Now in its 35th year, London Art Fair continues to play a pivotal role in bringing British Modern and Contemporary Art to market. This is a triumph given the closure of major fairs across the capital (Masterpiece, Art & Antiques Olympia), but also a testament to its enduring relevance. With Sarah Monk at the helm, this is a capital fair that platforms some of the best dealers in Modern British and contemporary art in compliment to a diverse range of international artists. With a reputation for launching careers and nurturing talent, London Art Fair has consistently played host to emerging artists who have become household names (Chris Ofili and Jenny Saville awarded ‘rising star’ awards at the 1996 edition). An ideal venue to start or upgrade a collection, this is fair with deep roots – fostering relationships and strengthening community – in promoting a joyous – sometimes life-changing – encounter with art.
This is fair with deep roots – fostering relationships and strengthening community – NKE
The 2023 edition announced itself to the public with a monumental installation, elegantly framing the arched entrance of Islington’s Business Centre (Top Photo) with vibrant bars of luminous colour by the artist Charley Peters. Commissioned by Programme Curator Hannah Payne, it is one of many thoughtfully curated aspects of the London Art Fair that give it character. “My commissioned artwork, “For The Win”, was a great opportunity to make a powerful public artwork for the landscape of Islington while also creating a visual statement that captured the dynamic and creative spirit of the Fair,” Peters told Artlyst. An uplifting visual queue, amplified in the ‘link bridge’ walkway that leads visitors from the main Fair through to Encounters (https://www.londonartfair.co.uk/fair-programme/encounters/), this works consolidates the Fair’s commitment to showcasing the next generation artists and gallerists.
Formerly Art Projects, Encounters is a new section of the London Art Fair curated by Pryle Behrman. “An encounter is often unexpected, perhaps leading to the discovery of an unknown artist or, alternatively, an unexpected style or theme from a well-known artist,” explains Behrman, “but an encounter can also be the catalyst that challenges entrenched views and understandings.” A wide-ranging selection of work in a plethora of different mediums – miniature portraits on sliced twigs by Raymond Carver at Dombaal; intricate stitchwort on a 3-metre-long textile artwork by Renin Bilginer; randomly thrown vessels that accumulate into towers of glazed pots by Nicola Tassie – artists often create new or unexpected work for this show, sometimes taking their practice in a different direction. From the too often under-represented Black experience explored by Janet Rady Fine Art (P20) to issues of displacement, identity, and womanhood at the group show by Otherlandz (P3), this section represents a sweeping overview of current art world themes.
Next to this is Photo50, which spotlights current trends in contemporary photographic practice; which sits in compliment to Platform curated by art historian and author Ruth Millington on the theme of her recently published book ‘Muse’ (Penguin, 2022), reframing the term by celebrating the contributions of artists’ remarkable, real-life models. Upstairs, the collector’s lounge was staged with an excellent selection of one-off, hand-made and artisanal furniture and objects by the inimitable Jane Adams of Author (https://www.authorinteriors.com). An ideal backdrop to the fair, exquisitely curated with elements of enduring, quality design from across the British Isles, this space allowed us to contemplate the placement of future acquisitions and heirlooms.
Frank Auerbach, Mornington Crescent, Summer Morning II, 2004. Courtesy of Ben Uri
The main Fair, brimful with elegantly curated booths, opened this year with a bespoke pavilion housing masterworks from the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum. Setting the bar high with gems from Frank Auerbach and this ongoing Museum Partnership (previous collaborations include Hepworth Wakefield, Pallant House Gallery, and Southampton City Art Gallery) is an opportunity for visitors to engage with museum quality works and consider how they might – as collectors – contribute to the ecology of the art world. With that in mind, Artlyst highlights some of our favourite gallery presentations:
Harriet Mena Hill, The Aylesbury Fragments, 2018 Photo Courtesy GBS Fine Art
GBS FINE ART
We were stopped in our tracks – like many other visitors to the fair – by painted fragments on a wall. Miniature worlds within demolished worlds, The Aylesbury Fragments by Harriet Mena Hill, are paintings of lost architecture on recovered concrete debris. Arguably the centrepiece for the whole Fair, these sensitively rendered works gave viewers a glimpse into the fraught history of The Aylesbury Estate in Walworth in southeast London, once home to some 7500 people. Built between 1963 and 1977, initially, its 2700 dwellings were considered icons of post-war clearance and modernist urban planning. Unlike the restored vaulted ceiling of Islington’s Business Design Centre, the Aylesbury idyll was not to last. The artist Harriet Mena Hill started working on the estate during its major – and in many ways contentious – regeneration programme, which involved demolition on a vast scale. Running art projects with residents, as demolition progressed, she started collecting concrete debris from the sites, recycling it as a series of “portraits” of the disappearing estate.’
THE FINCH PROJECT
Drawn in by the elegant pairing of works on pale plaster walls, chosen by founder Nikki Finch, here we discovered the work of two South African artists, Michael Taylor and Alexia Vogel. Shortlisted as 100 Young Painters of Tomorrow by Thames & Hudson, Taylor lives in Cape Town and works primarily in the mediums of painting and drawing. His figurative works explore notions around narrative art, often drawing our attention to the difference between personal and cultural knowledge. Interested in how his visual lexicon is mediated through image-text paradigms, his paintings give voice to the subtleties between visual thoughts and language. As such, the interplay between the painting and its adjoined title becomes the concept that underpins the work. https://www.thefinchproject.com
Diana Copperwhite, Persona, 2022, Carborundum on Somerset paper
Stoney Road Press
Also loving RAW Editions for its salon hang of great women artists, https://raweditions.com, and the ever-playful https://jealousgallery.com/blogs/exhibitions, I discovered the work of artist Diana Copperwhite (b. 1968) from Limerick, now living in Dublin at Stoney Road Press. A dramatic colourist, the artist moves easily between figuration and abstraction, drawing the viewer in with confident strokes of colour that both suggest and obscure her subjects. This energetic and gestural manner is ideal for carborundum – a term I was not familiar with. Carborundum is a rare form of stardust originating outside the solar system; it is also a form of printmaking. Carborundum is a collagraph process in which the image is created directly on the plate by applying an abrasive grit (Carborundum) mixed with an acrylic medium or glue. Once dried, it forms areas of texture or line, which is then inked intaglio, relief or both
Marie-Elizabeth Merlin Photo: Nico Kos Earle
‘As a child, my imagination mixed with the tales and legends I read with a passion, and the reality I looked at… There are often several stories in a single painting… shadows cast on the ground become characters in their own right.’
Initially drawn in by Catherine Anholt’s ethereal paintings, exploring a range of emotions and experiences spanning childhood, parenting, the natural world, we were thrilled to discover Aix-en-Provence-based artist Marie-Elisabeth Merlin’s vibrant work. Paintings that hover between the real and mythologised, her paintings are like visions, occasionally punctured with omens. Captivating and beautiful, with a Mediterranean palette, they heighten our sense of something our grasp and give voice to persistent but peripheral themes like environmental melancholia and geographic displacement.
Marie-Elisabeth’s paintings conjure a world wistfully tinged with nostalgia and longing, incorporating ghostly, mythical creatures, which evoke feelings of innocence and tenderness, into strangely beautiful landscapes that tip into abstraction. Her work reminds us of the damage we have wrought on this earth and its creatures, but also that our destruction is incomplete. We can still dream and imagine anew. 4 Cromwell Place, London SW7 2JE Linney Barn, Swampton Lane, St Mary Bourne, Hampshire SP11 6EW
Based in Holborn, established in 2000 with over 200 exhibitions to date, Dombaal was packed to the brim with ones to watch. This fresh and exciting booth, The Portrait Show, took its curatorial lead from the poet Raymond Carver”… there was something about their faces. It was nice, or it was nasty. There was no telling.” (from ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’). Presenting portraits “by any other means” were the artists Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Alex Rich, Alice Wilson, Aubrey Haskard, The Rural College of Art (David Gates), Derrick Guild, James Lloyd, Joby Williamson, Lara Viana, Lee Edwards, Lothar Götz, Maud Cotter, Mhairi Vari, Mikey Cuddihy, Neil Zakiewicz, Nicky Hirst, Si Sapsford. Uniting collage, drawing, painting, print, sculpture and many things in between, viewers were invited to make serendipitous connections. The circular cutout in Wilson’s wall-mounted Argot 01, in timber, paint, and fixings, found its echo in the miniature face at the centre of a sliced twig, of Edwards ex and opposite in Portrait After Kruseman, Hodges and Batoni, by Guild in oil on linen in four individual frames.
Cross Lane Projects
Cross Lane Projects is an artist-run space presenting new and exciting contemporary art in a former Kendal Mint Cake Factory in Cumbria. Founded in 2018 by painter Rebecca Scott and artist Mark Woods: Cross Lane Projects presents a curated programme of contemporary exhibitions by local, international and British artists with accompanying talks and events alongside the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award. Dual presentation of ceramic works by Lawson Oyekan (b.1961), a British Nigerian based in France, and Nicola Tassie, who established her studio in Hoxton in the 1980s. Oyekan’s work derives from his training in porcelain wheel throwing and the development of his own techniques through hand-building to make larger, monolithic forms. Characterised by surfaces often left dry and unglazed, his open, thin-walled works seem covered in scars and resemble ancient spiritual vessels. By contrast, Tassie’s Follies Series III are playful structures made up of an accumulation of randomly thrown vessels that are repurposed into non-designed towers of glazed pots. Named after a line from Erasmus ‘In Praise of Folly’ (translation by John Wilson) “, Folly praises herself endlessly arguing that life would be dull and distasteful without her”, whilst gorgeous they also replicate a massing of household’s domestic ware, stacked up for storage in diminishing space. These Follies cleverly illustrate the eternal allure of overconsumption: seductive, aspirational in their reach, but uncertain about their purpose.
Vanja Karas is a Belgrade-born, London based Artist, Curator, Designer and Creative Director. She graduated from the University of Arts in Belgrade, followed by an MA from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and King’s College London. Vanja began her creative career in theatre directing, and from there moved on to work in a range of other visual arts media including film, video, multimedia, graphic design and print. In recent years her work has been focused mainly on site-specific installations, photography, conceptual art and most recently textile design. She has followed her MA by studying photography at Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design and International College of Photography, New York.
Siger Gallery was established in 2012 to promote and sell a broad range of emerging UK and international artists. The gallery is a dynamic platform for a range of art practices including: painting, performance, sculpture, photography, printmaking and animation. Siger Gallery exhibits internationally, past shows include London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Milan.
Words/Photos Nico Kos Earle