Pick Me Up Graphic Arts Festival 2016, Somerset House

From 21 April until 2 May Somerset House is being taken over by the top emerging and established names in illustration and design as part of the seventh annual Pick Me Up Graphic Arts Festival.

This year’s theme – community within the graphic arts – inspired by the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, is present throughout the festival; however, one of its subtler and more interesting manifestations is in the design of the space itself. For this latest iteration London based risograph printer and publishing house Hato have designed a digital tool allowing the public to create and submit their own letterforms, and it is selections from the over 6,000 submissions that makes up the festival’s signage.

This is fully representative of the attitude and creativity of the event as whole which, split into several areas, involves visitors in a wide range of graphic art.

The first section, Pick Me Up Selects, occupies the downstairs gallery and showcases work from the best young graphic artists from around the world having graduated within the last three years. The range of work here is broad, and highlights include the simple but stylish black and white illustrations of Alice Bowsher, Marie Jacotey’s cynical, angsty, and often sexually charged music poster-style images, and Camilla Perkin’s intricately patterned and brightly coloured images based on African sub-cultures. There is also innovative work from design duo Isabel & Helen, with their Alexander Calder inspired self-playing instruments, and from Charlotte Mei, who combines ceramics and other older design technologies with newer, digital media. This is, though, only to mention a small selection of the work on display, much of which is also for sale.

The upstairs space is dedicated to spotlighting a wide range of collectives, galleries and studios, with many of these selling their wares and also providing opportunities for artists and visitors alike to create work. On display is everything from posters to tee shirts to stationary, with special mention going to Clay Collective, a recently formed group of artists from Hackney Downs Studios with a selection of beautifully minimal ceramics, who will also be hosting pottery workshops throughout the festival.

There are many such opportunities at Pick Me Up, with visitors invited to try their hand at a whole range of design practices including screen-printing their own tee shirts and tote bags.

If any more inspiration were needed, the second downstairs section of the space contains a retrospective of the life and work of Alan Kitching, who has spent five decades at the cutting edge of typographical design. Displaying a huge selection of prints, the retrospective traces Kitching’s career from minimal beginnings as an apprentice at his local printer, to partner of a prestigious and prolific studio, and his eventual decision to return to his roots, employing the letterpress and its limitations to spur on fantastically original work.

In addition to the festival’s core sections, events will also include workshops in bookbinding, comic drawing, and sign painting, as well as spaces in which visitors can see featured artists at work. With so much to see and do, Pick Me Up worth a visit for both industry professionals and lay people, and certainly for those wanting to pick up pieces from the forefront of contemporary graphic art.

Ned Carter Miles

Pick Me Up: Graphic Arts Festival at Somerset House runs until 2 May  pickmeup.somersethouse.org.uk

1. Installation views of Pick Me Up 2016 at Somerset House © Kevin Meredith.