Art Melbourne – Melbourne’s affordable art fair

(Natural Order by Janine Mackintosh)

What is it?

An annual fair held at the Royal Exhibition Buildings populated mostly by small art galleries and self-represented artists, both armed with affordable art pieces for sale (from our informal survey, prices generally range from AU$500 up to AU$7500, though a few small-scale pieces and prints go for less). The fair runs each year for one weekend only, this past Sunday its last day for 2011.

What did we think?

Lying somewhere between an art exhibition and a craft fair, the Affordable Art Fair is a lesson in wandering through a lot of unremarkable, instantly forgettable works to discover the few extraordinary gems lying in the rough. Lethbridge Gallery of Paddington, Brisbane, had one such gem in the warm and luxurious charcoal drawings of Yanni Floros. Unfinished Business is one of his best, the subject’s long, twisting ponytail has visible weight, its glossy surface textured and sexy.

(Unfinished Business and Hear No Evil by Yanni Floros)

Two other self-represented artists had a collection of particularly engaging works on show:

Janine Mackintosh‘s works in naturally sourced mixed media were stunning on first glance and got better and better the more we learned of her story. Living on Kangaroo Island, Mackintosh spends a lot of time trekking her bush property and the surrounding beaches collecting leaves, shells and pebbles. Departing from the techniques used by her husband in preserving his extensive insect collection, Mackintosh has evolved a patient and careful art of assembly.

The fastidious arrangement of Eucalyptus cneorifolia leaves and gumnuts in the aptly titled Natural Order (pictured at top) celebrates the inherent geometries of each, the curled and serrated edges of the leaves aligned with precision. Each leaf is tied to the backing canvas with neatly looped linen thread, a further mark of the skilled preservationist. Mackintosh’s compositions display a clear dedication to the natural world, their calm and unifying circular forms emphasising the uniqueness of each individual piece of her medium.

Will & Caro possess a similar interest in craft, though instead of the Australian bush, their butterfly assemblages explore the cultural traditions in origami-making. The immaculately folded butterflies are a repeated motif across their work, appearing in varied sizes, arrangements and colours. Our favourite is a sublime series of butterfly matrices that have been burnt in an oven for different periods, arranged in progressively burnt hues, from white through dusty golds to crisp chocolates. The irregularities produced by the burning process (through which, William Du notes, 20 – 30% of their already-folded butterflies are lost) contrasts against the severe order of the matrix.

The works of both Mackintosh and Will & Caro stood out and up within the exhibition. They are clearly artists dedicated to developing not only the ideas within their works but also the processes of their technique – considerate and thoughtful, their refreshingly hand-crafted approaches are a rarity in today’s digital age. They have fascinating stories to tell that transfer powerfully onto canvas, or in their particular cases, preservation board and Japanese paper.

What did we learn?

The Affordable Art Fair is an exhibition fine for a wander, however it can be too hit and miss to be considered a good general barometer of the most cutting edge art being produced in Melbourne and around Australia. We will wait for the Melbourne Art Fair (next taking place in August of next year), which has historically better fulfilled this role, to get a more comprehensive picture.

That said, we nevertheless walked away from our visit on Sunday with an important lesson learnt: the art that appeals to us most is multi-layered, with interwoven nuances creating a work of complexity that engages at first sight, but then continues to reward with subsequent viewings. We think there are plenty of artists and artworks possessing interesting ideas, plenty that reveal a creative eye and plenty that exhibit great technical skill. However, it is a rare thing indeed, and we think a fundamental necessity of good art, for the artist and the artwork to boast all three.

(Purity by Will & Caro)

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