Alice Lubbock provides the lowdown on this year’s smorgasbord of screenprints and oddball characters
Somerset House is the unlikely host of an even unlikelier sort of fair – one exclusively selling graphic and illustrative print work. Visitors normally expecting to see a Monet painting or a Van Gogh portrait over in the Courthauld Institute, can now be redirected downstairs where a smorgasbord of screenprints and oddball characters awaits them.
Pick Me Up was started 3 years ago, and this is their biggest edition yet. Its first year was a timely reaction to the overbalance of cold, CGI, or digital art that then seemed to be taking over the visual arts scene. But the third edition operates in an altogether different context, with current trends now aligned with the Pick Me Up’s artists, and hand-made, kitsch artworks – with that all important personal touch – being all the rage.
This helps as well as hinders the Pick Me Up manifesto. There are plenty more buyers and gallery owners interested in championing these graphic artists, but there are also now much more of them around. This is also due to the increased popularity of art college courses in Illustration, Book Arts and Graphic Design, and indeed many of the exhibitors at Pick Me Up are recent graduates. They occupy the upper concourse, which is devoted to collectives or studios that ‘represent’ a number of print-makers or illustrators.
Puck Studio are all University of Bath graduates and showed at last years’ Pick Me Up as a collective. Now they have acquired a base in Dalston they are a studio. Having scoured talent from around South West England, they present one work by each chosen artist hangs off a cardboard ‘tree’. Every print is in an edition of 20, and to purchase one, you simply pluck it off the tree’s branches. This is the first of many innovative display-solutions around the show, which all give off the same ‘hand-made’ or temporary feel that the whole show embodies.
Landfill Editions is next. A more established name (around since 2009, they are an independent publisher of ‘zines’, artist books and comics who stock all over the world, but are based – you guessed it – in Hackney) they manage to stand out this year, havng produced a collection specifically for the fair, of works inspired by Eduardo Paolozzi. Plates, bags and textiles chime nicely alongside brash prints featuring crazed cartoon animals. They have named the collection, ‘Lots of Pictures – Lots of Fun’ after one of Paolozzi’s silkscreens, possibly predicting (knowingly or not) the ensuing week ahead at Pick Me Up.
Ship of Fools is a gallery based in The Hague, and here they are selling well designed zines and art ‘that makes you smile, has a nice set of balls, and is straightforward and honest’, and that basically sums them up…
Two Pipe Problem are addressing a more pressing absence (both at the fair and in current visual culture) – the age-old Letterpress. Until type-writers and then computers, this method and its other off-shoots were our only method of reproducing print; yet it has not been given quite the same ‘trend boost’ as screenprinting or litho, perhaps because it requires a lot more (heavy) equipment and several ‘faces’ of type (oblong pieces of metal with each letter embossed at one end) in order to be of proper use. To rectify this, Two Pipe Problem’s founder, Stephen Kenny, has decamped to the fair and offers letterpress tutorials, including opportunities to reproduce your own versions of his wood-blocked phrases, which are arrestingly displayed up in his allocated area.
Its pleasing that, amongst the trimmed beards, plaid shirts and funky leggings, there there actual teaching and ‘live printing’ going on. Other collectives People of Print and Jim O’Raw, for example, offer interactive printing (of their own designs), with ‘Jim’ printing onto t-shirts in front of your very eyes. There is a danger with so many of these groups being grouped near together, of the artists’ work becoming quite homogenous, and therefore, these ‘bonuses’ (live printing and artists ‘on site’) are necessary to provide demarcation between said groups.
Soho Warriors have brought 20 creatives together, and, inspired by their collective love of football, have created a body of work themed around this. Adrian Johnson’s three bold, printed characters from ‘The Tear Trilogy’ definitely stand out.
A few other collectives are separated from the throng, having been given their own partitions up a small staircase, which definitely gives them an unfair advantage as each group have decorated their rooms in a style in line with the work they produce. Many Hands’ room, for example, resembles a graphic design graduate’s new pad in Hoxton i.e homely but very busy, crammed full of greetings-card-friendly prints, badges and clever, unique screenprints. SOMA are the next room down and give off a similar vibe.
Nelly Duff have done well again to give their collection a particular theme; the Zoo. Anthony Burrill (Pick Me Up 2011’s resident artist) prints are displayed behind creative frames (cage bars, keeping at bay the ferocious animal behind), and the artists have also created bespoke wallpaper for the room.
Print Club London are Pick Me Up’s veteran exhibitors, having been at every event so far. Their commendable emphasis is on the printing process – and every day of the fair they will be reproducing a different print that they have up on display, selling these for only £15 each. The printing press is manned by their talented technicians (who also, as well as established illustrators, have contributed prints), and the process is explained to visitors as it happens. There is, as with many of the studios, a great variety of a design suiting every taste, to choose between.
The artists in residence this year are Peepshow Collective. Their ‘Museum of Objects and Origins’ has been cleverly curated (they reside in the largest room in the fair) to seem like an insane school project finally come to fruition – albeit at an unusually keen, talented school, where all students possess twisted imaginations. The artists’ work, in many medias, has been pooled together to embellish upon an already fictional history, a fantasy dream-land. If you were wondering what the landscape in this land was like, Miles Donovan – an already commercially successful graphic artist – is on hand with his nostalgia-tinged photomontages, while Andrew Rae has illustrated and made models of the plant-life, the man in the moon, and other would-be-Dr.Who-extras that are pinned up, or in cabinets, for you to scrutinize as if in a museum.
Downstairs, rather away from the hubbub (contrasted with the previous two years, when these artists were all along the upstairs concourse) you can find the specially chosen ‘Pick Me Up Selects’ contributors. This is the chance for the fair to showcase particularly exciting and unique creators, who work in a larger variety of mediums and produce collections deemed more ‘art’ than the publishers and printers featured upstairs. There are less works in total but they are all produced with such precision and care.
Zim + Zou are a young French duo who make 3D models out of coloured paper. In ‘Back to Basics’ they bring back the machines from our past – GameBoys, cassette tapes, old cameras – and have chosen only dull fluorescents as the colours (the palette that Super Mario was made for). Phil Wrigglesworth is another selected artist. He is a very talented illustrator and painter, whose harebrained scenarios remind me of the old ‘Mambo clothing’ ad campaigns and t-shirts. Also look out for Yoko Furusho’s adorable illustrations, textural and fantastical, and perfect for an off-beat children’s book.
Exhausted, you finally end up in the shop where, if you hadn’t already bled your wallet dry at any of the many pay-points upstairs, you have another chance to here. One-offs and accessories from the ‘Selects..’ artists are on sale, and Beach London, normally to be found off Brick Lane, have brought down their whole stock of independently published zines, small-print-run comics or artist books and screenprinted magazines (like NoBrow and Lubok – completely beautiful objects) for you to peruse.
As much as it might be hard for a fairly new ‘art form’ to really stake its claim within this historical setting, there is such a large array of creative talent on show, and it’ll be a shame if it seems overwhelming or ‘same-y’ to visitors unfamiliar with this sort of work. There may of course be some truth in the overheard words as I was leaving – that ‘it’s just image image image image image image, you know?’. But then it is also, like Paolozzi’s title coined by Landfill Editions, ‘… Lots of Fun’. Visit Fair
Words: Alice Lubbock © 2012 ArtLyst
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