Fresh Art Fair
"We go to a lot of art fairs – galleries do – but we wanted to bring some of those that don’t generally attend them into Fresh:, and bring fresh work to our visitors."
If you’re based, as we are, outside of the UK’s state and cultural capital, you’d be hard-pressed to find many major art fairs and, until this year, there wasn’t a single major fair serving our gorgeous part of the country.
Fresh: Contemporary Art Fair arrives at Cheltenham Racecourse on Friday 12th May, and OX have spoken to both cofounder Anthony Wardle and exhibitor Jayne Rumsey.
What was your aim in terms of setting up the fair?
My daughter and I, who run a gallery together, realised that there isn’t actually a lot going on in terms of art fairs in the surrounding area – The Cotswolds, Birmingham, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Cardiff. There were no significant art fairs between London and Manchester. Yes, there were some very nice fairs like the one in Oxford’s Town Hall, but those are artists’ fairs, which are quite different from a galleries’ fair.
We took the view that there was a big opportunity to run a major art fair in Cheltenham, and we already knew the Racecourse as a fabulous venue. We thought we could serve not only the galleries in the area but also across the country, which is exactly what we’re doing. It seemed to be a no-brainer. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and everybody seems to share our view that this is a gap that needs to be filled. That’s why we’re doing it.
We’re calling it Fresh: because we’re doing the fair in a bit of a different way. We go to a lot of art fairs – galleries do – but we wanted to bring some of those that don’t generally attend them into Fresh:, and bring fresh work to our visitors. About 35% of our galleries are relatively underexposed to the art fair circuit, which means that regular art fair galleries – and there are lots of them – will come along and they’ll see emerging artists or established artists from galleries that aren’t very visible in the traditional art fair world.
What else sets Fresh: apart from other fairs?
I think the other big difference between us and other fairs is that we have partnered with Bonham’s Auctioneers, who are coming to the fair and will have a major presence in the main foyer. As a gallery – and a lot of other galleries would agree with us – we get quite a lot of people coming in and saying “I’d love to buy all three of those but I don’t have space on my walls”. Our answer is “sell some!” People often have some paintings that they are tired of, or they inherited, but just don’t know how to go about selling their art, perhaps because they don’t know how much it’s worth, how to go about it, or they simply don’t have the time. To remedy this, we’re inviting people to come to the fair not only to see art and to buy art, but also to bring their old art with them and Bonham’s will give them a valuation, and indeed consign them to auction on the spot. That’s an extra service which, as far as we can see, is a world first.
In terms of exhibitors, are there any in particular that you have your eye on?
The nearest one to Oxford and one of the best known in the Cotswolds would be John Noott, which is in Broadway. It’s run by Amanda Noott and one of their key artists is Edward Noott, so it’s a family business and they’re a long-established, very good contemporary gallery. Edward Noott is very much an acclaimed artist in his own right, mostly working in oils, and he has won awards from the Royal West of England Academy. That’s an example of quite a traditional artist from a traditional yet excellent gallery in the Cotswolds. Then, and perhaps a little different, there’s a gallery called Wet Paint based near Stroud. It’s run by a lady called Celia Wickham, who’s been an art dealer and consultant for donkey’s years (although she probably wouldn’t want me to say that!) and she handles the father of Pop Art, Sir Peter Blake. Do you remember the old Beatles album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?
Well, Sir Peter Blake designed the cover for that, and it was seen as a prime example of Pop Art at the time and still is. He would be seen to be a founding father of the Pop Art movement, and his work will be shown at the fair by Wet Paint. I’m hoping he will also be able to come to the fair. Another notable artist being shown by Wet Paint is a sculptor named Sophie Ryder. If you walk along the main promenade in Cheltenham there is a large bronze by Sophie Ryder which Cheltenham Council bought and exhibit there permanently. She specialises in very big, monumental sculptures in bronze and wire. She is probably most famous for a sort of androgynous version of the Greek mythological minotaur, which she calls Lady Hare. It’s a hare-cum-human in wire and it’s a fantastic piece of work. She’ll be exhibiting some of her smaller pieces in the fair, and then we are aiming to have a couple of her larger pieces outside the entrance of the fair for people to simply enjoy as they arrive. She most recently exhibited at Salisbury Cathedral.
Who is Fresh: Art Fair designed for, or aimed at?
One thing that is important for us is that people realise that we are serious about our art. We’re not pricing ourselves out of the market, and we will be accessible in terms of price. There will be original paintings and sculptures available for £500, but there will be work there for £15,000 or more as well. Accessibility is really important as far as we’re concerned. The other thing is credibility: we are in partnership with the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol, and we’re also in partnership with the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. Those are two organisations who have given us the seal of approval.
Could you tell us a little about the gallery you direct?
We’ve had Iona House Gallery for 15 years. We actually came together to do the gallery to raise money for a charity, which we still support, called Mary’s Meals, and it has evolved over time. We now hold eight exhibitions a year in the gallery and we have a very diverse selection of artists. The gallery has seven rooms so it can accommodate up to 75 paintings at any one time, plus sculpture and ceramics, so we’re probably showing about 300 pieces in the gallery on an ongoing basis. In addition, we also exhibit at some external art fairs, because although we have a very loyal customer base in our immediate area, we also need to increase our presence elsewhere.
Which of your artists are you bringing to Fresh:?
We’re picking some representational work. Rory J Browne is one of those artists: he studied at Chelsea School of Art, he’s in his early fifties, and he creates these very vibrant and richly textured landscapes but they also have a very spiritual theme. He often paints the same scene over and over again but at different times of year, and his ‘flagship’ pieces are these amazing representations of bluebell woods. We also have an artist called Jonathan Pocock, who paints with a pallet knife. He does the most amazing still life and landscape pieces and trained at Central Saint Martins. What he can do with a pallet knife is just unbelievable – he gives quite a contemporary twist to something you might think of as quite traditional. Then we have an artist called Mark Poprawski, who does seascapes and studies at Norwich School of Art. His work is fairly abstract and focuses on the presence and absence of light. In his work you have light, water, land, and sky, and Mark is capturing the moment in time before the sky changes, for example. They’re very popular.
I’m now just going to give you an overview of the Spanish artists who we are taking to the fair. We chose them because they’ve all won a lot of awards, all do figurative work and are all on an upward trajectory in their careers. Some of our other artists are a bit more established but they are the ‘ones to watch’. They are Susana Ragel, José Luis Ceña Ruiz, Annika Talsi and Yara Damian. We have quite a diverse mix of art from different nations – we also have a Scottish artist called Lesley McLaren, who lives in and draws inspiration from the Scottish Borders.
As for sculptors, we have one called Helen Nottage who is quite young. She does these fabulous sculptures of heads, hands, feet and torsos, and her work is all about the fragility of the human being and layering – not just of the physical being but of the psychological being as well. They’re very unusual but extremely affordable. We also have another called Brendan Hesmondhalgh. He’s from Yorkshire and does these fabulous animals in which he really gets across the personality of the animal in question – bulls, horses, toads and frogs, bears, whippets – and he was part of a program on the BBC a couple of years ago called Show Me The Monet. It was a show where there were four art critics and they invited artists to bring one piece of work, and out of the thousands of people who they interviewed, about 200 went on to the Mall Galleries for an exhibition. He took one of his bulls to the exhibition and it was the first piece to sell. As well as his small, domestic pieces he also does huge, monumental public art pieces.
Fresh: Art Fair comes to Cheltenham Racecourse 12th-14th May
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