Making our homes more comfortable and enjoyable has become more important than ever over the last year. One of the ways we would usually do this – and perhaps more so when we can’t experience what nature has to offer outdoors – is by purchasing artwork. But the first lockdown forced galleries to close and live art events to be cancelled across the globe. The places we would normally experience art, from tiny galleries to national museums, were suddenly out of reach and the obvious routes to acquiring a piece of art vanished. The art market shuddered to a halt and its future looked gloomy. However, what has been surprising – in a year, let’s face it, full of surprises – is that this industry, largely traditional in the way it does business, has shown remarkable alacrity in adapting to changing circumstances …and come out on top.
Almost overnight galleries and auction houses moved to present as much as possible of their offering online in an effort to both maintain relationships with existing clients but also create new connections. This has proved to be enormously successful, especially with younger art seekers and those new to the art buying world who are much more at home buying art online. And it’s easy to see why – no longer did they need to be daunted by the idea of wandering into an exclusive gallery with little idea of what they were looking at.
At the forefront of this movement to democratise the art world is the Affordable Art Fair. Launched in London’s Battersea Park in 1999 as a biannual event, it sought to combine the work of new graduates, rising talent and known names under one roof and all at the promised affordable price. With more than a hundred galleries taking part, it created a trendy buzz about art with its charity private views, cocktails and music. With child-friendly interactive workshops, it became a draw (forgive the pun) for every demographic and an easy way to see a great deal of art in a short period of time. The model has since been expanded overseas to New York, Singapore and other international cities.
Predictably then, the AAF, already established as an online sales platform, has been one of the first art organisations to adapt to the current circumstances by upgrading its shop. This Spring’s event brings together a carefully curated selection of 50 galleries – each with their own dedicated viewing room – under the AAF online portal. With just sixteen of them from the UK, it means that there is an opportunity to see more international art than normal and all from the comfort of your own home. One of those selected was Decorcafe member, Natalie Morgan-Davies and she gave me some insight into how the changing artworks landscape impacts her business and how she is meeting the challenges…
Natalie had more than twenty years’ experience curating high profile exhibitions and managing new and established artists in Mayfair galleries before she decided to start her own business. Unusually, she runs this from her own home in Clapham where she displays much of the art she sells. Given that the vast majority of her clients are looking for pieces for their own homes rather than a gallery wall, this makes total sense as it allows them to see how the art sits in a domestic setting rather than the formality of a gallery wall. Also without the cost of running a gallery, she can offer the art at a more affordable rate with arguably a more direct connection between client and artist. As such, Natalie was in a uniquely advantageous position when the pandemic struck.
Beyond this Natalie also offers a bespoke art sourcing service to clients and designers alike, currently working very effectively via Zoom or Facetime. Her website is littered with inspiring and helpful images of her artists’ work in situ (I urge you to take a look – https://morgandaviesart.com/art-in-situ/) and as an alternative to lending an artwork on trial to a client, she is able to superimpose images into a room so that clients can see how it might fit within an interior scheme.
Some buy art to fit around their current design scheme, others start with the art and make the scheme fit around it. Whichever route you take, bear in mind that your art is likely to outlast your current decor and maybe even follow you when you move, so don’t be afraid to go for it if you fall in love with something unexpected. There are ways of making it work, such as a good choice of frame, which can make a huge difference.
A bright piece can deliver colour to a neutral scheme and bring a space to life. Alternatively choose an artwork that includes two or three of the existing colours in your room.
Understandably during lockdown, lots of us are seeking out art which reminds us of sunny holidays or that inspires quiet reflection but there is also strong demand for photographic images and graphic art, not least because limited edition prints are an especially budget-friendly way to pick up something you like.
The AAF has recently focussed on print and photography and developed a dedicated section devoted to the genre. It’s a more relatable and accessible medium. It’s also really affordable way to start a collection and has proved massively popular with sales doubling at the 2020 Battersea Fair.
Amongst the artists included in Natalie’s AAF gallery are two photographers with very distinctive styles. Both travel globally in search of subject matter but the finished articles could not be more different
Stuart Redler started his photographic career shooting for big name corporate clients, design-led magazines and advertising agencies in the 1980s and 90s. His images are printed in warm black and white and are instantly collectable. High contrast and stark, they demonstrate an unusual perspective with a quirky sense of humour. The subject matter takes in architecture, botanicals and animals but it’s the images of people and landscapes in foreign parts that, for me, are the most striking and evocative. They feel iconic. The monochrome draws the eye and gives them a timeless quality – his work is on display in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery and has also been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
This is my favourite but it was a tough call.
John Alexander is a fine-art photographer who is steadily building a reputation for his original style which pushes the boundaries of traditional photography. He creates abstract patterns from distressed surfaces encountered on his travels and uses a variety of techniques to reproduce the detail of his subject matter to great effect. He is fascinated by how these surfaces respond to the environment over time and his images are saturated with vibrant colours and printed on museum quality paper which gives them a painterly quality.
Both these artists have limited edition prints of their works available in a range of sizes.
The Online Affordable Art Fair runs from 9th April to 3rd May.