“The Northern art scene is booming.” Thom Hetherington, CEO of Manchester Art Fair
It’s more than a decade since Thom Hetherington, founder and CEO of Manchester Art Fair, was told that a consumer art fair would never work in the North. Since then, Manchester Art Fair has welcomed in excess of 76,000 visitors, hosted live works from artists such as Pure Evil, and delivered more than £5 million of art sales including pieces by Tracey Emin, Dan Hillier, Peter Blake and Grayson Perry.
As the three-day event prepares to return to Manchester Central for its 12th edition on November 19, demand for original art across the region has never been greater. Thousands of visitors are expected to attend the fair, sponsored by White Circle interior design, and it promises to be the largest yet with over 130 galleries and artists exhibiting and a whole host of art classes, talks and activities on the line-up.
Hetherington says: “We’re really excited to be bringing Manchester Art Fair back to the city this month. Our audience of art lovers will be able to buy works from some of the region’s most exciting galleries and artists, as well as those from further afield, and there will also be an opportunity to learn about the latest trends in the art world.
“One of the hottest topics this year will undoubtedly be the growing market for NFTs – an exciting new way to acquire and collect art. Experts will be on hand to demystify the concept of NFTs and provide advice on how to go about buying them [Non-Fungible Tokens are units of data stored on a digital ledger, and can be bought with cryptocurrency]. Those who are looking to explore opportunities to invest will have a chance to acquire NFTs from a number of galleries and artists who will be exhibiting at the fair.”
Over the past 12 years, Manchester Art Fair has provided a platform for the best home-grown talent. Although COVID-19 restrictions meant it was unable to go ahead as a physical event last year, the Fair has continued to connect artists and galleries with passionate art buyers and collectors through its online site, EASEL, which launched at the start of the pandemic.
Hetherington explains: “EASEL was set up within six weeks of the pandemic hitting as our way of supporting artists and galleries, and I’m proud to say that, from a standing start, we have sold over £50,000 of art through the platform. In our experience, it’s clear that the pandemic hasn’t quashed the North’s passion for supporting great artists and purchasing great art.”
The continued growth and success of Manchester Art Fair and EASEL suggests that the market for original art is thriving in the North. But that wasn’t always the case.
It was in 2007 when Hetherington and his partner Sophie decided to buy “a proper piece of art”, having inherited a small amount of money. And it was during their search that the first seeds of Manchester Art Fair were sewn.
He says: “There were probably about three commercial galleries where you could buy art in the city centre at that time, and they were all quite old school. They were frequently shut and sold a very specific sort of work, and I just found it incredible that it was so hard to buy art in Manchester.
“I spoke to friends of mine in the art world and who were all London-based, and they said, memorably, there are no galleries in Manchester because no one buys art. I said I absolutely refused to believe that. I said no one buys art because there are no galleries. It’s about access, it’s about habit, it’s about people feeling comfortable, confident and familiar with the idea of buying art. In my eyes there was no way that an art fair could not work in Manchester, so we decided to launch one.”
About Manchester Art Fair
Manchester Art Fair started at Urbis in 2008, or Buy Art Fair as it was known then, and has since established itself as one of the UK’s most ambitious art fairs, enabling artists based in the North to build an audience of buyers, collectors and patrons who share a real connection to the city of Manchester. In turn, it has helped to generate a market that has helped other commercial galleries to flourish within the city.
Since its conception, there have been a number of new openings in Greater Manchester, including Saul Hay Gallery and Contemporary Six, as well as artist studios Paradise Works and PINK, all exhibiting at this year’s fair.
Manchester Art Fair moved to Spinningfields in 2011, then to Old Granada Studios, before relocating to Manchester Central in 2017, the event’s planned forever home. As Manchester Art Fair flourished, the event gained the support of two of the art world’s most respected individuals, Tate director Maria Balshaw, then director of The Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery, and Frank Cohen, one of the top 200 art collectors in the world.
In 2017, Hetherington created The Manchester Contemporary Art Fund. Set up by a group of local businesspeople passionate about their city and its cultural heritage, the fund seeks to support rising artists, providing them with a platform through which to achieve critical acclaim and greater popularity.
Since it was established, the fund has gifted nine pieces of work from galleries at the Manchester Contemporary to the people of the city, worth a combined £16,000. It is now the largest philanthropic art fund in the North and has acquired incredible pieces of art by talented emerging artists for Manchester Art Gallery and the people of Manchester.
As for this year’s Manchester Art Fair, among the North West artists joining the line-up is mixed-media artist Janet Mayled, who trained in textile design at Manchester Metropolitan University and spent her student years living in South Manchester. Using mostly acrylics, dyes and pastels, her work explores complex pattern and colour balance, vividly capturing subject matter, ranging from urban landscapes to still life.
She is joined by accomplished Manchester artist, Ian Rayer Smith, whose work is influenced by the emotional rawness of the Abstract Expressionists and the composition, light and movement of the Renaissance, layered with inspiration from contemporary culture and his own personal experience.
Altrincham-based Amanda Mulquiney-Birbeck is another local artist to look out for at this year’s fair. A figurative painter whose work has been shown in galleries, event spaces and published in industry-leading magazines, she is known for contrasting candy colours with gold leaf, and incorporating refined blended painting techniques with looser gestural brush marks. Her work often features young, glamourous ‘women with attitude’, set in shallow spaces and offset by a feeling of melancholy.
Manchester-based graphic artist, Nick Chaffe, will also be exhibiting his fun, bold and colourful work, which fuses together icons from the past and present to create new symbolic meaning.
So, what are you waiting for? Manchester Art Fair starts at the end of the week.
Committed to supporting artists of all levels, Manchester Art Fair also provides a platform for students of Manchester School of Art and Salford Art School to showcase their work in a professional setting.
The full list of galleries and artists, along with a preview of some of the work, which will be available to buy, can be seen on the Manchester Art Fair website.
The fair opens with a launch night at Manchester Central on November 19, 2021, from 5-9pm, followed by public days on November 20 (10am-6pm) and November 21 (10am – 4pm).
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