Bright Lights, Big City: Islington Contemporary Art and Design Fair 2015
On a windswept November weekend, the Candid Galleries – one of the largest independent contemporary art spaces in the city – played host to the Islington Contemporary Art and Design Fair. It was the first weekend of the fair, which featured a vibrant mix of sculpture, painting, photography, ceramics and printmaking from both established artists and fresh graduates – for art lovers there’s one more chance to see these creations Saturday and Sunday this week.
The event was an opportunity for locals to browse hand-crafted products – perfect for those in search of a unique Christmas gift – but also gave the artists themselves a chance to take a look at each other’s work.
This was Priya Baxter’s first time exhibiting at the art fair. The Goldsmiths graduate said she enjoyed showing with other artists because it enables her to talk to them about their practice and get influenced by them in subtle ways. “A lot of artists I meet are so incredibly intelligent and you just want to aspire to be like that.”
“When you’re just looking at your work you get stuck analysing it and being very self-referential, which is not good, you get stagnant, you don’t move forward,” says Baxter. She continues: “Art is all about the community and the connection and you need to see that.”
Behind Baxter is a collection of her film photographs; from afar they look like dark extraterrestrial landscapes with neon lights scattered on the ground. But step closer and you can make out pine trees and a star-studded sky: an English wood at night, but not as we know it. In some images it’s as if the Aurora Borealis lights up the sky with fluorescent pink, orange and yellow. It’s all an illusion. This is Baxter’s ode to 1950’s sci-fi, which she admits is an incredibly niche genre, but it is something she is clearly passionate about.
“I just like that idea of the real joining of the imaginary and that very fine line between what is science and what is sci-fi.” The series is called ‘Lies Dormant in the Night’ – a quote from a 1957 sci-fi film called The Monolith Monsters.
The project began when she experienced bad insomnia during her third year of university. Staring out of her window in the middle of the night, Baxter would admire the capital’s bright lights. “London at night looks like a completely different world. I just prefer it during the night. During the day there’s just something too real about it and at night it becomes this fantasy land.” Baxter wanted to recreate this, but in a natural setting. So she chose to shoot in the woods near her home in Reading. “I talked to a lot of people about the woods and they find them very sinister places. In TV and films bad things always happen in woods.”
The neon lights are glow sticks inside water balloons – her own invention to create light without electricity – which she placed in the woods. Baxter likes the ephemeral nature of the objects, as they went out within 8 hours. “I like that idea of once it’s done, it’s never going to be seen again, that’s it. The picture is the only record of it happening. So they’re this really temporary, unpredictable moment.”
One of the more established artists at the fair was Lynn Foster, a glass-maker, who’s previously shown her work at the event, but says this is her first time showing her sculptures. Her abstract wire creations were conceived initially as stands for her glass-work: “I started taking a sculpture class and played around with the spot welding machine and began making more and more of the wire pieces.”
Foster’s love of craft has lasted her entire life, but it’s always been something she’s done on the side of her career. She’s taken numerous craft courses, such as ceramics, drawing and wood carving. “I like to do something crafty in my off-time,” she says.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, when Foster took a class for glass fusion at the Mary Ward Centre, that she discovered her love of the discipline. “And that’s how I got started. I applied to Cockpit Arts, which has a collection of craft studios in Holborn, and I now have my own studio and my own kiln. It was a good investment.”
Foster doesn’t expect to sell a lot at the fair; “It would be nice to sell one or two things.” She says that people have to think about things and take a card and hopefully gain interest in her work. But, Foster says that a lot of people have been taking the card for the Cockpit Christmas Open Studio in Holborn this coming weekend (28th – 29th), where her work will be on show. “They see where you work, they get to see the studio environment and I have much more of the glass-work, which is more of the bowls and things like that.”
So how does Foster usually sell her work? “Through galleries, fairs and at open studios,” she says. Despite not updating her website regularly, people have been finding her. Recently a German gallery contacted her to ask her to ship out her work, which she describes as “lovely”. Foster’s expressive blue eyes light up as she excitedly recalls that she’s just received an email from the gallery owner telling her that “three of my pieces were sold to the wife of a local Nobel Prize Winner who has an international art collection – and I thought YES”.
She says one of the most important things as an artist is to catch people’s eyes. The Bullseye glass Foster uses comes in an extensive range of colours and finishes, so customers can choose the exact appearance they want from the catalogue. “But you have to get them into here in the first place to see it. So you have to get out here.” Foster thinks the internet is good for getting people interested, but they actually have to see the pieces in the flesh before they purchase. An art fair like this one is the perfect opportunity.
So if you’re looking for a special gift, or simply want to be inspired by the diverse range of art and design on display, then head over to the Candid Galleries this weekend.
Islington Contemporary Art and Design Fair 2015, Free admission, Candid Galleries, Angel
First weekend: 21st – 22nd November 2015 (Painting, Sculpture, Photography, Illustration, Animation, Printmaking, Film)
Second weekend: 28th – 29th November 2015 (Fashion, Textiles, Jewellery, Accessories, Furniture, Ceramics, Glass)