When the work of 500 artists collides in one place under the banner of ‘fresh’ you know you’re not about to walk through fifty shades of sepia. Founded in 2017, the Fresh Art Fair Cheltenham 2023 more than lived up to its name, presenting a varied and lively, almost juicy, array of artworks across 50 stands alongside live demonstrations and talks, proving once again that provincial is by no means parochial.
When galleries choose to represent an artist, they’re not taking a leap of faith, they’re taking a bound of joy. Curating a collection is a passion and a skill, a balancing act of style and medium, scale and message, but underneath it lies a conviction that a chosen piece has a positive impact to make in both its appreciation within the gallery space and in its ultimate destination – be it domestic, professional or educational.
This year’s fair paraded an unashamed playfulness and expressed itself in a kaleidoscope of colour presenting an overarching sense that art should be additive. Emma Gibbons’ irresistible handmade resin lollies tapped into the inner child in all of us while the modern philosophy series by The Connor Brothers, although dividing opinion, caused the corners of the mouth to twitch. We all wish we could have come up with the idea.
Perhaps the most delightful thing about the Fresh Art Fair is the way in which the stands complement (and compliment) each other. The fair invites galleries and collectives to exhibit but in placing them cheek by jowl in the Centaur Building they operate as a cohesive unit, radiating energy to visitors who move in a gently appreciative flow, pausing for safe harbour at intervals.
Naturally a piece that stops one viewer in its tracks may be merely peripheral to another. Our eyes were taken with Sakko’s soul-stirring sunflowers, the gloriously uplifting ‘The Bird is Free’ by Rebel Bear and the fragmented nudes by Rico White, a Cheltenham-born artist. Discussing White’s work with award-winning artist and ArtÓ collaborator Lindy Allfrey added a further level of enjoyment.
And this, quite clearly, is the point of the Fresh Art Fair. To enjoy art. It encourages us to be discerning yes, to discuss, of course. But frankly if an artwork doesn’t augment your life – by providing a powerhouse visual, stirring a memory or feeling, bringing external life to an interior living space or sewing seeds for a stimulating debate, there is very little value in it.