I spent last weekend with my sister and cousins in Bristol, where they all live or have property, mainly to visit the laughingly ill-titled Affordable Art Fair. OK, some of it was affordable, but not much, and not by the standards of somebody who loves art and would spend money on it if only there was something that bore study and reappraisal and didn’t cost over a month’s salary. Compared with Sotheby’s, this stuff was of course cheap as you like.
The setting was wonderful, in Brunel’s Old Station outside Temple Meads. The art was, as they say, varied, and more than I expected of it was unconvincing, so that when I saw things that stood out to me, such as the detailed paintings of Charlie O’Sullivan, the landscapes of Relton Marine or the fantastic lacquer work of Duong Sen from Vietnam (particularly his wonderful Mandolin), I started to take notice. I know that art that you put in a fair with this sort of title is mainly going to adorn the recently painted walls of the middle classes, but I was surprised by how little of it spoke at a more complex level. There was hardly any portraiture – when it was present, it was often good – and there was an enormous amount that was simply decorative, and little that challenged either the viewer or the establishment. Maybe I should not have been surprised, but I came away feeling that I had seen little that had touched me, challenged me, or told me anything of social realities, or faith, or inspiration, or a call to life – and I would say that good art has this function as well. There was nothing overtly (or covertly) political. There was also very little photography, which surprised me as well. I found more life and emotion, actually, in 2 mosaics that I encountered walking between the city centre and St Georges. One was a community mosaic on a bridge, and the other a community mosaic under a bridge. The latter was so overpainted by graffiti (not great graffiti either) that it was a struggle to find bits to photograph that weren’t affected. The former was bold, colourful and a delight to encounter, inspiring because it was attainable and communal, and gave new life to a unpreposessing bridge in Barton Hill. The picture of the two middle aged people stuck under a railway bridge on a mosaic half overpainted with graffiti was one of the most evocative pieces of art I have seen for ages. See what you think.