Cambridge Art Fair 2017

An amateur artist's visit to a professional art show.
Today (EDIT: this is very late, the show was in November 2017...) marked my annual pilgrimage on the bus into Cambridge to visit the Cambridge Art Fair at the Guildhall, right in the centre of the city beside the market place. It’s a great location for a prestigious art event – surrounded by the architecture of famous Cambridge College’s such as King’s and neighbours with the Grand Arcade shopping centre – there are a number of reasons why you would make your way into the heart of Cambridge on a cold November Friday to see a great collection of original art.

The Art Fair is primarily a selling event – all works are for sale and all stands take card payments – but for me, being an artist just starting out it is an amazing opportunity to explore the vast range of art currently available from UK artists and some of the finest contemporary galleries. The diversity of what’s on offer is staggering; oils, watercolours, acrylics, mixed media, pastels, drawings, pen and ink, sculpture, bronzes, traditional, contemporary, abstract, plein air, surrealism, realism, landscapes, portraits, nudes, still life’s, seascapes, cityscapes, sunsets…….it’s all there in every shape, colour and size. So where to begin?

I’m going to take a look at some of the works that particularly impressed me for a number of reasons. It may be the colour palette used, or the brush marks and texture, or it’s the atmosphere that it creates and the way it makes me feel. Or it could just be that it looks stunning and needs no explanation!

Spring, oil on canvas, 36in x 36in, £4000

First off is this brilliant oil painting by Cornwall based artist John Piper (Spring, oil on canvas, 36in x 36in, £4000) on the Eleven and a Half gallery stand C1. ( It is striking in its use of ochres and red and thick layers of paint, scraped and dug into to create the detail. I love the proportions of this – the buildings in the background are so high up the canvas you think it shouldn’t work but some of the foreground detail has been created so that it links into the buildings, leading your eye up towards the focal point. It’s a clever painting, with hints of the underlying layers peeking through across the canvas.

Karen Stamper Collage

I love colour and it doesn't get any more colourful than the work of Karen Stamper. Karen uses collage to produce bold, layered works of art which although look like paintings are actually very elaborate and complex in depth and texture. Her work was displayed on the Darryl Nantais Gallery stand.

Chris Prout, 'Hot Day Ending', acrylic on panel, 25cm x 20cm, £650

Next up is a favourite artist of mine – Chris Prout, who is based in Northamptonshire but paints the landscape from Wales to the Norfolk coast and beyond. Always expressive and textural, his paintings have so much movement in them that you can’t help but ‘feel’ the atmosphere of the place he’s depicting. This painting, ‘Hot Day Ending’ (acrylic on panel, 25cm x 20cm, £650) is a perfectly formed little landscape and shows everything I love about Chris’ work, and was exhibited on the Robert Fogell Gallery stand.

‘La linea’ (Selenium toned gelatin silver print, 50cm x 40cm, £795)

I really like black and white photography so it was great to see the work of James Sparshatt on the Capital Culture Gallery stand. This image ‘La linea’ (Selenium toned gelatin silver print, 50cm x 40cm, £795) is wonderfully composed, highlighting both the strength and intimacy of dancing. This photo is part of collection called ‘Passion of Tango’.

So what did I think of this year's show?

I thought the standard of art on show was outstanding. There was every technique, medium and subject matter to see, and it was great to meet some of the artists too, like en plein air artist and gallery owner Andrew Farmer. I had seen Andrew's work on Instagram previously so it was great to finally chat with the artist himself.
I always find the lighting in the Guildhall inadequate at the show but that is probably down to my poor eyesight! Some corners of the room appeared very dark and the work displayed could only be viewed from certain positions because of the lack of room near the stage. That being said, it's incredible how much work is actually displayed in the main hall. The side room feels a little detached from the main show with only a few exhibitors there. It does however benefit from being where the cafe and the VIP areas are so I would assume there is good footfall for the exhibitors there. I do wonder if a bigger venue where everyone could be together would be of benefit to the show but the big issue is where is there another suitable, central location? The only one I can think of is the Corn Exchange, which is much bigger and know doubt far more expensive to hire for a number of days. Perhaps it's the intimacy that makes it a really great show; gallery owners are always very friendly, love to chat about the work on show and let you get really close up to see the details. It didn't matter whether I'm a buyer or not, every single stand greeted me the same way which was very nice.

Final thoughts: If you're in Cambridge in November and you love British art, make a visit to the Cambridge Art Show a must do. Sign up to their mailing list to get free tickets to the event and connect with the event on social media. One for the diary!