Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Design Fair @ Somerset House

Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Design Fair @ Somerset House

Review by Laura E. Barone, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London

The Embankment Galleries at Somerset House have been transformed into a vibrant, living and breathing art space for the second year of Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Art Fair. Packed to the brim with established and new talent, the fair includes Pick Me Up Selects, a showcase of international design from new talent in graphic arts, an open studio with designer-in-residence Anthony Burrill, and spaces for several London graphic art collectives and galleries including Print Club London and Evening Tweed.

Pick Me Up Selects features twenty-four designers from around the world chosen by a panel to display their work. The designers range in experience, style, and focus, but one thing is clear: the panel had plenty of talent to choose from. Brighton-based Zara Wood has a stunning display of shimmering gold and silver silkscreen prints of whimsical subjects. One print, a portrait of a thin-browed, big-eyed woman features a boat floating on the side of her immaculate hair like a bow. Wood’s successful Star Gaze Collection for Topshop, featuring tiny girls with large heads and lots of owls hanging about, is reminiscent in her graphic work featured here, but updated in a more glamorous and sharp yet equally playful way. Japanese artist Takeru Toyokura, trained as an illustrator, stands out with his use of felt in the magical children’s scenes he creates. Adding to the innocence and tactile nature of children’s active imagination, the brightly coloured drawn and felt scenes of rocket ships, fireworks, and childhood rambling reflect the magic of seeing the world from a child’s perspective and also mirrors the artist’s unbounded vision. More to see are Victo Ngai’s intricate Japanese woodcut block influenced pieces and Eda Akaltun’s prints with lively touches of film-noir. As part of their acceptance into the fair, each of the twenty four designers was commissioned to make a new print for sale at £20 each which can be purchased at centrally located checkpoints and picked up later. Although the Selects is the most conventional art fair-like aspect of Pick Me Up, the affordable prices, diversity of images, and uncontested skill of the young artists is not.

Right upstairs from the Selects is Anthony Burrill’s ten day studio residency. An independent graphic designer, Burrill’s work, featured from Wallpaper to the London Underground, has a clean-cut and humorous aesthetic to it. His working studio will be receiving plenty of visitors in different media; the open studio schedule is packed with everything from guest DJs to Kinetic printmaking to live photo-booth portraits. Visitors are also encouraged to do their own work of sorts in the space, with various designs, cardstock, and scissors provided to create their own images if the hustle and bustle is not enough already.

The graphic art collectives and galleries are perhaps the most unique part of the fair. Some line the more narrow upstairs hall of the space, while others have a more open feel a floor below the Selects (with a stocked Robert Ryan shop near the downstairs exit). The artists are available to speak to, or are busy making more t-shirts, plates, mugs, and prints as they sell. Many went to university together and are part of a tight-knit community resulting in a distinctive and genuine art school feel – and it seems sincere; one of the artists from the newer collective, Puck, gushed about being surrounded by his artistic heroes. Events are going on here, as well: in It’s Nice That’s generous space will be a daily drawing event where ten illustrators must create a work in under thirty minutes which will then be sold at £35 each. Walking through the space of the collectives is rather like wandering through art studios rather than shops, each with their own distinctive and lived-in feel. This is, admittedly, helpful in creating an atmosphere for people wanting to buy – seeing a tote bag get printed and then waiting for it to dry while chatting with the artist is as close as an experience one is going to get to the design and the designer. But, it doesn’t seem contrived -there is a real sense of excitement not only in the prints, but the people making and buying. The sense of community, cutting-edge vibe, and playfulness of the collectives make art school seem like the best thing that could happen to anyone, and the graphic artists the ones to follow after graduation.

Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Art Fair continues until 27 March at Somerset House. Visit Somerset House for more information and event programming.

MVM Rap Face (2010)
Portrait study, personal work
© The artist