Now in its seventh year, Somerset House's annual Pick Me Up graphic arts fair is occasionally – pre-emptively – written off as a run-of-the-mill student-cum-upstart festival.
That's bunkum, of course; for the most part, the work on show – especially that by solo practitioners – is strikingly accomplished, imbued with humour and (hopefully) prescient of emerging themes in graphic arts we'll see more of in the coming years (by which we mean: more immaculate type design and evocative print work, less cartoonish skateboard and streetwear art, please).
The show was roughly separated into three parts: 'Selects', comprising 13 artists (including duos) specially selected by an industry panel, straddling both geographic territories and disciplines; 'Collectives', which featured a host of print studios, galleries, agencies and groups exploring contemporary trends in print design, applied arts and ceramics; and – perhaps the biggest draw here – a retrospective mini-exhibition on the work of lauded typographical journeyman Alan Kitching (at which the man himself was providing print demos).
First, to 'Selects'. Though all of the work on display had irrefutable appeal, several artists particular piqued Wallpaper's interest. Of immediate note was Alice Bowsher's bold illustrative work; definitely Shrigley-esque, however uncool that might be to admit, but influenced equally by Charles and Ray Eames as Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes, an unexpectedly perfect proposal in anyone's book. Bowsher created a number of large, hand-made lithograph prints for the fair, as well supplying fascinating working drawings and dainty cartoon marionettes.
Perhaps the most visually striking of the 'Selects' offering, the Brighton-based illustrator Camilla Perkins drew on African sub cultures – particularly, the text explains, from a fashion perspective. The vivid, kinetic work displayed a technical screen printing approach as meticulous as the imagery itself.
A graduate of the RCA's class of 2012, Rachel Lillie exhibited a range of cod-historical folk artefacts and a melancholy, bucolic illustrative series based on the theme of 'in-between', that proved to be the entire show's quiet highlight. The illustrations, particularly, were lovely; drawn from walks around the outskirts of London (in particular Epping Forest), their micro-vistas retained a quiet resonance, hanging between the past and present, and quite apart in atmosphere from the more expansive journey-based work of walking artists like Richard Long or Hamish Fulton.
Springing into life every ten minutes (quite unexpectedly the first time, doing nothing for nervier visitors), Isabel + Helen's Alexander Calder-influenced assemblage's could equally have been pulled from the modernist garden of Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle. The 'mini orchestra of musical misfits' were redolent of children's robots, with a ramshackle DIY appeal that belies, perhaps, the duo's wider practice of working with big-name corporate brands.
Elsewhere, Charlotte Mei – who was also supplying live drawing commissions upstairs – created outré objects variously inspired by Drake, Pokemon and that ubiquitous icon of low-rent retail culture, the Sports Direct mug. A pink ceramic 'reclining worm' sculpture and a clay covered mobile phone (presumably the manifestation of the Drake reference) were highlights, but it was a delightfully irreverent offering in a wider curation already flush with humour.
In addition, the collections of working drawings and inspirational ephemera on view in display tables dotted throughout the space were particularly interesting, not least because we're so rarely afforded the chance to see material of this kind from young artists in the early stages of their careers.
Upstairs, the 'Collectives' area was more conventional in concept, but Peso Press' interactive (and hugely popular, given the queues) bespoke type setting system was a neat idea, and there were typically hip offerings from Heresy, Nobrow Press and Beach London (though the latter's exploration of the Museum of British Folklore in the form of the 'Cuckoo's Nest' project was an interesting sideline), as well as a wealth of start up printing initiatives. Best of all were the collected works of east London's Clay Collective – a recently formed group of artists and artisans creating an irresistible range of ceramics, from the wantonly shonky to the classically refined; Sophie Alda's characterful ersatz-Grecian vases and head planters possessed a particular irrefutable charm.
Last, but definitely not least, the fair was tied up with the aforementioned exhibition on the hugely influential typographical designer Alan Kitching, entitled A Life in Letterpress (the show was also the launch for a new illustrated biography of the same name, published by Laurence King).
A defacto centrepiece of the rooms was a huge, archaic press – the appearance of which belied the vivid, modern and densely stylised breadth of Kitching's collected works. The biggest draw for many visitors was a live demonstration of the press by Kitching himself – a rare chance to see a true master at work, reeling off 'Utopian-themed' artworks that occupied the liminal spaces between figuration and typography.