Art Fair East is the major art fair for the Eastern region. The fair was founded in 2015 by leading Norfolk-based artists Will Teather and Brian Korteling. The pair are passionate about bringing contemporary art to the region, supporting artists and creating excitement around the visual arts.
Will Teather is an acclaimed artist, arts writer and lecturer at Norwich University of the Arts who has been involved in the organisation of exhibitions across the UK and overseas and has recently exhibited in New York, Miami and London.
Claire Oxley lives in Norwich, Norfolk, and studied at the Norwich School of Art, and the Universities of Lancaster and Oxford. A synaesthete (which, in Claire’s case, means that colour and sound are experienced interchangeably) she uses environment, music and seasonal rhythms as a starting point for many pieces. Taking inspiration from surrounding landscapes, her starting point is often the passing seasons and wide, changing moods of her East Anglian home.
Writer, Kate Royall, explored their experiences of Art Fair East and their perspective on Norwich’s cultural scene.
Kate: Will let’s start with you – tell us about Art Fair East and how it all started – how did you and Brian dream it up and what was the motivation?
Will: Brian and I were both working artists and had taken part in art fairs around the rest of the UK. The East of England didn’t have any large-scale event like the ones we were attending, and Norwich seemed the perfect place to set one up – it has a strong arts scene already.
The fair was meant to create a focus on the visual arts in the area, bring living international artists to Norwich and encourage the general public to support the artists through collecting their work.
Kate: Claire, tell us about your art practice and how it all started…
Claire: As a child I was very comfortable with drawing and painting. I think that I live in the sensual world probably more than most people – I have a condition called synaesthesia where the senses are blended and experienced simultaneously (sounds, for example, bring about the sensation of colours) and I didn’t realise until I was at least ten that others don’t necessarily associate people they know with certain colours, for example.
I taught art for over fifteen years; it’s incredible how teaching informs and hones understanding and practice.
I photograph landscapes in East Anglia a lot, and these form the basis for my works. Initially I have an idea for a piece, and start by layering paint, letting it dry between layers, usually keeping the colours very ‘clean’, but at a certain point I pay less attention to the starting point and let the painting tell me what it needs. This is often done without thinking too much about it but responding to what’s going on. In this way, I don’t feel that I finish paintings as much as resolve – or balance – them.
Kate: Why did you choose to take part in Art Fair East?
Claire: Norwich is my home city, and I’m incredibly proud (and quite evangelical) about it. I feel incredibly fortunate that such an exciting cultural event is being held here – it is surprisingly hard to find places to show art: there are fantastic galleries, of course, but rarely spaces that you get to ‘own’ for a short while, to showcase work.
Kate: Will, every year thousands of people flock to the fair, why did you choose St Andrew’s Hall as the venue?
Will: The Fair has always taken place at St Andrew’s Hall – it is a spectacular building with lots of natural light and located in the cultural quarter of the city centre near other galleries and Norwich University of the Arts.
Kate: Claire, what does St Andrew’s Hall mean to you?
Claire: In the 1990s, I was fortunate enough to be part of the fantastic Norfolk Youth County music scene – my goodness that shaped my teenage life in so many hugely positive ways. As a French horn player, I got to tackle symphonic greats such as Stravinsky’s Firebird, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, and Elgar’s Enigma Variations. And all of the performances took place in St Andrew’s Hall.
We were very lucky. Such a beautifully proportioned building in the heart of medieval Norwich. Music still plays a big part in my life, and inspires a lot of my work, so this feels like a magical link. We artists are lucky to be able to put our art in there.
Kate: What’s in store this year at Art Fair East – will we see a mix of local talent and visiting artists?
Will: We certainly will. We have exhibitors due to come from as far as India and Mexico alongside a wide range of talent from the East of England.
We have many well-loved local artists such as Claire alongside others including Patricia Robinson and Damian O’Connor – bringing paintings and sculpture to this year’s fair.
We also have some excellent galleries such as Hunter Gallery from Bury St Edmunds and Clifton Fine Art from Bristol who stock everything from pop art to contemporary landscapes and bronzes.
From further afield we have international visitors including Nandini Sharma, a talented realist painter from India and the creators of the collaborative MILANDELATORRE – Sofia Milan and Ricardo de la Torre from San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
Brian and I are artists ourselves and will be bringing our latest works to the fair. Although my studio is based in Norwich, I often send my latest creations straight to shows in London and New York, so it is a rare chance to see my freshest ideas closer to home.
The variety under one roof is one of the joys of the fair, plus the chance to meet many exhibitors in person. I would encourage people to talk to the artists and experts on site at the exhibition, you will find them really friendly and likely gain some fresh insights into their work.
Kate: Claire, what’s in store for your stand at Art Fair East – what will we see?
Claire: I’m preparing my stand a bit like an interior space – painting it a beautiful dark bronze hue and dressing it as one might one’s own home. Hopefully this will give visitors an idea of what my paintings might look like in situ, so to speak.
And, because I am obsessed with colour, I will be bringing my collection of paint charts so if visitors wish, they can come to me for advice about placing paintings with interior design.
Other than that, visitors can expect semi-abstract landscapes that chart and describe the seasons, skies, seas, moons, fields, flowers, and foliage of the area: canvases of energy and flux. I hope that visitors to my stand will enjoy the vibrancy and energy emanating from the canvases – they are designed to bring inspiration and joy.
Kate: What is it like to be able to chat to visitors to your stall at Art Fair East, to make those connections, and talk directly to visitors and other exhibitors?
Claire: One of my very favourite things, when setting up an exhibition or gallery space, is the moment when people start to come in. It’s quite extraordinary how paintings can open up conversations about other things – in the space of about ten minutes, I feel that I know the visitors very well.
And then, wonderfully, there are the art lovers who follow me on social media – with whom I’ve already built a connection – who come to say hello in person. That’s always very special. Similarly, the other artists – we do also follow each other on Instagram and the like – it’s uplifting to finally meet them in person!
Because I paint numerous commissions every month, having visitors to my space means that if they don’t see something that’s absolutely what they want for their home or office, we can have an invaluable discussion about what they do envisage, using the paintings on display as a stimulus. I absolutely can’t wait for it all to happen!
Kate: How long does it take you to prepare for the event?
Will: All year!
Claire: I use layering in my paintings – it’s a really important element of the pieces. This is one of the reasons I use good-quality household paint: it’s high in natural pigment, dries overnight, and I can work into it, putting glazes and coats one over the other, building the image and considering the result at each stage. For this reason, it’s very hard to say how long each one takes.
Often, though, the best paintings happen very quickly. It would be wonderful if they were all like this! So I suppose my response is that each painting takes several hours, plus thirty years’ experience.
Kate: The Fair is now one of the standout art events in the city, how does it fit into the burgeoning cultural community?
Will: The art fair is unusual as an exhibition both for its size and the fact so many artists are on site. Art Fairs are the perfect place for people to buy a piece of art for their home- there is everything from small prints to investment pieces on display.
Kate: As an artist based in Norwich what do you love about the city?
Claire: The independent nature of it! Norwich, being out on a geographical limb, is wonderfully self-sufficient in nature. This doesn’t mean that it is unaware of wider influences, but what it does embrace is a very specifically regional vibe.
This has a terrific effect on the venues – you get so much here that’s not available on the high street of every city.
Will: Norwich is a very creative city that has a longstanding association with the arts. The city is teaming with galleries, an arts university plus hundreds of artist studios and creative businesses. Over the years Norwich has spawned many artists, art movements and some important exhibitions.
Today, the arts here have an independent spirit and their own micro-movements of particular styles. That makes for a city that is full of makers and art lovers, providing a (generally!) friendly and liberal community who frequent the many excellent pubs here. Plus, it’s near the coast and the broads.
Kate: Over the years, how has Art Fair East evolved and what do you think the future might hold for it?
Will: The fair has grown in reputation within the artworld- we have an increasing number of returning galleries from around the UK. This year will see our first kinetic artist taking part – I think the range of artforms will increase further over the coming years to include not just painters and sculptors but more digital work.
The event will also probably grow in size and attract more visitors from outside of the region.
Kate: Claire, how do you see your practice developing in the future?
Claire: I am working towards a large solo exhibition in Ely, at Babylon Arts, which will open in April. Entitled A Folk Song Suite, it’s a series of works based on areas of East Anglia that have a musical connection (think Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Imogen Holst, Nick Drake); my master’s degree was in Music, and I find that there is an interesting and engaging shared language between composition and the visual arts.
I think that my work is getting even more rooted in specific areas of the region, and perhaps slightly looser, somehow.
Kate: If visitors want to make a day out of their visit to Art Fair East, what other cultural hotspots might you recommend…
Will: The venue is near St Benedict’s Street which has lots of lovely eateries and pubs, and there is the picturesque Elm Hill. The cathedral and its grounds are well worth a visit, as are the local museums.
To find out more about Art Fair East the programme and exhibiting artists click here
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