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Sunday Art Fair - exciting artwork, quirky galleries and the best antidote to Frieze

Every October, as autumn brings back the cold and the rain to London, our city becomes gripped by an art fair frenzy. Everywhere you look spaces are being used and promoted to capitalise on the attention paid by the world media and art collectors to big, established players such as the Frieze Art Fair.

But having suffered from Frieze fatigue for a while (too hyped, too crowded, too expensive, too predictable, just basically too much...) I was delighted to come across the Sunday Art Fair as an alternative proposition. This particular Fair champions emerging artists and is held in Ambika P3, a 14,000 square ft space developed from the vast former concrete construction hall built in the 1960s for the University of Westminster’s School of Engineering. The event is celebrating its tenth anniversary and it features 30 international galleries. It also has the bonus of being free and still low-key enough to offer visitors a real opportunity to view art without the dreaded crowds. Below are some of my highlights of the works on display.

Ltd Los Angeles showed work by American artist Spencer Lewis and British artist Hannah Lees.

Lewis' bright, gestural abstract paintings have great energy and power. His exploration of textures and materials is refreshingly infused with a healthy sense of humour that goes beyond the brooding intensity of abstract expressionism.

For instance, the display included showing the back of one of his canvases, complete with used painter gloves & remnants of paint-stained paper & photographs, giving us an insight into his work process.

Hanna Lees' work investigates cycles, constancy, and mortality; the sense that things come to an end and the potential for new beginnings. The works have the look of over-worldly archaeological finds and bring together a series of intriguing objects and materials.

Speaking of new beginnings, I was also interested by the fact that Lees is based in Margate, dubbed 'Shoreditch on Sea' by canny estate agents and Guardian journalists alike, making me wonder yet again whether the coastal town is indeed succeeding in establishing itself as a credible art community.

(Images courtesy of Ltd Los Angeles; works by Spencer Lewis and Hannah Lees)

What made my experience of the Sunday Fair so enjoyable was that its more intimate setting offered a real opportunity to chat with the exhibitors and for them to talk with passion about the works on display.

Ltd Los Angeles Gallery founder Shirley Morales was a joy to talk to and made the works in her booth come alive with her anecdotes about the artists and their practice.

So were the people manning the Steve Turner booth who showed British artist Dominic Dispirito's witty portraits of quirky but lovable characters as well as British artist Lydia Blakeley's mood-lifting paintings of beautiful mutts and their owners (cleverly shown as faceless bit-players in the compositions leaving centre stage to their canine companions) which turned this part of the Fair into a Crufts homage.

(Image: works by Dominic Dispirito)

Galerie Bart (Amsterdam) and Patricia Fleming (Glasgow) booths also stood out both for their warm welcome and the works on display.

At Patricia Fleming's, Glasgow artist Tessa Lynch's playful and intriguing wall- based creations and 3D installations with a feminist ethos had a welcome hand-made and unpretentious quality.

(Image: work by Tessa Lynch)

While at Bart's, Dutch artist Femke Dekkers' installations intermingled painting and sculpture using optical illusion to create a fascinating installation concerned with creating new spatial alignments.

(image: work by Femke Dekkers)

It is a shame that quite a few of the London galleries seemed unable to make the most of the potential offered by the event in term of interaction and did nothing to dispel the standoffish reputation that often deters budding art collectors and public alike from enquiring about the works on display.

One staff member purposely continued to stare at her mobile as I was waiting to ask a question about one of the paintings. Lady, If I am standing next to you with a fixed smile it is usually a clue that I am trying to engage you in conversation, not that I have decided to indulge in a spot of Gilbert and George inspired impromptu living sculpture performance. Also, if your booth is completely empty of visitors but me, it is not exactly as if you are rushed off your feet is it?

At another booth when I asked staff whether I could take pictures of the works on display (I am polite like that...), the short response was 'take a press release so you will know what you are looking at' before going back to the busy task of staring into space while looking glum, yet stylish.

Apparently the vibe I was giving out was 'doesn't have a clue about art, especially not our art'. Better not tell them then that it was their gallery that invited me to the Fair in the first place and that I was planning to do a feature about their artist...not happening.

All in all the event was a great experience and maybe every day truly should be like Sunday and it is time for the art posse to see Frieze as passé and focus on the smaller events around town.

Here is a selection of other artworks displayed at the Sunday Art Fair 2019

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