by Hannah Rose
Art Fair East (AFE) is an annual contemporary visual art event showcasing emerging and established artists from East Anglia and around the globe, hosted by artists, galleries and dealers in St Andrews Hall – Norwich. 2016’s event was a hive of curiosity and arty repartee, with artists and agents on hand to engage and interact with visitors.
Although AFE is pitched at an audience of art lovers and collectors, it is by no means an exclusive occasion. It offers any curious passing member of the public a window into the world of art sales, and I felt under no pressure to purchase whilst browsing amongst the canvasses and ceramics, stopping to chat with artists and gallery owners. One artist from A Heart of Glass even let me handle one of their pieces—a glass orb with turquoise and orange reptilian patterns running through it, reminding me of crocodiles. Dropping it might have cost me my credit card balance, but I appreciated the opportunity to study up close something so striking and intricate.
Split into mini exhibitions, each artist’s corner is a little world of creative enterprise—an aperture casting light on a person’s creative life. Capital Culture Gallery had, for me, the most singular and arresting pieces on display: two contrasting sets of photographs of Cubans and indigenous Africans. James Sparshatt’s photography from the streets of Havana showed intimate portraits of Cuban men and women, the camera betraying every crease and laughter line in their faces, some lost behind a cloud of cigar smoke.
International artists are selected each year and 2016’s event was proud to host Beirut-based artist, Rima Saab. Her paintings are themed around the Beatles song Octopus’s Garden, vivid aqua-marine colour-scapes of water, mountains and rivers. They suggest other worlds and other souls who might live in them. “What we see,” says Saab in her display text, “is a part of us witnessing with serenity our evanescent pilgrimage on this road called life.”
Landscapes and the natural environment were themes that repeated throughout this year’s AFE. A significant number out of the 37 exhibitors were East Anglian based artists who use Norfolk’s enduring skylines and wide open spaces as inspiration. It was a satisfying reminder of the county’s natural beauty. Barry Andrews‘ oil paintings showing miniature Turner-esque scenes, of waves crashing and suns settings, looked like rich memories of worlds I couldn’t quite place. If I could have bought a painting that night, it would have been one of his.
Art Fair East was founded by artists Will Teather and Brian Korteling, who both had work on display and for sale. They started the Fair in a bid to bring more art names to region, and it is fast becoming a hub of artistic exchange. Teather is a Norwich based artist whose exhibition at the Norwich Arts Centre was reviewed by us earlier in the year. His rotating globe depicting Norwich’s Elm Hill book and antique shop was sold for the highest price ever at London’s renowned Art Fair, and was on display in Norwich for visitors to marvel at.
Norwich has a long history of artistic activity, dating back to the Norwich School of Painters founded by John Crome and Robert Ladbroke in 1803—a group of landscape painters who started the first ever provincial art movement in Britain. But Norwich’s art scene is anything but provincial, and AFE is testament to this with its vast range of ideas and influences from all over the world. It is heartening to see the city still so alive with this creative energy.
Featured image via EDP 24