London Art Fair 2016: Wood

Menacing, cute and odd artworks inspired by the natural material

Wandering the stands within the London Art Fair, which has returned to the British capital for its 28th edition this January, consistently delivers an eye-opening experience. As usual, the show features an abundance of contemporary and modern British art, from stalwarts like Damien Hirst to the new talents showcased in the latest edition of the XL Catlin Art Guide. But this time around, visitors could be forgiven for choosing to ignore the myriad paintings on show, in order to focus on sculpture. Among the playful sculpted pieces on offer, a striking number had a decidedly outdoorsy vibe—whether depicting tools and Mother Nature, or simply using wood as a material.

At Union Gallery, James Hopkins showed his intriguing piece “Inner Light” (2014), made from water, glass, candle and wood. At first glance the piece seems to consist of two candles on either side of the window pane, but when walking around the piece, viewers realize that one “candle” is a water glass, in which the light from the other is reflected. Hopkins is great at subverting everyday items into something slightly abstract and absurd, as is evident in his nearby piece “Scaled Ladder,” where the wooden structure supports increasingly smaller stones.

Ryder Richards’ “Chekhov’s Hammer” at Decorazon Gallery features a hand-carved wooden handle decorated with gold-leaf. The artist calls it his “magical book hammer,” and it was one of the more fun ways of using wood we saw at the fair. The work ostensibly plays with the idea of beating knowledge into someone, and manages to make one of the most utilitarian tools around, the hammer, look positively pretty.

One of the best sections at the London Art Fair, Art Projects, aims to show some of the most exciting, new art from around the world. Rotterdam-based art “label,” All Together Now, in collaboration with London-based The RYDER, showcased axes by Fraser Stewart, who is currently the artist in residence at De Rijksakadamie in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Stewart’s axes look frighteningly real and sinister, lying in a row on the floor—but the menace is merely symbolic. They would break if you were to use them, as the works are made from ceramics.

Malene Hartmann Rasmussen’s trees are also made from ceramic, but couldn’t be further from Stewart’s realistic depiction of wood. Surrounding a cutesy rabbit, her fairytale like forest, seen at Jessica Carlisle, also features ceramic snails and flowers, and walks a thin line between adorable and unnerving.

Some of the most striking sculptures at the entire fair were Sasha Sykes “Caliology” works at the OliverSearsGallery. The delicate birds’ nests encapsulated in resin could have looked morbid, but instead functioned as a reminder of the beauty to be found in nature. The Irish designer creates artworks, lighting and furniture with a “rural twist,” and her pieces represent the perfect merging of the artificial and natural.

London Art Fair is on now through 24 January at Business Design Centre (52 Upper Street, London).

Images by Cajsa Carlson