London Art Fair

IF ART sales need confident buyers it was not the most auspicious week for the London Art Fair.    Theresa May’s Brexit speech was reverberating during the VIP opening while Friday brings the strange new world of President Donald Trump.

Soaring  rents and rates in central London have seen two important  venues for Scottish art close their doors in the past year, amid all round pressure on traditional galleries in the capital.   It has made the fair  a more vital showcase.

There were 129 galleries showing at the fair, which runs until 22nd January at the Business Design Centre in Islington.     Over one fifth come from outside the UK, with galleries from 18  countries, more than ever before.

The Scottish Gallery’s offerings lead off with Joan Eardley’s Girl with Shopping Bag, from 1959, for £24,000.   It is a delightful drawing of one of the Sampson girls, identified by her squint, with her unbuckled shoe, shopping bag, and still wearing a coat for the cold.

Joan Eardley, Scottish art

Joan Eardley, Girl with Shopping Bag, 1959, pen and ink

The gallery celebrates it’s 175th anniversary this year and its latest Eardley show, Restless Talent,   kicks off on 1st February.

Another signature work was Geoff Uglow’s Saltire, from 2014, at £8,000, showing the Burns monument on Calton Hill in his inimitable style.

Geoff Uglow Scottish Gallery art

Saltire, by Geoff Uglow, at the Scottish Gallery

There were five Scottish galleries at the fair – some, like the Glasgow Print Studio, have been coming almost since its inception 29 years ago – and Scottish artists from the Colourists to John Bellany, Ken Currie and David Mach were threaded through galleries offering several thousand  works on sale.

The Fleming Collection, once described as London’s embassy for Scottish art, closed the doors of its Berkeley Square gallery last year, to become a “gallery without walls”, driven out by crippling central London costs.  Art First, not a Scottish gallery per se but which showed  the work of Wilhemina Barnes-Graham and Will Maclean, has been forced to quit its Eastcastle Street premises by the same mix of skyrocketing rents and rates, opting to run the business from an office near the Imperial War Museum.

Forty percent of earnings were going on rent and rates, said  director Benjamin Rhodes.   For a “small, intellectual gallery”, he said, running a business with even a modest turnover demanded “a whopping great back balance”.

The  Barns-Graham estate was showing works at the fair with its new London outlet  Waterhouse & Dodd.   Art First’s offerings included this simply but timely work, however, Migration – of purple discs on ochre – priced at £12,000.Migration by Wilhemina Barns-Graham Art First Scottish art

Also prominently on show was a new Will Maclean piece De Bestiis Marinis, inspired by and incorporating flotsam and jetsam that  his friend Simon Lewty sent from a Swansea beach.  Lewty’s own work Fragment from a Shorthand diary was also on show.

Will Maclean, Simon Lewty, Art First, Scottish art

Will Maclean and Simon Lewty at Art First


The Scottish Gallery occupies something of a unique position in Scottish art, both by its title and its position as the oldest private gallery in the country.  They have made it something of a barometer for attitudes to the Scottish market.

The Brexit vote may have made “Scottish art” more appealing for Londoners finding common cause with Remain comrades up north, suggested managing director, Christine Jansen – just as the independence referendum cooled the market for a while.  “There has been a different attitude to the market for some aspects of Scottish art,” she said.

“We have to be here in person to say hello to people.   We cannot sit up in the north.  People like us to come to London.  It’s absolutely necessary.

“At the moment so many good galleries, Scottish galleries , have had to move to different small premises or close down altogether or go on line,” she added.   The Portland Gallery, a key exhibitor of Scottish art in the capital, has also downsized its space.    Flowers Gallery, which has represented prominent Scottish artists over the years, is said to be investing heavily in on line business.

From its Modern Masters VI collection, the Scottish Gallery was showing lovely landscapes by William Gillies, a rich variety of five pieces by Dame Elizabeth Blackadder, and Alberto Morrocco’s sweetly simple Blue Boat, Tayport; the colours in this photo do not do it justice.

Alberto Morrocco, Scottish Gallery

Alberto Morrocco’s Blue Boat, Tayport

Scottish art, or artists, cannot be ghettoised, of course, and works popped up across the fair like old friends.   Duncan R Miller was as usual devoted to high-end Colourists, from four classic Peploes to a drawing by JD Fergusson of his own father; the market for these works has mostly moved out Scotland, by now.

The Jill George Gallery was showing David Mach; Alan Wheatley Art, a selection of earlier work (usually rated the most desirable) by Alan Davie; Beaux Arts, a fine Paolozzi.  Panter and Hall were showing a profusion of works by Chris Bushe, and Audrey Grant (the latter on the heels of a highly successful solo show last year).

Glasgow’s Compass Gallery will be 50 years old in 2019.  Newer discoveries there included Hannah Halliday, whose Knitted Journal, in wool, for which she created a word a day, in an untypical approach to knitwear, was at just £900.

Hannah Halliday, Scottish art

Knitted Journal, by Hannah Halliday

In the projects section the Golden Thread Gallery from Belfast was showing  Graham Fagen’s radio project, The Garden, themed around Scotland, Jamaican culture, and memories of World War I.     A narrative weaving in references from Robert Burns to Bob Marley and Wilfred Owen was on sale on a limited edition, 45 rpm vinyl single.


Graham Fagen's The Garden

Graham Fagen’s The Garden