Edinburgh Art Fair

Snap Judgement: Haud yer nose, and have a shooftie.

The Edinburgh Art Fair in its 10th year has 67 galleries and expects to pull in about 10,000 people before its closing at 5pm on Sunday. At Thursday’s preview the stands at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange were teaming with people, and on Friday morning after the opening, it was bustling again, as buyers left with their bubble-wrapped bundles under their arm.

This is not art for the glitterati, nor even the Scottish contemporary scene. Prices start at less than £100, and don’t go much above £1,500. But for the first time this year, several signature Scottish institutions have signed up to the event.

Andy McDougall, director of the Edinburgh Art Fair, makes no apologies for quality. “We are in our 10th year,” he said. “We must be doing something right.”

Walking into the fair, less than a month after sampling London’s Frieze, is frankly a jolt. There are 67 galleries here and the choice is overwhelming – sometimes underwhelming. On one stand there was a set of truly garish Peter Howsons, offset by truly tawdry canvases of ballet dancers. There are Vettriano knock-offs, and Monet knock-offs, and Jolomo knock-offs.

But haud your nose, one might say, and have a shooftie. It is November after all, and the student art shows don’t come around till the spring.

My favourite stand in the place was the Fife Dunfermline Printmakers workshop; there was fine quality work here, and they were also doing demonstrations of their craft. Among the offerings for £500 was this screen-print by Toby Paterson.

Toby Paterson

Toby Paterson

It is a measure of the event that Patterson was almost the only artist among the star names in the Generation shows this year, commemorating 25 years of Scottish contemporary art, to feature in the fair- even in print form.

But several well-known, if more traditional Scottish galleries are in the stands for the first time. They include The Scottish Gallery, the Glasgow Print Studio, and the Royal Scottish Academy.

The EAF operates with no public funding but charges between 1,500 and 5,000 for stands. “We’ve been trying for years to attract these galleries,” the director, McDougall, said. “For some reason they have not been interested. In the past we relied on English and northern Irish galleries because the Scottish galleries didn’t support it. People were saying the quality wasn’t good enough, but we’ve got to fill the stands.”

He contrasts it to the Glasgow Art Fair, which folded despite £100,000 in public funding, he said. He doesn’t want grant funding, “because then you are under pressure to do things the way they want.” But it would be nice to have support from Edinburgh City Council just for signage, he said, or more of the bigger Scottish galleries.

They could do with recruiting one or two contemporary galleries; on the other hand, their prices are mostly out of this league.

One gallery, for certain, was making hay at the fair, and that was Eduardo Alessandro Studios, from Broughty Ferry in Dundee. They had turned their entire stand over to the artist Ron Lawson, whose works often strikingly similar: thatched cottage, bleak grey sky.

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It was a change from stand after stand crowded with the work of different artists hung cheek by jowl. And what’s certain is that the Dundee gallery had created a stir; at preview night their sizable stand had barely room to move for people, and the red dots were flying up, in a minor frenzy of about 20 satisfied buyers.

The works came in all shapes and sizes, top price about £2,000 for a large canvas. Lawson, who went professional in his 50s after leaving DC Thomson’s art studio three years ago, has found a style, and he’s certainly well promoted.

At the Scottish Gallery, a nice Joan Eardley was tucked away in the corner, of a Boy in Overcoat, at £38,000. “It’s a fair that is now established, it’s continuing to develop and this has to be the best quality event they have ever put on,” said director Guy Peploe.

But Peploe was punting the work of Duncan Shanks, as “the best kept secret in Scottish painting”, a landscape painter of impeccable credentials who has been working away quietly for 40 years. He has just given 100 sketchbooks to the Hunterian, who are to do an exhibition next year.

Next door was Kevin Ramage, of the Watermill in Aberfeldy. The Watermill, where Kevin and his wife Jayne turned a derelict watermill into a waterside compound with cookware shop, cafe, bookshop and art gallery, is an inspired institution in a Highlands setting. Ramage had elected to fill his stand with a selection of numbered prints or lithographs by the big names: an (unsigned) 1942 Picasso Sugarlift Aquatint for £1,200, a Barbara Hepworth lithograph (51/60) for £2,900. My favourite was a William Scott of Iona, (297/300), for £2,900.

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At Edinburgh Printmakers nearby, I saw one very good buy: Swimmers, by Eiko Yamashita, of an edition of seven, for just £80 framed.

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There were charming snowy scenes by John Heywood, who has recently retired as a social worker, including of Inverleith Park, while Cat Outram’s Looking Back in Confidence, was one of a set of four of views from the windows of the auctioneers Lyon and Turnbull, when she was working there on a fund-raiser.

Glasgow Print Studios had work by more familiar names: some wonderful prints of recoloured giant Lanark illustrations, by Alasdair Gray, and a hand-coloured lithograph, Boy with Lion, by John Byrne, working in Patrick mode.

One stand to head for was surely that of Art in Healthcare. Artists had put in work on a 50/50 commission basis for the charity. You could pick up a small canvas for David Martin for less than £300, which seemed a bargain. The work of Alan McGowan, priced slightly higher included his Portrait in Half Light.

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The Forbes Art Consultancy was offering a sweet series of sketches by Sir Cecil Beaton, the photographer. They came from a collection of nine sketchbooks, ranging across Beaton’s life, that first sold at Christie’s in 1988.

Sir Cecil Beaton

Sir Cecil Beaton’s sketchbooks

If I was a dealer, however, – or a punter looking for a discovery – I’d take a good look at the work of one artist: Stephanie Deaves. She was exhibiting on 3Burgh, a stand she shared with two other artist friends. One, Ann Cowan, delivered nice coloured street scenes of Edinburgh.

Newly out of Chelsea Art College, aged 26, Deaves works with “bespoke textiles”, selling small works for just a couple of hundred pounds. They included Spring Theory, using layers of bonded threat to produce a subtle wave; and “Serenity”, of organza and aluminium foil, part of a series reimagining landscape called “a view from above”.

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The Edinburgh Art Fair runs until Sunday 16th November at 5pm.

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