Edinburgh Art Fair: results

Edinburgh Art Fair: 12,000 visitors, nearly 60 galleries, at least 1,100 artworks sold. Dundee artist Ron Lawson tops the sales, Joan Eardley work is highest priced.

We may be edging into ancient history by now but what follows is a belated recap of the 2014 Edinburgh Art Fair, with a focus on what works were sold by which galleries, and their verdict on this year’s event.

The talk of the fair – some of it envious – was surely the Dundee artist Ron Lawson. He sold out all 31 paintings, with the same again in future commissions, in a coup that earned perhaps £100,000 for the painter and his gallery, Eduardo Alessandro Studios.

In its 10th year the art fair, a private operation that gets no public funding, drew some 12,000 people to the Edinburgh Corn Exchange and sold at least 1,100 paintings or prints, as counted by the fair’s wrapping service. It kicked off with a jam-packed preview night on 13th November and ran through to Sunday 16th.
The highest price sale was believed to be Joan Eardley’s Boy in Overcoat, sold to a new client at the fair by the Scottish Gallery, with a red dot over it’s £38,000 asking price. The gallery, Scotland’s oldest private art dealership, was in the fair for the first time, along with several other Scottish galleries.

Boy in Overcoat, pastel, 49 x 35.5 cms
Staff at the Scottish galleries, like several others, are considering whether to return next year. They also sold a second Eardley painting, however, as well as a work by painter Duncan Shanks, and a drawing by the Scottish Colourist JD Fergusson. Meanwhile the Royal Scottish Academy, another first-timer at the fair, sold a work by Gordon Mitchell for £15,000.

The EAF is a world removed from the upper-end art scene at the Edinburgh Art Festival or the National Galleries of Scotland. I heard some scornful remarks even from participating dealers about the standard of the art on show.

For a city the size of Edinburgh, however, it appeared to pull a sizable crowd of people buying art priced from a few hundred pounds to rarely more than a couple of thousand. The inclusion of leading Scottish galleries certainly pushed up the standard of the local entries.

For the second year running, the art fair also brought in punters with artists’ demonstrations and a children’s area. “There are lots of things we would like to do, but we don’t have the money that other art fairs do,” said director Andy McDougall, a Scottish gallerist who has also run art fairs in Cambridge, Devon, and Cheshire.
“We try to appeal to people that would normally never go to a gallery, to make art accessible,” he added. “It’s not stuffy, it’s not pretentious, there is art that they can buy as well.” It also receives no public funding.

For galleries in any art fair large or small the first challenge is recouping costs – up to about £5,000 for stands at EAF and considerably more if galleries had to ship staff and work from afar. But they widely described the fair as well run and well marketed. Several dealers spoke of the tough market of the last three or four years, particularly for mid-market paintings.

The fair’s attendance had increased by about 2,000 people this year. With stands typically crowded floor to ceiling with work, some galleries say they may put more focus on fewer artists in the future – with perhaps a weather eye on Lawson’s success.

I put my first impressions of the Edinburgh Art Fair up here but what follows is a more considered look at some of the galleries’ experiences.

Two weeks after the fair, however, I was still thinking about one still life that sat quietly but powerfully amid a mass of works being shown by Gallery Q, in Dundee. It was Stoneware Jug and Patterned Bottle by the artist Jane Cruickshank. I see it is still on offer, according to her artist page at Gallery Q, with a formidable resume, but a ‘POA’ so will not give away the fair price…

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Gallery sales

After five years in operation, the 2020 Art Gallery from Cork chose Edinburgh for its very first fair, said Sheelah Moloney, director and owner. “I chose Edinburgh because I had heard it was a great art city and I was keen to introduce some of my artists to a new market. I chose six artists to showcase and brought the work over and it was a great success. It is definitely the plan to come back.”

The gallery focusses on Irish artists, picking up talent from Cork’s Crawford Art College. Ms Moloney sold several of her biggest pieces: one by photorealist painter Jack Hickey, another by an equine artist, Tony O’Connor, both close to a metre square and priced at around £2,000.

The Fife Dunfermline Printmakers Workshop, whose stand was a personal favourite, sold 13 prints, “which we felt was fairly buoyant”, said chairman Steve Ratomski. Two were by the artist Jai Llewelyn, from Falkirk.

The workshop is staging an open day on 30th November from 2-4pm. They staged live demonstrations, at the fair, scooping up large numbers of contact emails from potential clients – though are unsure about a return visit.

“We felt our exhibition was very well received,: said Ratomski. “There was genuine interest and enthusiasm. We had positive feedback from a lot of people who were not necessarily buying. In terms of our profile and feel-good factor it went very well for us. There’s a tremendous footfall, having seen it last year there were higher numbers coming through.”

Whether Ron Lawson is the next Jolomo, or a flash in the pan with some good promotion, the Eduardo Alessandro Studios earned a handsome payoff by turning over a full space to a single artist with a very particular look.

Until three years ago Lawson was a graphic artist for the DC Thomson & Co newspaper group in Dundee. He never attended art college. The gallery devoted an entire stand to his work, covering three walls with paintings from Skye, typically featuring low thatched cottages under rising grey skies Two days into the fair it was entirely taken over with red dots.

Ron Lawson www.arts-press.co.uk

Ron Lawson, Kilmuir Blackhouse, Isle of Skye,

The gallery left sold work on the walls until the end of the fair, rather than letting clients walk off with their purchases – advertising his success, and generating a buying buzz in which 20 works were sold on opening night.

Mr McDougall said of Ron Lawson’s work: “It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the way he does it is certainly original. Whether you like it or not there is something about them.”

The gallery’s Sanjo Paladini said: “We staged a solo exhibiition for the first time within the context of an art fair. It’s not the normal format, it’s usually a few pieces by variety and sell from the wall.”

The gallery hatched a plan for Lawson to do a “one-island portrait”. Lawson produced 31 pieces on Skye, from 12 inches square to one piece at 6 feet by 5 feet. The painter took on mountain scenes for the first time.

“Not just was it a sell-out, we took the unusual decision to leave all the work up on the wall, like a gallery show, throughout the duration, even though it was sold,” Mr Paladini said. “Many people had travelled form Inverness and Aberdeen to see his work and it allowed them to see the full show. It lead to a large number of commission requests.”

The entry level to buy his work was £695 for the smallest work while the biggest piece sold for just under £5,000.

“There is an X Factor in his work,” said Paladini. “The style is absolutely recognisable, and not at all plagiaristic. Looking within the Scottish market place, just as in any region you see a lot of cross-fertilisation, “school of” if being generous, out and out plagiarism being less kind.

“Whether you like his work, he has found his own language, his own voice, he’s not derivative or learning on the work of others. It’s going to be very interesting to see if he spawns copyists.”

Lawson worked in Thomson newspaper’s commercial art studio, illustrating books and magazines. He illustrated the Whisky Cookbook with sketches of the distilleries on the islands. Sales were in excess of £50,000 at the fair with the same figure again expected from commissions.

The gallery used Facebook and other social media channels to get the message out, and placed “ strategic adverts” in art magazines. It did did targeted e-shots to people on its client list advising them of this exhibition and offering them complementary tickets to the opening night, and some 200 people coming through on the opening.

The gallery will show Lawson at the relaunched Glasgow Art Fair in April, where stands are already filling up.

For Richard Farrant, of the Forbes Art Consultancy, the experience at the EAF this year was by contrast “pretty mixed.” He had a fine collection of drawings by Sir Cecil Beaton, and was surprised not to sell more. “They certainly attracted interest and were priced very keenly, I was amazed they weren’t flying out the door. We sold half a dozen pieces.”

Mr Farrant works partly in art for hotels and other businesses. At the last minute he had a flurry of interest in artworks by Annie Ralli, whose works feature celebrities painted using copies of original Picture Business magazine for backgrounds. He was not the only gallery to report a run of sales on the Sunday afternoon.

Arts Press Annie Ralli

Mr Farrant heard of success stories at the fair, like the 2020 Gallery, but said: “I know of several people who were struggling to break even, and maybe were just under, and I was certainly one of those. That being said it was very well attended, just the right sort of people that you would want to have through the door, certainly no complaints of the organisers for what they achieved.”

He added: “Edinburgh is always a joy to do, you can never sort of judge just from one show how good or bad they are. It’s one of the highlights of my year, you get good exposure, they are very good at attracting people in. Hopefully you generate the sales from it, there are often after-sales that crop up. That’s the nature of doing the fairs. They are always a bit of a gamble, you can never tell.

Of the art market, he observed: “Pictures are the first thing that go in a recession and the last things that come back, especially towards the mid-market, and that still hasn’t come back. It’s better than it has been for the last three years, but not back to what it should be.”

The Gallery at Fifty Five, in Stonehaven, sold 16 paintings, said owner Eion Stewart. His business, founded in 1997, became a gallery in 2003 and moved to Stonehaven three years ago. It is trying to broaden its Scottish customer base, and its featured artists included Beth Robertson Fiddes, who trained in Edinburgh, and Glasgow-based Alison McWhirter.

Beth Robertson Fiddes arts-press.co.uk

Summer, St Kilda, by Beth Robertson Fiddes

“We sold 16 paintings. It was our first EAF, so we didn’t make a profit, I don’t see that negatively. We had very good feedback, and I think if we bring higher value art, or a bigger proportion of high value art, we will do better.

Like other galleries he may consider focusing more on particular artists. “We will make more of artists. I think six or eight artists was more than enough for us, we hedged all our bets. It was an excellent event, and venue, the footfall was huge. We are certainly talking about coming back next year.”

“The feedback we got was very good and the level of traffic to my website crashed the site. We added 80 names to our mailing list from all over Scotland.”

Jo Bennett, of Jo Bennett Originals, in Cheshire, said: “It was a much better attended fair, the footfall was very much better, and the mood was more vibrant, from the point of view of the buyers. It was a better fair for me this year.

“We are just hoping that things are improving generally. It has been a lack of confidence, people not sure if they should spend, even if they have got the money. I’m hoping that’s going to improve.”

Edinburgh’s atmosphere and attitude makes it one of the most “user friendly” fairs, she said. While many art fairs now deal in reproductions she likes the focus on original works. Bennett usually does well with the painter Jiri Borski, and sold two works by him, with one pending. She sold a large work by the artist David Porter.

Buying at an art fair is a gamble for a client if they don’t know the artist or the gallery, said Martin Tallantyre, of the Tallantyre Gallery in Morpeth.

The gallery’s top sales included a pair of works, Still Life, Red and White, by the Spanish painter Javier Mulio, for £2,950 each to the same buyer. Their lowest price piece, a £150 pencil sketch by Peter Knox, based near Berwick, didn’t sell.

Like myself he noted the startling security presence on the first night, with two intimidating gentlemen taking their jobs very seriously. “They looked more like they were on guard for the Buckingham Palace jewels,” he said.

“It was really well attended, they certainly had a lot of people through the door, but with any fair outside London these days they are a bit tougher than they used to be. It’s a good opportunity to showcase new artists because you get so many visitors, it’s a nice little tester to see how things go. You get some repeat buyers, and some you never see again.”

McDougall works hard to bring the galleries in, Mr Tallantyre noted. “In London, fair organisers can be selective, dictate what artists you can bring.”

“It’s an easy one for us to do, it’s just up the road, we have always covered costs, we made a profit, and we have had a fair number of customers who come down to the gallery to see it [as a result] It’s advertising as well as sales at the actual show.”

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