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Woolwich: How Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair continues to evolve

Lizzie Glendinning talks art, factory spaces and continuing to deliver work people can easily own

Print Fair co-founder Lizzie Glendinning
Print Fair co-founder Lizzie Glendinning

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Shiny golden phalluses are not a conventional start to a business. But why be dull? The glimmering appendages provided the catalyst for the birth of Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair, which is set to return from November 11-18.

It brings 700 original artworks to the area featuring famous names, hot new artists and images of everything from folk tale-inspired etchings, to the naked human form and abstract pieces created using control and chance.

“We were invited to bring a cultural activity to Woolwich as a one off,” said Lizzie Glendinning who founded the Fair in 2016 with artist husband Jack Bullen.

“We installed this quite controversial Italian sculpture by Samuele Sinibaldi in the former Canon Carriage Factory.

“It got people talking as it featured golden phalluses on a tree. People either loved or hated it, but we were invited back nonetheless.”

The couple already ran Brocket Gallery together and had gained attention for their New Collector Evenings, which used original print to encourage people to talk about and buy art.

Inspired by that ethos they ran a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, contacted printmakers they admired and set-up the inaugural fair, with no budget, in two months.

“Filling a huge abandoned former factory was a huge undertaking and we thought original print would be the way because there wasn’t anyone doing that specifically with contemporary work,” said Lizzie.

“The redevelopment of the buildings was something we really wanted to mirror in the history of printmaking, the industrial nature of it and the process.

“Jack and I are big fans of the Venice Biennale. They have used fine art to regenerate old factories. We thought: ‘How come no-one has done this in London because the buildings are just incredible?’.

“One of the reasons we decided to invest in the area was because of Crossrail – my background was working in Mayfair galleries and we wanted to bring the best of that genre here.”

The Arc Of Knowledge by Samuele Sinibaldi
The Arc Of Knowledge by Samuele Sinibaldi

The fair has now usurped their gallery business and takes 12 months to plan. Lizzie will be breaking boundaries again by curating the entire event from more than 300 miles away in Northumberland.

The couple moved there just before the first lockdown and Lizzie is now pregnant with their second child so unable to make the long trip to the capital. 

But in a fortuitous twist, the cancellation of last year’s event means they already have the technology in place. 

“It was a last-minute decision in September 2020 to cancel,” said Lizzie. “Our whole year had gone towards building it and there were lots of people involved and some wanted us to keep going.

“But it would have completely ruined us because we went into lockdown. So we’re really lucky we decided to go online. 

“We worked with a company called Kunstmatrix and were one of the first Fairs to do an interactive walk through design.

“We had a lot of other big fairs calling us to ask about it and people recognised we had done something quite unique.”

Lizzie will use the technology to curate the artworks online and then her team will install them over two days at Woolwich Works. The physical fair is returning with a flourish, taking over the newly restored former Fireworks Factory at Royal Arsenal Riverside.

 “Woolwich has really evolved in the time we have been there,” said Lizzie. “We are going into our third building in six years because the other ones have all been redeveloped – this one is stunning. 

“The abandoned building we were in before was very cool because it had that gritty aesthetic, but when the artworks are of such great quality, it really elevates them to be in this gorgeous building. It’s a fresh start and feels like we have stepped up to a new level.”

Detail from Love Of Seven Dolls Princess by Liorah Tchiprout
Detail from Love Of Seven Dolls Princess by Liorah Tchiprout

Half the fair will be booths curated by specialist galleries and the other half filled with works chosen from an international open call.

As a result, the fair represents around 350 artists directly and takes commission from their sales.

“It’s unique in terms of art fairs, which generally rent booths to galleries so they only give access to artists who are already represented,” said Lizzie. 

“We had about 4,000 applications for the open call and a panel of industry experts, including Gus Casely-Hayford from V&A East and artist Andrew Martin, chose the work.

“It makes it a completely democratic process and a big surprise for us, while keeping it fresh and fair.” 

All the artists who applied are eligible for a new Art In Business scheme, which offers online workshops in marketing as an independent artist, wrapping and packing work, biographies and personal statements.

The fair is also running the Young London Print Prize for the second year, bringing printmaking workshops to 1,000 children in London primary schools including Greenwich, Thamesmead and Hackney.

A panel of sixth form curators will choose a shortlist to showcase at the event, with an awards ceremony on November 11.

Detail from The Caramel Contessa by Toby Holmes
Detail from The Caramel Contessa by Toby Holmes

Lizzie’s own love of print started as a schoolgirl thanks to her art collector father and she wants to share that passion with everyone.

“The risk with the term ‘print’ is people think its just digital and printed off a computer,” she said.

“But there are mediums like etching or lithograph, monotype, so many different styles and textures and technical application of ink or paint. You need to see it in real life to appreciate the layers and paper. If it’s on a screen it’s flat and you don’t see the intricacies or subtleties. 

“The tactile nature is something we have tried to reinforce through the mantra of the fair, which is about the evolution of technical process and pushing the boundaries and reinterpreting these traditional processes.

“A lot of people will come thinking it is like posters and then they will see artists at work and appreciate the technicalities a bit more.”

The fair is laid out with stories and themes for people to follow to help make the event more friendly and engaging.

Detail from The Spirit Of The Three-Piece Pine by Evgeniva Dudnikova
Detail from The Spirit Of The Three-Piece Pine by Evgeniva Dudnikova

“I first did that in 2019 when I had just had a baby,” said Lizzie. “I was really into illustrative art and things that were beautiful for children because I just wanted Daphne to be surrounded by beauty.

“This year Jack has done a couple based on literature and books and fantasy. I think that’s because he reads all these books to her.

“What we don’t want is to make it too academic. We don’t want to frighten people with terminology that might be inaccessible.

“We want people to recognise a narrative running through or maybe make one up for themselves.”

Lizzie advised fledgling collectors to grab a drink, talk to the artists and pick a theme to follow rather than trying to view everything.

They are giving visitors a helping hand with an art and interiors section, a talk on women in print, curator tours, family printing workshops and artist demonstrations. 

A New Collectors’ Evening on November 12 will include advice from industry leaders, a DJ set and complimentary cocktails. Online they will be using #findartthatfits so people can snap a pic of their space and receive suggestions of works that might fit into it.

There will also be edits of prints under £100, £300 and £500 and the Fair has partnered with OwnArt so buyers can pay for a print for as little as £10 a month.

“The nature of print is that you can get an original artwork at a lower price or enhance a collection by bringing in a really well known name,” said Lizzie.

“It is a less intimidating step into contemporary art and you can’t buy bad at the fair because it has all been curated or chosen by these industry experts. We really want to become the place to go for contemporary print.”

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Canary Wharf: Summer Lights work by Liz West is perfectly placed at Cabot Square

Hymn To The Big Wheel fuses Spice Girls and Massive Attack just across from Boisdale

Artist Liz West at Greenwich Peninsula - image Charles Emerson
Artist Liz West at Greenwich Peninsula – image Charles Emerson

You’d struggle to find a more appropriately placed artwork in London than Liz West’s Hymn To The Big Wheel. Installed in Canary Wharf as part of its Summer Lights festival, featuring 11 works placed across the estate until August 21, the walk-in structure at Wren Landing is composed of vertical, deeply coloured panels for visitors to interact with.

While the work is visual in nature, it’s sound that links it by coincidence to Cabot Square, just south of its location – where restaurant and live music venue Boisdale Of Canary Wharf has played host to both pop sensation Mel C and, more regularly, reggae powerhouse Horace Andy. 

“If you Google me you’ll find out I’m the Guinness World Record holder for the biggest collection of Spice Girls memorabilia in existence,” said Liz.

“I hired out my collection to museums when I graduated and that’s how I managed to become an artist full-time, so every piece of my work owes something to that. 

“There’s also the idea of every piece being a self portrait, that the colours are borrowed from my obsession with music videos in the 1990s, that garish, Britpop palette.

“I’d always liked strong female artists and, in 1996, I was 11 – the target age. I remember watching Top Of The Pops one day – they came on and I was like: ‘These are for me’. I heard the first few lines of Wannabe and I thought, this is exactly representing me – they were all individuals, loud, girls-next-door and not necessarily wealthy.

“To a girl from Barnsley who wanted to strive for more, when seeing that I felt that if I worked hard enough and was passionate enough, I could achieve what I wanted to.”

Visitors can enter Hymn To The Big Wheel - image Matt Grayson
Visitors can enter Hymn To The Big Wheel – image Matt Grayson

Before cueing up a Spotify playlist packed with Spice Girls hits for your visit to Summer Lights, Liz’s contribution actually takes inspiration from another 1990s source.

“I love music and dancing, and I grew up with music around me,” she said. “I always try to find a bit of a double meaning to give more substance to my titles, so this one is a reference to Massive Attack’s Hymn Of The Big Wheel from Blue Lines, and if you listen to the lyrics in that song, it talks about the Earth spinning on its axis and how we all go by, day by day.

“I thought that was a wonderful sentiment, because this is a piece of work aiming to be a sundial, and that’s caused by the Earth revolving, and the ‘Big Wheel’ being the planetary system, with our planet going round its star – ‘hymn’ shows this work is also an homage to the Sun. 

“I would love people to walk into the work with the sound of Massive Attack playing – they might start dancing and become performers within it as they move around it.”

And that’s especially appropriate for its location as fellow trip-hop nerds will know the lead voice on that track is Horace Andy, whose quavering, high-pitched tones, as mentioned, have regularly blasted out from Boisdale’s stage, prompting audience members to get to their feet, just a few hundred metres away.

As for the work itself, Hymn To The Big Wheel has been a long time coming – an opportunity for Liz to revisit an idea originally conceived for a completely different place.

“It’s two concentric octagons – a piece I’ve had in the back of my head for a long, long time,” she said.

“When I was first invited to submit a proposal for Spinningfields, Allied London’s property in Manchester in 2015, I had this drawing for an octagon pavilion which had coloured clear walls, just transparent block colours, not stripy in the way that it is now. That drawing was proposed and developed into something that was affordable at the time. It was my first piece of outdoor, public art, and, working with fabricators for the first time in my life, it was a big milestone for me in terms of my practice.

“The piece ended up going from being an octagon, to a tunnel to a prism structure, and that was due mainly to structural issues, like snow-loading and wind-loading in a Manchester winter.

“When I was asked to propose a piece for Summer Lights I didn’t know what I was going to do so  went through all my drawings and stumbled across one I’d made six years ago.

“I asked myself how I could bring that up to date and I was listening to that Massive Attack track at the time and it all kind of slotted into place in a really nice way.

Inside Liz West's Hymn To The Big Wheel - image Matt Grayson
Inside Liz West’s Hymn To The Big Wheel – image Matt Grayson

“Then it was about placing one colour overlapping another to get visible colour mixing happening in front of people’s eyes. 

“All my work is about the theory of how light behaves – in this case a sundial – and how colour behaves.

“I get lots of samples of the exact material, and I layer them over each other in a very methodical way – starting with the reds and putting every single colour over them, then the oranges and so on.

“At the back of my head is the thought that there are a number of panels in the installation, so I need that number of colour mixes. Then it becomes a matter of detraction – taking away colours that I don’t feel are working together. There’s an element of instinct within that as well.

“This world is full of grey granite, silver metal and reflective glass – that’s how most buildings are being made. I guess I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, that’s important to say, and randomly – choosing to live in grey, northern cities and towns – Barnsley, where I grew up, Manchester, where I live now and Glasgow, where I studied – my antidote to living in these wet, grey, northern cities is to self-remedy by creating these really vivid works. 

“The feeling I want people to have when they encounter my work is meditative, for it to be about them. I don’t want to describe to people how they should feel. Everyone speaks the language of colour, no matter what your race, sex, age or background – it’s universal.”

Find out more about Liz’s art here.

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