London Art Fair

124 galleries exhibit, only one is Irish. Belfast's Golden Thread represent the old and the new

Held between January 19-23, this year's 23rd annual London Art Fair was the biggest yet. Over 124 galleries exhibited artwork with almost 25,000 visitors browsing the best of modern and contemporary British art in Islington's huge Business Design Centre, a vast space.

Although smaller than the 'cooler' art fair upstart, the Frieze, the London Art Fair (LAF) retains an exciting air and, occasionally, work is sold for huge sums. However, the exhibiting galleries are hugely London-centric. In fact only 24 of the 124 exhibiting are from outside the city, which makes Golden Thread Gallery's presence even more remarkable.

For 12 years the gallery, based in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter, has been hosting international exhibitions, promoting Northern Irish artists and offering exciting new talents a crucial helping hand. Having toured exhibitions across the world – to New York, China and elsewhere – this year's London Art Fair represents yet another forward leap for Golden Thread.

Although their fifth appearance at the LAF, 2011 is the first time the gallery has been accepted into the main space, graduating from the smaller 'Art Projects' showcase area. It's a huge exposure boost for Northern Ireland's thriving contemporary scene – Golden Thread are the only gallery in the main fair from the whole of Ireland.

Credit to the gallery for getting their mix of artists just right. The LAF is known for it's conservatism and a focus on painting and sculpture, but Golden Thread have bucked that trend by including not only a variety of traditional canvas pieces and sculptures, but also numerous photographic works.

Renowned visual artist Victor Sloan's haunting, blue-dominated shots of Craigavon in 1984 are a ghostly reminder of the disconnected, almost dystopian nature of Troubles-era Northern Ireland. But these established works complement those of recent University of Ulster graduate Shaleen Temple, who's photo-journalistic portraits of maids, servants and gardeners, from the series Boys and Girls, examine the fate of black South Africans post-Apartheid: a bold new talent on Northern Ireland's photography scene.

Work by Shaleen Temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The contrast from the insular focus of Sloan's early work and Temple's outward gaze epitomises Golden Thread's mix of old and new. The Troubles are dealt with head on in older paintings such as Gerry Gleason's 'Birdcage' (1984) and Marie Barrett's violent, childlike 'Bishop And F1-11's' (1988). But now, encouragingly, Northern Irish history provides a backdrop to diverse works from artists with an international focus.

Ohio-born Sara Greavu provokes a double take by incorporating global symbols of hate, such as the Klu Klux Klan, in her playful, darkly humorous work. Darren Murray's series of paintings are inspired by destruction - a house on fire ('Shelter From The Ash'), a tornado ('Sweet Love For Planet Earth') and a lion feasting on a fresh kill ('The Shadow Out Of Time') - but they are colourful, almost comforting dreamscapes.

Meanwhile, a great breadth of experimental contemporary work also finds its way into the exhibition. Martina Corry's striking photographs, created by colouring, creasing and exposing photographic paper, give way to works by County Down abstract painter Charles Walsh, whose black and grey 'square' paintings are reminiscient of Sean Tully.

Rising star Brendan Jamison, whose sugar cube sculptures have shown recently at Sotheby's and the London Festival of Architecture, this time works with wood: wooden JCB digger buckets encased in brightly coloured wax litter the floor (pictured above).

Golden Thread have been striving to bring international art to Northern Irish audiences for over a decade now but, here they have succeeded in promoting the talent, vision and variety of the country's artists abroad. Hopefully, London took notice.