On July 21st Toovey’s Auctioneers and Valuers host their annual Contemporary Art Auction at their Spring Gardens salerooms in Washington, West Sussex. The auction is an eagerly awaited event for many collectors and connoisseurs of contemporary art and follows the preview exhibition “Off the Wall” at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery.
While most art auctions deal with the resale of second-hand works, this auction is unique, as it offers new works entered by the artists themselves. This year, event organiser Nicholas Toovey has selected 150 works to showcase fifty of the best emerging and established contemporary artists around, the majority from Sussex. He describes the collection as “a diverse and eclectic mix of styles and media that really highlights what is being produced today.” The variety on offer is testament to each artist’s individual approach to his or her subject and medium. The sale offers paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs and ceramics, with a third of this year’s roster of artists newly sourced and appearing at the auction for the first time.
One of the artists new to the event is Elizabeth Jardine from Brighton. She has steadily been developing her work since graduating from Falmouth College of Art in 2003. Inspired by long walks in the countryside, her paintings are quiet and meditative, often views through wooded paths with flickering light dancing across the canvas. Alongside her 2-D work, and equally important to the artist, are her papier-mâché sculptures, three of which have been selected for the auction. ‘Owl’ is a typical example of her 3-D work, where the wonkiness of cardboard and the energy of torn paper transform into characterful birds and animals full of life and spirit.
Nicholas looks all year round for artists with the right dynamic to keep the auction fresh and different from previous sales. He carefully balances new participants with past contributors that patrons of the event have grown to know and love, such as Chris Kettle, Carolyn Genders, Paul Cox and Eve Shepherd.
Richard Davidson has been a regular contributor to the auction over the years. This year he has entered three original oils on canvas based on the extraordinary ordinariness of everyday things. Prior to training as an artist, Richard had a legal career in London. This obviously still influences his subject matter, as much of it relates to the accoutrements of white collar work in the city, but as he quips: “the precision and attention to detail required as a solicitor made it unlikely that I would ever be an abstract painter.” A typical example of his work entered in the auction is ‘Wellington Boots’, which shows his attention to detail and his typical solid colour background, creating the strong contrasts characteristic of his oeuvre. It does not show the link to working in the city in the same way as his other two works but perhaps, after living in Graffham for the last eleven years, life in the country is slowly altering his source of inspiration.
John Evans is among the fourteen ceramicists participating in the sale. The Worthing-based potter is a member of the Sussex Guild, the Craft Potters Association, London Potters and the Southern Ceramics Group. His work is largely in ‘naked raku’, an involved and lengthy process, which culminates in using the effects of smoke to decorate fired clay forms. While raku can be produced in a variety of colours, the orangey background on the three pieces John has entered is a result of using a local clay as the slip. In fact for these works the clay was literally dug up from his own garden in Worthing. John burnishes all his pieces before the initial firing, which leaves them incredibly tactile with an unrivalled smoothness.
The auction has been described as “the best Contemporary Art Auction to be held in the South East.” This is largely attributable to the family-firm ethos of Toovey’s, combined with internationally recognised expertise and Nicholas Toovey’s personal passion for promoting the arts in Sussex. With works estimated from £50 to £8000, Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auction 2012 aims to be accessible to all, offering a friendly and enjoyable way to get involved in the contemporary art market. A fully-illustrated catalogue featuring interviews with each participating artist is currently available. The majority of works are on display at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery in their preview exhibition “Off The Wall” until July 7th. All works can then be viewed at Toovey’s Spring Gardens salerooms on Friday July 20th between 12 noon and 5pm and on Saturday July 21st from 3pm until the start of the auction at 6pm.
Nicholas Toovey’s article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in July 2012.