Walk into the Affordable Art Fair for an afternoon of browsing and buying, and find yourself transfixed by the many paintings and drawings, photographs and sculptures that line the walls of The Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City.
It’s not long before you realize you’ve traveled the world in a single afternoon. First stop? A fishing village in Ghana (acrylic on canvas). Next up? A pagoda on the quiet banks of Jeju Island in South Korea (pastel on paper). Final destination? A beach chair atop the dunes of Bondi Beach in Australia (digital e-type photograph).
And, despite your travel preferences, you’re not flying solo. Along for the ride are thousands of art enthusiasts and hobbyists, teachers and students, parents and children.
“Nearly 20,000 people will pass through our doors over the next five days,” said Cristina Salmastrelli, fair director by day, art junkie by night. “This is truly a fair for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a college student who wants to try something different on a Friday night, or a retiree who is starting a new hobby—this show will turn you into an art lover… if you aren’t one already!”
For 16 years, the Fair has made affordable art—ranging in price from $100 to $10,000—accessible to over 1.6 million people across the globe.
“I think the show’s success has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve created an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming. The exhibiting galleries are eager to speak with and inform our visitors—a sense of transparency transcends the entire event,” she said.
Before starting at the Affordable Art Fair four years ago, Salmastrelli spent five years working with the Outsider Art Fair, which focuses on self-taught artistry and art created by those on the fringe. She drew several parallels between the two shows, noting that many of the artists featured at AAF have little to no formal education or training.
“Close to 15% of our artists started their careers by teaching themselves,” she said. “Using few tools and basic techniques, they are creating artwork that not only inspires, but truly speaks to people. It’s a very special thing.”
Each year, one artist from an exhibiting gallery is selected to serve as the Fair’s official Artist-in-Residence, creating original, impromptu artwork over the course of the five-day event. It was no surprise that this year’s featured artist was a proclaimed self-taught painter.
“When we were first approached about the Artist-in-Residence program, we immediately knew it had to be Piero Manrique. His art and personality resonate so well with the open and educational feel of AAF,” said Stephen Tanenbaum, Co-Founder & President of UGallery.
When we asked Piero how New York had influenced him as an artist, he told us that when he arrived from Peru at the age of 13, he didn’t speak any English.
“I really relied on my art during middle and high school to find my voice and express what I was feeling,” he said. “I don’t sketch anything first. I just paint free hand.”
“Piero creates paintings that embody the energy and endless opportunities of New York. He is truly a testament to the power of the ‘American Dream’ illustrated so vividly in his paintings,” noted Stephen. “As a self-taught artist dedicated to his craft, he has quickly risen to be one of UGallery’s most successful artists.”
Piero wasn’t the only self-taught artist at the show. London-based Linda Blackstone Gallery showcased a number of pieces by self-taught sculptor Bernard Saint-Maxent, whose lack of formal training has allowed him to experiment with new materials and integrate new techniques into his creations.
“When I first saw Bernard Saint-Maxent’s work back in June 2008, I was struck by its naive charm and originality. I was delighted to learn that he was a self -taught artist, as this meant his work was his own and had not been influenced in any way along the line,” said Linda Blackstone, gallery owner.
Each of Bernard’s pieces contain one or more figurines that have been superimposed onto aluminum, giving movement and life to his sculptures. His inspiration is taken from the burlesque scenes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and, funnily enough, he insists that each of his figures be adorned with a pair of spectacles, one of which can be seen in the picture below.
“Even if the subjects he covers don’t always make you smile, they are nonetheless treated with humor and a zest for life,” Linda said.
standARTe, a contemporary gallery representing Spanish and European artists, put the spotlight on Jacinto Moros, who constructs 3D geometrical designs using paper and heat. By heating the paper and then melding it into various patterns, he creates a visually appealing piece, even if it is somewhat esoteric.
“The minimalistic tools and techniques he uses are associated with self-taught artistry,” noted Cristina. “And all of his pieces are up for interpretation—what I see is completely different than what you might see.”
Art Angler, a private gallery in Manhattan’s East Village, also highlighted the work of a Spanish painter, Xavi Carbonell.
“Xavi is a self-taught artist who creates fun, fresh, powerful pieces that grab the attention of just about everyone who passes by,” gallery owner Jason Dick said. “He actively paints like a child and leaves his artwork untitled, so his viewers can create their own stories.”
It’s hard to walk past one of Xavi’s paintings and not smile. There’s a kind of freedom that shines through in his work that really speaks to people.
“I don’t see anyone else doing what Xavi is doing. He has created his own vocabulary. He’s speaking his own language. I think that’s what makes his work appealing to such a broad audience,” Jason said.
With so many diverse artists using such a wide array of methods and techniques, “it is truly an exciting time to share inspiring, thought-provoking works with New Yorkers,” noted Cristina. “Each year, I hope to encourage more of our city dwellers to join us and experience first-hand how easily-accessible art can enhance their lives.”