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The new kid on the art fair block

Something happened in Cheltenham last spring that raised the game in British art. And that something is happening again in April 2018. Co-founders of Fresh: Art Fair, Eleanor and Anthony Wardle tell their story…

What is an art fair?

In our case, it’s 46 leading art galleries from all over Britain showing 5,000 mainly contemporary paintings and sculptures by 400 artists – all in one place. In an increasingly online retail world, fairs are a vital way for galleries to reach more customers face-to-face.

Similarly, Fresh: Art Fair is a brilliant opportunity for time-poor art lovers to see high quality art from an enormous choice, in a couple of very pleasant hours.

It’s also a relaxed and helpful place for newcomers to contemporary art. Our galleries are experts in their markets. They exhibit proven artists and know how to spot new talent, which means that newcomers, enthusiasts and established collectors can all buy with confidence.

Why host the Fresh: Art Fair in Cheltenham?

We have a gallery there called The Paragon Gallery in Montpellier Street. We could also see there was a gap in the market as there’s no major art fair between London and Manchester.

The Cotswolds is also a fantastic art hub that deserves its own fair, and Cheltenham is just off the M5 and an easy drive from the south and the north, from Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Hereford, Worcester, Birmingham, Oxford and Cirencester. Plus Cheltenham Racecourse is an amazing venue with unlimited parking (and no racing).

Togetherness by Alexei Bazanov, Paragon Gallery

How did the first fair go?

It was extraordinary. We knew we had wonderful galleries showing world-class artists. We knew we had something for everyone – original prints and paintings, sculpture, glass and ceramics from £100 to £50,000.

But an hour before the doors opened we had literally no idea how many people would come and whether they would buy. Then they came, 4,300 of them: “Wow” they said. “This is much bigger than we expected…the art is much higher quality.”

There was a huge buzz. They bought nearly £500,000 of art in three days and one kind art lover was heard to say: “It’s the best contemporary art fair outside London.”

What’s new in 2018?

The name Fresh: seemed like a great idea at the time but it does put us under pressure. So we guarantee that there will always be something new at Fresh. 31 of our best exhibitors are coming back, all of them with one or two new artists and work.

There will be 15 outstanding new exhibitors including six from the Cotswolds, among them the highly regarded Gallery Pangolin, the John Davies Gallery from Moreton-in-Marsh and Art Salon, Bath.

There’ll be a new outdoor Sculpture Park showing some 70 large sculptures by 15 artists. There’ll be bigger and better Fresh: Cafés, a Happy Hour on Friday evening with free wine, new painters and sculptors working live, and new talks each day. And we very much hope there will be many more visitors and a big increase in art sales.

Rendez-vous by Dan Parry-Jones, Gala Fine Art, and Redcurrants by Raquel Alvarez, Paragon Gallery

So, you’re a big event company?

Far from it …we’re a daughter and father on a mission. With the Paragon Gallery in Cheltenham, we exhibit at art fairs ourselves but feel that galleries too often get a raw deal. We wanted to make fairs more affordable for galleries and more accessible for art buyers.

And we do tick the two essential boxes: a daughter with 14 years running galleries and curating exhibitions, and a father with years beyond count in marketing and advertising, some with the art world’s mercurial Charles Saatchi. It was a pretty big risk; all those brilliant galleries making a huge leap of faith. There were some sleepless nights, but it was worth it in the end and we are now in a strong position to build Fresh: Art Fair into Britain’s leading provincial art fair brand.

“FRESH is a great addition to the West of England’s art scene, with lots of high quality work from some of the country’s leading independent galleries – a great place to build an art collection.” – Alison Bevan, Director, RWA (The Royal Academy in the West of England, Bristol)

Fresh: Art Fair will be open at Cheltenham Racecourse from 27 – 29 April 2018. Visit: freshartfair.net

Main image: Founders of Fresh: Art Fair Anthony and Eleanor Wardle with Tweed the dog and paintings by Bruce McLean