Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Affordable Art Fair

The Affordable Art Fair pretty much does what it says on the tin; take a convenient London venue (Battersea Park 25th-28th October and Hampstead Heath 1st-4th November) and pour in over one hundred galleries offering a huge range of contemporary art - paintings, prints, photography, sculptures, ceramics, glass - anything in fact, as long as it is priced between £40 and £4,000. Started by Will's Art Warehouse owner Will Ramsay in 1999 as a further push towards demystifying and democratising art, there are now Affordable Art Fairs across the world from New York to Stockholm and the brand has been voted one of Britain's coolest brands for 2012/13 - see their website for details.

When I first started going to the Affordable Art Fair the upper limit was £3,000 and inevitably prices have gradually crept upwards; however there is now significantly more sculpture available, particularly bronzes, which would have been impractical for the artists beforehand. Happily there is still plenty of art available under £500 (look for the pink stickers) and even under £100.

One lucky early bird had landed a potential bargain from the wonderful Recent Graduates' Exhibition at the front of the fair. In a series of works questioning the validity of placing a monetary value on art, Andrew Reeve had cut a range of numbers into the canvas of existing paintings displayed back-to-front; the number displayed was the price the buyer had to pay.

This exhibition is a great opportunity to support young artists and spot the stars of tomorrow. The standard was high but I think my favourite piece was Downfall, Hollie Mackenzie's beautiful melting and fractured wooden staircase.

True to Will Ramsay's ideal of art for all, the fair offers free entry for under-16s, free crèche facilities and kids' activities, and even a warm welcome for the family dog. There are activities for adults too if you fancy unleashing your inner creative self.
Alternatively there is a Laithwaites wine bar in the centre of the exhibition where you can nab a seat (if you're quick, or a skilled pouncer) and a welcome glass to revive you; we had a nice crisp Prosecco and a fruity New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that were delicious and unexpectedly well-chilled. There is also a (packed) café with hot and cold food, and an excellent coffee stall that does a fabulous Americano.

So, to the art. As you would expect given the size of the fair there is a huge variety available for all ages, tastes and budgets, and I would be surprised if you didn't find at least one piece to covet. There was a host of London-themed artworks perfect for first-time buyers, from bold graphic prints of classic landmarks to these less obvious delicate birds in flight cut from old maps.

Oil paintings glowed next to the high-gloss finishes of acrylics and collages, landscapes next to portraits, Oriental art between coloured glass and tactile sculptures, huge wall-sized statement pieces and tiny miniatures.

If you feel a connection to a particular piece, or are just curious, the fair provides a perfect opportunity to quiz the gallery owners who will have developed a relationship with the artists they represent. Far from the elitist and condescending art snobs that you fear may lurk behind the doors of the imposing traditional gallery, we found the owners - and the artists themselves, many of whom were present - welcoming, enthusiastic, and happy to have an opportunity to chat and explain the background behind the works.

Chippy Coates and Richard Scarry of the eponymous Coates & Scarry are a perfect example - warm, witty and incredibly approachable, they talked us through the work and background of Angela Lizon, whose quirky and challenging pieces had drawn us in.

Moving away from her abstract work, Lizon has shared gallery space with Tracey Emin and been awarded John Moore's Painting Prize. Exploring the themes of popularity, good/bad taste and kitsch, Lizon takes twee ornaments, fluffy kittens and babies as her subject and subverts them into something altogether darker and much less straightforward.

The series of miniatures depicting the small ceramic elephants, pixies and winsome children that form the backbone of any self-respecting charity shop or seafront gift shop are perfect above the traditional fireplace, but I fell in love with this unsettling baby with its sinister, sophisticated Venetian mask and its Renaissance-like calm and knowing gaze.

The Affordable Art Fair is a fabulous way to strip the intimidation and fear from the idea of buying art in the same way that choosing wine or visiting a top restaurant has been made more open and accessible to a wide range of people. Even if you don't buy anything it is a great day out - but take your cards just in case, because with original art from £40, some temptation is beyond endurance.

Yours, able to resist anything except temptation,
Girl About Town xx


  1. Hi GirlAboutTown,

    Thank you for the mention in your aticle. Just to clarify, not all the prices cut out of the canvas are random. 'Self-portrait in figures, 1977-2012' has £3989 cut from the canvas. 3989 is my year of birth (1977) + this year (2012). 'Expected Year of Mortality' has £2047. If I live until 70yrs old, this will be the year 2047.

    Thank you.

  2. Hi Andy - thanks for the comment, have amended the blog. Wish I had been the early bird :(

    1. I think a few people wish they had too! 'For the Love of Art' with £4 cut out is also a nod to Hirst's 'For the Love of God' and the Affordable Art Fair's £40 - £4000 prices.
      Have a lovely weekend.

  3. Hi GirlAboutTown,
    Great article about one of my favourite events. Thanks for including my pic in your selection. (Walking girl - with black frame) this was of a girl walking under the bridge on the south bank by Jubilee Gardens. One of my favourite spots.
    See you about town
    Nigel :)

    1. Hi Nigel,

      Thanks for the message - I really liked your work but I hadn't noted your name! Great picture - kind of intimate but removed at the same time, there's something that makes you look at it again and again. If only the Art Fair and I had the same definition of affordable! :)