Turner Contemporary, Margate, Sunday 30th August 2015
photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams
Words and images by Guy Sangster Adams
“I normally have to queue,” said the woman paying for her purchases last Sunday morning at the artisan bread stall in Margate Bazaar, the open-air Sunday market in Margate’s Old Town. “They’re all off buying art,” the stallholder replied.
New to the town and following my nose – which was what had already drawn me to the bread – through the maze of streets of its historic quarter, now creative quarter with its plethora of galleries, eclectic independent shops and businesses, cafés and bars, I turned past the strikingly named and presented Georgian façade of Lady Tesla’s Loose Leaves & Mud. The owner, Roxanne Tesler, describing the how the area used to be 10 years ago, has said that it was, “a bit of a black hole – there was no street lighting, only boarded-up shops and pubs”, and that “you didn’t walk through Old Town unless you had to – or you didn’t care”. Now, with the impetus of regeneration, with the opening of Turner Contemporary in 2011, and the rebirth of Dreamland earlier this year, it’s a very different story.
photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams
Suddenly I emerged from the narrow street into the bright sunlit, Turner-widescreen sea- and limitless sky-scape of the promenade and looking to my left, to Turner Contemporary, on the site of the Romanticist painter’s beloved Mrs Booth’s guest house, I saw that the artisan baker was absolutely right. It was still half an hour before the Art Car Boot Fair was set to open in the gallery’s car park but there was already a queue stretching around the building and all the way up Fort Hill beside it. Everyone was indeed ‘off buying art’.
Sir Peter Blake sitting outside Dylans Mobile Bookstore (photograph ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
Although surreally from my vantage point it looked as though the queue actually lead, Noah’s ark style, to the RNLI lifeboat on its caterpillar tracked tractor and trailer. It had been moved to make way for the artists’ stalls, but also looked like a piece of public art in its own right set against the glass and steel backdrop of Turner Contemporary.
Helen Hayward and Karen Ashton ACBF’s co-curators (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
The flood of people didn’t diminish throughout the four hours the fair was open. Reflecting on the turn-out a few days later, Art Car Boot Fair’s founders and co-curators Karen Ashton and Helen Hayward say, “we were bowled over, it was phenomenal, we’d expected 1000 people – and that in itself would have been a very successful day – but 3000 people came”. Their aim for ACBF, which is now in its 11th year, is that it should enable everyone to engage with art and artists in a totally informal way and “to pick up some real art bargains to boot”; all the artists taking part create special limited editions and sell them in-person at affordable prices.
Ashton and Hayward were not only bowled over by the numbers of people attending but also by how many of them bought artworks and, as Ashton says, “it was such a thrill watching people’s faces; so many people engaged and engaging with the art and artists, whether that was Sir Peter Blake, Tracy Emin or an art school ingénue.”
Sir Peter Blake drawing and signing post-it note stick men (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
In the first 40 minutes after the gates opened at midday, Sir Peter Blake had sold 120 of the 150 limited edition prints he had created especially for the fair – a print of him visiting Margate’s mysterious and ornate Shell Grotto as a child. Once the print had sold out, Blake continued to chat with those queueing at his stall, outside Jeff Towns’ Dylans Mobile Bookstore, charmingly drawing and signing stick men illustrations on post-it notes for anyone that asked, posing for selfies, and generally pervading a wonderfully benign atmosphere – as interested in those who were chatting to him as they were in him.
Vic Reeves (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
Meanwhile such was the queue to buy Tracy Emin’s neon heart, ‘Love is what you want’, limited edition prints from her stall that Hayward had to remove a part of the crowd control fencing at the perimeter of the site and ‘sculpt’ the queue back out along the promenade. Whilst she was doing that, as she told me later, she thought she spotted what would have been the event’s only incident of trouble… a chap in a denim jacket getting in by climbing over another section of fencing. She rushed over to apprehend the rogue only to discover as he turned around that it was comedian, artist, and actor, Vic Reeves. He was trying to circumvent the crowds to get back to his own stall!
Michael Hogben (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
Also manning Reeves’ stall was his good friend and agent for his artworks, the always dapper, valuer, auctioneer, and antiques expert, Michael Hogben. Looking back on the event the day after and picking up on ABCF’s themes of engagement and the availability of great art bargains, he told me, “it was a really good day meeting art collectors and admirers of unique collectable 21st century art, many probably antiques for the future at affordable prices; Art Car Boot Fair do a great job”.
Kate Knight (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
One of the ‘secrets’ to the success of ACBF is that it is clear that the artists and stallholders enjoy the day as much as those attending – Ashton and Hayward aim for it to be “a day when the artists let their hair down” – and this creates a great atmosphere of fun and personableness that is infectious and inspiring. “It’s a knockout event that I’m honoured to be a part of,” painter, drafter, sculptor, Kate Knight, told me, “daring, colourful, and packed with bountiful booty”.
Pin the tiara on Edvard Munch’s Scream (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
The fun and informality of ACBF belies, or perhaps more correctly attests to just how skilled and insightful Ashton and Hayward are in their production of the event, how much work and preparation goes into it, which then enables them within the fair’s carefully curated frame – be that ornate gilt Rococo or smooth brushed aluminium or both – as Ashton says, “to allow a percentage room of anarchy”. Which at Margate, as at all ABCFs, was a necessary percentage given such a breadth of artists, dancers in knitted swimsuits (from Margate’s month-long Tribes Festival) taking any opportunity and taking over any feasible or entirely unfeasible surface to dance upon or Conga line around, a superabundance of well-dressed and at times supercilious dogs waiting for the promenade dog show (as part of ACBF’s 2015 theme ‘dogs in art’), tiaras to pin on Edvard Much’s Scream, and the call-to-arms for children to ‘custard pie the artist’ with paper plates of foam… amongst many other sights and sounds. ACBF’s Margate edition had a tangible air of ‘edge of madness and eccentricity’ to it, which, of course, made it all the more compelling and fun.
Jessica Albarn (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
Jessica Albarn’s Bee Hexagons
There is also a wonderful sense of familial warmth to ACBF, and this was very true in Margate. In some cases this is literal, in that Ashton and Hayward are sisters, Vic Reeves had his children with him, Kate Knight’s mum was helping her on her stall. Likewise for Jessica Albarn, who told me:
“ACBF in Margate worked out to be a great day! The weather held, we had lovely crowd, but also I had my mum and dad with me who were celebrating their 53rd wedding anniversary. My dad was part of Dreamland in the 1960s so they thought it was a good time to revisit!”
Art on a Postcard’s Gemma Peppé and Flo Lees (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
But equally the familial atmosphere exists in a broader sense of informality, approachability/ non-exclusivity, friendships and connections to be made and resumed. This has been wonderfully borne out by relative newcomers to the ACBF family, Art on a Postcard, who raise money for The Hepatitis C Trust (one of ACBF’s two chosen charities, the other being Just for Kids Law), with specially commissioned, signed, limited edition artists’ postcards, are relative newcomers to the ACBF family. As the charity’s Gemma Peppé, explained to me:
“We’ve loved our first year at Art Car Boot Fair; it’s been fantastic for us. We’ve made lots of new friends and artists to collaborate with, like Peter Blake, Rachel Howard, Jessica Albarn, and Vic Reeves who will take part in our forthcoming events and we’ve raised a tonne of money for The Hepatitis C Trust”.
photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams
All the proceeds from Art on Postcard sales go to the charity. The designs on the postcards available at ACBF have been informed by the ‘dogs in art’ theme, and at Margate featured designs by artists including: Rankin, Ray Richardson, Dougie Wallace, Hayden Kays, Cosmo Sarson, Robert James Clarke, Margot Bowman and Benjamin Murphy. “We’ve enjoyed the dog theme” Gemma Peppé tells me, “we even had our own resident English Bull Terrier, Brian, who came along with his pet, Ray Richardson, and joined us at both the London and Margate fairs.”
After leaving ACBF’s Margate Edition, with my head full of so many wonderful and hugely enjoyable sights, sounds, and inspirations, I sat for a while in the sunshine on the new revetment steps a little way along the promenade from Turner Contemporary. Descending elegantly into the high tide, the white stone steps are not only a fabulous place to sit, think, people watch, and enjoy the view that Turner loved, but are also part of the town’s new flood protection scheme. Prior to which the low-lying Old Town was liable to flooding.
Jennifer Binnie and Wilma Johnson’s shared vintage Vauxhall car boot.. and bonnet (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
Retracing my steps from the morning back through the Old Town I found it was now awash with people whose carefully clutched cardboard tubes and reinforced envelopes clearly demarcated them as having been to the Art Car Boot Fair. Not only did ACBF get three times more people at the fair than expected, but as Ashton and Hayward tell me, “there was a knock on effect for Turner Contemporary, who had one of their best ever Sundays with 4500 people through their doors, and also for the Old Town – the traders there were really pleased by how busy they were, and Margate as a whole”.
Jennifer Binnie (photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams)
Whilst considering how to conclude this article, I received a wonderful reply from artist and long-standing Art Car Boot Fairer, Jennifer Binnie to my request for her experiences of the day. At the Margate Edition Binnie shared the ‘boot’ of a vintage Vauxhall (from the heritage collection of ACBF long term sponsor, Vauxhall Motors) with her good friend artist and surfer, Wilma Johnson, with whom and her sister Christine Binnie, she founded the renowned Neo-Naturist performance based live art practice in the early 1980s. The reply she sent me evocatively encapsulates the day:
“The Margate experience was altogether enjoyable from the Airbnb on Saturday night, to driving around Broadstairs looking for Wilma’s lodgings on our way back to London on Sunday evening. Highlights were: discovering the Harbour Lights where you could get amazing cider and beer for £3 a pint! Hanging out with Wilma all day, meeting friends old and new, swapping art for hot dogs when we got peckish, an invigorating swim at the end of the day. And, I even made a small profit! Lots of fun!”
All-in-all ACBF’s Margate Edition was a wonderful slice of seaside bank holiday bonkers-ness. Long may Art Car Boot Fair continue!
photo ©Guy Sangster-Adams
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