A month or so ago I went to The Affordable Art Fair. I hadn’t been expecting to enjoy it. I’ve been to the fair before, and felt annoyed. About 60% of the work seemed to fit into a few categories. There were the flat colour paintings of dead rock stars, there were lots of paintings of the sea (I love the sea by the way. If you make sea paintings, I’m not taking a dig at you. Anyway, my website has tons of sea photographs), and there were even more abstract paintings that seemed to have been made in factories to a narrowly set process.
This year I was surprised, though. I enjoyed myself. Quite simply, there was more variety. The sea paintings were still out in force, but most of the work seemed to have been made by individual artists who were genuinely engaged with their work. So often at these places I get the feeling I’m looking at pieces that have been designed to match market criteria. That feels quite hollow. It’s difficult not to feel a bit depressed by that. This spectacle raises questions, however. Why do people paint on that basis? I guess the obvious answer is that they sell.
I’d like to make it absolutely clear right now that if you are such a painter (or art buyer), I don’t have any special gripe with you. The point of this blog is to look at ways of making a living as an artist. There’s a point where commercial realities have to collide with artistic idealism. How do we deal with that? Many of us will inevitably deal with it by making work we know we can sell. Which is fair enough, really.
In fact, maybe splitting your artistic output in half between commercial work and the things you really care for is a sensible path to take. Is anyone out there already doing this? How do you find it? Perhaps you even find the commercial work feeds in to your works of passion in unexpected ways.
At the fair, I saw three pieces or stands that caught my attention for different reasons. One was by an
artist called Klari Reis at the Cynthia Corbett Gallery, who made sets of resin discs with marbled pigments inside. Very simple, immediately eye catching and quite beautiful. It’s easy to see why they were doing well. I spoke to one of the gallery staff who told me she usually makes sets of a hundred and fifty discs and has installed them in people’s houses in many different ways: around corners, arranged around other household objects and so on. She also commented that Reis had reduced the number of discs to fifty to make them more affordable.
I then spoke to some people at theBill Philip gallery who told me a very wide angle photograph of Cowcross Street in the City in London had sold very well indeed. Most of the people who had bought it had either lived in or worked near the area. They had a personal connection with it.
Further on in to the fair I saw a photography stand run by the Drugstore Gallery. These guys were
doing very well. I felt there were quite simple reasons why too. The pictures that were selling well looked like they belonged in people’s homes, as part of people’s lives. I think the photograph of the pile of books is a great example here. When I spoke to Barry Cawston and Soraya Schofield, the photographers who ran the gallery, they told me a little more about the wide ranging interests that inform their work. In most of the photographs we talked about there was a strong sociological backdrop informing the content, with a particular emphasis on the visual impact of industrialisation on previously unspoilt and/or historically rich landscapes. I sometimes feel the work at these events can lack substance. It was good to see someone earning success with work that had another level.
Did anyone else go to the fair? Did you enjoy it?