This year not only marks the 20th anniversary of the Affordable Art Fair, but also the annual Recent Graduates’ Exhibition. While championing exciting, emerging artistic talent from all UK art schools, it has secured a reputation year-on-year as one of the best places to view and purchase breakthrough graduate work as it debuts to market.
To celebrate this landmark year, we’ve invited a selection of participants from the last 20 years to revisit the Fair for ‘Recent Graduates Revisited’, bringing their stories and new artworks with them. As curator, this has been such an exciting task, and it’s remarkable to see that the exhibition has been responsible for debuting the work of some artists that have since enjoyed incredible careers, both in the UK and internationally. This exhibition is a unique opportunity for Affordable Art Fair collectors to own works from artists whose work since their first time at the Fair, has gained in value and recognition.
Ahead of the Battersea Fair, we asked three of the exhibiting artists about their thoughts on Affordable Art Fair, its impact on their careers, and for any advice they’d offer this year’s art graduates.
“Being invited by the Affordable Art Fair to exhibit in the graduate collection was a huge deal for me in 2002. I was fresh out of my BA from Norwich School of Art and Design, and this was my first time exhibiting in London. It came out of the blue, I think I had applied during the busy set up to my final degree show, perhaps via an advert in a magazine. When I got the letter (yes letter), no email back then, it took me by surprise as I had forgotten I had entered.
The piece selected for the exhibition was a sculpture called Dobbin, featuring a horse as an oversized toy game, where you could take out and replace shapes. I had no idea how to get the piece to London but with the help of some gallery friends from Cambridge Contemporary Art (my first gallery job) and hiring a van for the first time the sculpture was displayed proudly with the other recent graduates.
17 years on, I’m now a fully practicing artist and studio manager of Jealous, and I can honestly say that the Recent Graduates' Exhibition truly aided my development as an artist. Sort of throwing me in at the deep end, it gave me the first taste of exhibiting at a major art fair, including having to sort the logistics of a show away from the safety net of an art school. I’d really recommend students and recent graduates apply for anything and everything they can, as you never know what it’ll lead to! As for Dobbin, I can’t remember what happened to him… I think he was dismantled and sits in various sections in my studio and in my Mum’s garage.”
“Having graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in 2015, I found the Recent Graduates' Exhibition to be a great opportunity to introduce my work to a larger range of people than a typical, single-gallery show. I think the set-up seems to somehow level the artistic playing field; different types of art are all displayed together, and the clear pricing removes the fear involved in asking how much something is! This gives the visitors a chance to browse and develop an artistic taste based on what they feel they connect with, rather than attempting to work out what’s on trend, or what they can afford.
One of the most exciting things that has happened to me since the fair was winning the Duveen Travel Scholarship in 2016, which enabled me to travel to and paint Chernobyl. My ideas stem from the intrigue of fictional spaces and the concept of utopia, so this was the ideal opportunity to gather as much of a visual record as I could, to then feed from for future works. Here's a first look at a new painting I'll be bringing to the fair, entitled 'Plunge Pool'.
My advice to a recent art graduate would be to keep motivation. I know from first-hand experience that this can be challenging when you’re not in the safe cocoon of an art school environment, and you probably have to balance a job (or two!) with everyday life. If you're not able to set aside regular ‘studio time’, even just to develop ideas, you’ll lose momentum and it’s difficult to get back to the right headspace when you do have deadlines! Stay positive, plan ahead and keep going."
“I graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2017, and was super excited to be selected for the Battersea Fair of that year. Post-graduate show, there's no clear next move, which I found incredibly daunting. When I received the email, it was such an adrenaline rush! I would never have expected that my work would be seen by such a large audience so quickly, and this amazing opportunity helped motivate me to really give the art thing a proper go.
I’m a ceramic artist, and most of my work stems from my Nan’s collection of kitsch ornaments. The ideas I work with generally surround social issues, from child poverty to class identity. The works I’m bringing to the Fair this year are all from my series of ‘Burrs’, for which I use a uniform base which then carries the ideas I’m working on at any given time. They all have individual personalities and are one-offs! This image shows my artwork 'GRUNGY BURR'.
If I were being honest about giving recent graduates advice, it would be that the first year is the toughest. Honestly, I was on an emotional rollercoaster! The freedom you’ll experience is both incredible and terrifying. For me, it was important to keep the process fun and not take myself too seriously. Another harsh fact of reality is that, at least for a while, you’ll probably have to work full time whilst continuing your practice on the side (which is a difficult balance, to say the least) but if you’re passionate enough you can find a way! I’m ‘officially’ a teacher and I’m truly blessed to work for an organisation that continuously pushed me to continue making my own work.”
Don’t miss this year’s exciting display of works by Affordable Art Fair Recent Graduates' Exhibition alumni, showcasing 20 years of nurturing and supporting emerging talent - get your tickets for the anniversary edition of our Battersea Autumn Fair now!
RECENT GRADUATES REVISITED ARTISTS
COLIN MCMASTER, Central St. Martins, 2000
ADAM BRIDGLAND, Norwich School of Art and Design, 2002
JONAS RANSON, Royal College of Art, 2003
CLARA CLARK, Chelsea College of Art, 2005
MATTHEW LIPPIATT, Central St. Martins, 2006
KATHY TAYLOR, Central St. Martins, 2008
ANDREW SALGADO, Chelsea College of Art, 2009
GREG EASON, Norwich School of Art and Design, 2009
FRAN GIFFARD, Camberwell College of Arts, 2010
PENELOPE KENNY, University of Brighton, 2011
ANDREW LEVENTIS, Goldsmiths College, 2012
OLIVIA KEMP, Wimbledon College of Art, 2013
ANN KELSON, University of West England, 2014
LUCY SMALLBONE, The Slade School of Fine Art, 2015
SAMUEL EYLES, The Sir John Cass School of Art, 2016
CONNOR COULSTON, Royal College of Art, 2017
EVIE JACOBS, Newcastle University, 2018
TINGWEI LIANG, Central St. Martins, 2018
KIM BOOKER, The City and Guilds, 2019
Adam Bridgland working outdoors, photo courtesy of the artist.
Adam Bridgland, 'Every Town is Full of Interest if You Train Youself to Find it', 6 colour screenprint, Edition of 25, 56 x 55 cm, £425.
Lucy Smallbone in her studio, photo courtesy of the artist.
Lucy Smallbone, ‘Plunge Pool’, Oil on board, 35 x 45 cm, £1,500.
Connor Coulston with his artwork 'Me, My Nan and Oldham', photo courtesy of the artist.
Connor Coulston, 'GRUNGY BURR', Glazed ceramic and 22 carat gold, 51 x 44 x 46 cm, £1,000.