Last weekend the Affordable Air Fair came to town, setting up behind the Flyer for the third time since I’ve been living here. This was my second visit; last time I went to the bunfight of the opening night and spent the entire evening being careful not to spill my bubbles on the artwork. This time I went early one Saturday, going along for the ride with the same friend who took me before. She’s an art buff, she knows her apples, and she can recommend what to look for. She can also tell you what she likes and doesn’t like – she’ll give you a polite: ‘hmmm…’ if you show her something unsatisfactory. If she likes it she’ll propel you right up to the exhibit like a member of Miami Dade police at a house raid. While I prefer to dot in and out of the cubicles, firmly telling people I’m ‘just looking’ (as you have to here in the shops to avoid being hassled), ArtFriend is falling over herself to accept those grabbing hands. She gets drawn in by vendor after vendor, asking for cards, adding her name to lists, asking all the right questions, and – in fact – usually walking away with some other stunning bit of kit to go with the growing gallery that makes up her beautiful home. Watching her work the floors is as satisfying as the artworks themselves. Me, I just like to potter.
I did go to art school, actually – ArtFriend was surprised to learn this as we drove away from the show in a halo of good art vibes. Oh yes, I got a degree in printmaking, having spent my second year putting the painting tutor to the test by doodling a series of scrappy Tony Hancock-style feet in ‘simplistic style’ and being heralded as someone funky and innovate when, in fact, I’d just scribbled a few toes. That taught me, and in my third and final year I moved on to screenprinting, where the nuts and bolts of the technique blended with my passion for writing and I completed a series of sarcastic prints that heaved me up and over the precipice (along with a competent thesis) of a shabby Third and got me the 2:2 degree I didn’t really deserve. As a result of my cynicism I didn’t leave college with a great deal of knowledge about or love for modern art, but those years at art school at least left me with an idea of what I like on my wall. I go through phases: it was portraits for a while, and for that I had London’s National Portrait Gallery, a place I now realise I never visited enough. Now I’m in Asia Lite I find myself drawn to paintings of goldfish, for some reason, and I found several of those as I wandered around the galleries last weekend, sipping my free [brand name] espresso.
Although my happiness at blagging a precious ticket to the AAF wasn’t so much about ‘getting something’ but was more about dipping a tentative toe back into the art arena, I did love the venue and I loved the show, room after room of fun, fascinating, clever, poignant and funky pieces of original art, with friendly faces to tell you all about it and that nice free coffee thrown in. In fact I loved about 80 per cent of the pieces on show and after a while found myself seeking out local artists, looking for something different, something fun but not garish, most importantly something to put my current life in context.
I’m never going back with ArtFriend again, that’s for sure – she was far too good at the whole thing. It’s because of her that our dining room wall will, in about three weeks, look substantially more beautiful, and that whatever holiday fund we were hanging onto just went down to zero. It was definitely worth it. The ‘local’ context has ended up being a somewhat more far-off blend of Shanghai and London, but it will do. There are also no goldfish, but the fun theme is there and so is the beauty – it’s going to look amazing, and to top it all off the artist went to St Martins School of Art, where Mum went in the 50s. I think she’d have been happy with all that.
As for naughty ArtFriend, she is banned from taking me anywhere else for a while (though if there’s any more of that free coffee I might come along for the ride).