Dan Fone Post 2 – What kind of artwork sells at the Affordable Art Fair?

By in Art And Culture, Artwork


One of the aisles...

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

Klari Reis sold well with her bright, simple and well realised works in resin and ink
Klari Reis sold well with her bright, simple and well realised works in resin and ink

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

Plenty of orange stickers here
Plenty of orange stickers here

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?

About The Author


I have a Masters in Digital Arts I’ve cycled (very slowly) through the Alps. It would have been a lot easier without the 20kg of luggage. Maybe next time I’ll just take my toothbrush and a pair of pants. I’m hard of hearing and wear two hearing aids. It’s not really that big a deal though. I listen to a lot of music. Most of it is either drones, bleeps or sounds like things being kicked down a spiral staircase. Did I mention I’m hard of hearing? I love both high and low culture. I’m generally not that bothered about the three for two table in Waterstones though. I think the journalists are right when they say Middlemarch is the greatest novel written in English.

8 comments for “Dan Fone Post 2 – What kind of artwork sells at the Affordable Art Fair?

Wendy Puerto

May 13, 2009 at 6:44 am

If you want to make a living or even the money to persue your love of art, you have to be a bit realistic and paint what people actually want.
It’s all very well to say but I am an Artist! and I have to use my creative talents, please… get real! and not be one of those pretentious creatures that strive for notoriety fame and fortune.
I have been ridiculed by my peers for my love of Seascapes, and guess what? They themselves are churning them out and some rather badly as their hearts are not in it.
Create what you feel and you are on your way!

Helen Nock

May 13, 2009 at 11:41 am

Hi Dan,
Really pleased you are posting this enquiry…. a rich combinations of questions and live research. Good for you, because personally speaking, I don’t get out there enougn to see what’s going on. So, there you are, bless, doing all the footwork and sharing the info. Your question re commerce v idealism has hit a nerve because currently I’m feeling like I want to get off the roundabout of trying to sell to enable me to continue to make art to sell to continue to make art to sell……. I’m certainly finding it hard to produce both, or one from the other. I’llponder on this.
Thanks too for sharing Klari Reis’s work. I love it.


Fiona Stanbury

May 14, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Hi Dan

I was just looking at an online catalogue of artists chosen for a certain open submission exhibition and feeling quite disillusioned with the market criteria in general. So your comments echoed what I was thinking. I’m an artist and feel that one should follow one’s vision, not paint for other people. The general public, let’s face it, very often have no idea of the breadth and variety of art. They want their own perception of the world reflected back to them, with a few exceptions.
But when it comes to the selectors of exhibitions, there isn’t a much wider appreciation of art! I’ve noticed that a lot of open exhibition catalogues end up looking the same, as if there’s a set formula to what is considered to be art. A few installations, lots of illustrational-type drawings/paintings, some paint-by-numbers abstracts, some assemblages of odd materials or eco-friendly material, some aggressive, so-called urban work. It’s not that I’m against this type of work, and I love figurative work and abstract work, (my own work falls somewhere in between abstract and figurative), but it’s the fact that there is very little ‘pure painting’ that depresses me, and a lack of surprising variety. I used to live in Cyprus and down there all types of art were considered for open shows, not just the ‘trendy’ stuff. I think it shows when an artist has engaged with what he’s painting, and I can’t help feeling sometimes that a number of artists are angling their themes/style towards the trends.
As for selling, I’ve done portraits and made a good living at it. Sometimes I think it’s not bad to do these ‘exercises’ (how I view them) to earn some money, but I couldn’t base my art on that. It’s the endless artist’s dilemma. You just have to hope someone will like what you are doing. I personally think we need a change of art critics, a real shake-up!

Dan Fone

May 14, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Wendy, what you say about people painting something when their heart isn’t in it is interesting.
It’s at the heart of what I’m trying to write about in this blog.

Helen, I may well write about the roundabout effect in time, most likely when I want to get off it myself. I do seem to have hit a couple of nerves with my first two posts. I’ll try my best to convert that in to actual insight then!

Thanks for reading.


Helen Nock

May 16, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Hi Dan,
Starting with an aside, I’d like to share this link, I feel an eloquent example of an artist being totally engaged with their work before the pressure and of trying to sell and the engineering of market forces – ‘the soul eaters’ – step in! This mystery artist posted his/her paintings, created in the solitude of their room after their daytime occupation as an undergrascience student, on the TAW forum for unconditional feedback http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZdUXbbXjTw
By no means the only example of course but I’m still buzzing from viewing and feeling rather empty by comparison!!!
I’ve just returned from a regular visit to cornwall and viewed the tourist route trend again. The bland, minimal horizontals of sky, sea and sand have been hanging around so long they seem an almost obligatory art metaphor of the cornwall experience. I guess if you feed something the same diet for long enough….yet there is is plenty of good art there if one looks hard enough. I also feel some of our representatives could do more engage wider community with real art. Having said that, they probably want to but also up against market, fashion, design trends in order to survive aside from the few that know little about art but are good at talking it up for a turnover to the even less informed.
I have certainly found myself watering down my original visions and taking less risks in terms of the designs but more of that late because my old man wants to get on pc to check out ebay auction!
This topic is a minefield Dan. Look forward to more.

Dan Fone

May 18, 2009 at 12:35 am

Hello everyone,

I feel I should reply to all of these comments but I’m a bit stumped. Sorry.
I’m thinking it through slowly. Though maybe it’s just good to have a conversation about it.
I’ll be back in the next week or so to point at more mines out in the field.

Helen, those drawings on youtube are good aren’t they. Though apart from that, I think the fact that you’re feeling empty by comparison is no bad thing in the long run.

Fiona, I’d agree about the change of critics but have no idea who they’d be replaced with. I’m inclined to think that while we’re not living in the best of all possible worlds we are living in the most inevitable. As such, critics will always be critics as far as I’m concerned. Though I have read a few articles mooting a change in art culture due to the recession. Sorry to bring that up, you’re probably as sick of hearing about it as I am.

Right, bedtime.


Helen Nock

May 18, 2009 at 1:18 pm

In summary to last reply, I’m mainly concerned about diluting my ideas (without even being aware that it’s happening). As fiona says, ‘…the endless artist’s dilemma’. I guess we need to be on the alert and constantly redefine our relationship between our art and the market. Recently read another speaking on this point who believes it is following one’s heart that makes the work different and makes us hungry to go back into the studio and find out what happens next.
I’ve just browsed an affordable art site with original work selling from as little as £20.
I can’t even say it’s all rubbish because some of it is very pleasant.
The web is a great resource for people to promote whatever they wish without fear of work being challenged by gallery/curator selection or rejection. So, at this moment, I can only see as far as going back to the unique and progressive model alongside keeping an eye on product based ideas and opportunities.

Helen Nock

May 19, 2009 at 8:14 am

Hi Dan,
Hope you had a good nights sleep.
Just to clarify that my last post referred to summarising my reply not yours – leap-frogging occuring due to moderation time lapse. I agree it probably is no bad thing to feel empty by comparison…..maybe an inspirational nudge to step up the bar.


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