself, Ed’s formation of the China Heights space and values has the nuance and precision of someone who knows exactly what he is looking for. Over the years of growth, he has kept a hand on the ethos of the space – the soul – and has gathered and enabled some talented Australian artists. 

We recently joined Ed on a studio visit with one of the gallery’s artists, Brooklyn Whelan, ahead of his Terra Nimbus exhibition in late October. Ed explains on the way that the same relationship exists with all the artists connected to the gallery – “there are differing degrees of intervention” he says “some need technical support, some need creative support, some are based overseas so the time we get together is more concentrated compared to local artists. They’re only in town for a couple of weeks, and I’ll see them almost every day in that time.” For Brooklyn, Ed is checking in on how his works are coming along, how they will fit with the gallery, where they will be displayed. 

We arrive at the studio in Petersham, the day is bright, the door is orange. Brooklyn comes to meet us and he is warm and lively – like a man mid-project. Previously the artistic director of Tracks Magazine, Brooklyn made a move towards art and has had a growing reputation, particularly with America and the UK. While his paintings are objectively beautiful, he says “Ed gave me a chance” when explaining his relationship to the gallery. That chance was in 2014 with his first solo gallery show – an experience that Brooklyn says was unforgettable, and still a prevailing highlight for him in his career. 

Ed and Brooklyn preview Terra Nimbus

Now, preparing for his fifth show with China Heights, Ed and Brooklyn trace the studio with a well-worn rhythm. Ed seamlessly swings between conceptual and technical topics. He asks Brooklyn about the timeline for certain pieces, the thinking behind an artwork, whether certain lines are straight, what coating he will or won’t use for the artworks, which walls they will hang on, how far apart pieces should be. 

This relationship of trust and respect is a very conscious one. The dialogue is open because they are both looking to achieve the same thing. Ed and Brooklyn both want the show to go well, for the pieces to speak, and the space to work. They are talking the same language, and it becomes apparent that the space between artists and gallery is very small here, or non-existent. 


The same dynamic exists with artist Annalisa Ferraris, who tells me she got her break when she emailed Ed somewhat out of the blue when she was moving from photography to painting. Like Brooklyn, she also attributes her career to Ed taking a chance on her, not just by offering a space to display her work, but guiding her in the creative process too.

Ed hangs an image by Remio in a hotel room

Ed’s roots in the neighbourhood is also how China Heights came to be the supplier of artworks for Paramount House Hotel. The arrangement grew out of existing relationships within Surry Hills, and from an awareness Ed had of the style and taste that would be fitting. Brooklyn has original pieces hanging in the hotel, and Annalisa’s recent work is now displayed in the lobby. It’s another avenue for Ed’s work, while also simply being an extension of the one thing that he is doing – thoughtfully facilitating the creation, curation, and exhibition of art. 


Check out China Heights 

Check out Brooklyn Whelan  / Instagram 

Check out Brooklyn Whelan at China Heights

Check out Annalisa Ferraris

Come and stay and see some art