Thursday, 21 January 2016

Fun at the Fair

John Piper, Beach and Starfish, 1933/34, copyright artist's estate/DACS 2016

I was mildly astonished to see so many people coming into the London Art Fair yesterday evening, as Tim Mainstone and I were leaving. Most of the visitors seemed to be fairly young, and I wished I had a clipboard handy so I could pretend to be a market researcher and find out what they had all come to see. I could have taken notes on the show as well. As it is, I can only a remember a few of the things I really liked.

As museum partner, Jerwood Gallery set the tone with a mixture of interesting Modern British paintings and drawings with a coastal theme, offset by Marcus Harvey's startling bronze of Margaret Thatcher as a sort of hideous mermaid. A particular highlight was the John Piper collage, 'Beach and Starfish', which must rank near the top of the chart, Piper-wise. I hadn't really looked at it carefully before, and was struck by the reference to Nazis in the newspaper used for the cliffs, and by the shiny fabric flag.

Peter Clark, Handle with Care, collage, 2015, artist's copyright, Portland Gallery
Interesting to compare a Piper collage of Knowlton Church, Dorset, which was on the Portland Gallery stand; a sketch, almost, in cut paper, that captured nicely the geometry of Neolithic circle and Medieval church. This was set alongside contemporary collage by Peter Clark, whose work hovers intriguingly between the 1960s and the present.

It can be tricky when the old and the new hang side by side, as the former can seem rather drab and the former too shiny, by which I don't mean literally gleaming but untouched by time. If a painting from the 1930s has survived this long and is being exhibited with a five figure price tag then it must have some worth (reasons the art-overloaded visitor), whereas new work is much harder to evaluate. You just have to trust your instinct, I suppose.

Patrick Hughes, Paolozzi Robotski, oil on board, 2015, artist's copyright, Flowers
I was immediately drawn to Patrick Hughes trompe l'oeil painting 'Paolozzi Robotski' at Flowers, initially because it was fun and subsequently (on the second go-round) because it was beautifully crafted.

Colour and the smell of oil paint attracted me to the Long and Ryle stand, plus they were busily hanging a large painting. Nothing like a bit of bustle in a gallery to catch the attention. Chatting with the staff I learned that I've walked past the gallery in Pimlico a hundred times without noticing; I liked several of their artists, contemporary painters with a sense of history, an upbeat approach and lots of style.

Simon Casson, Eegrass, oil on canvas, 2015, artist's copyright, Long & Ryle
The award for most entertaining object probably goes to Pertwee, Anderson and Gold for 'Byron's Bong', which was pretty much what the title suggests. Apparently it had been sold for a price in the tens of millions, which is only right and proper for such an important historical artefact.

Finally, two very different galleries from Edinburgh made me want to take an art tour north of the border. While The Scottish Gallery had (among other things) a couple of lovely works on paper by JD Fergusson, who I would rate alongside any British artist of the 20th century, Arusha Gallery had possibly my favourite artwork of the night, 'Woman with flowers' by Romina Ressia - a photograph that looked like a painting, of a woman who might have stepped out of a Hammershoi interior.

Romina Ressia, Woman with flowers, photograph, 2015, artist's copyright, Arusha Gallery
The London Art Fair is at the Business Design Centre, Islington, until the weekend.

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