Interiors: a backdrop to art, or the art itself?

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The Independent Online

Earlier this month, The Affordable Art Fair took place in Battersea Park, attracting over 23,000 visitors looking to snap up a piece of contemporary art for under £3,000. Founder Will Ramsay said it was one of its best years yet, but these days traditional sculpture, prints or paintings aren’t the only way to bring the work of top contemporary artists into your home. Nor the cheapest. Increasingly, sought-after artists are turning their attention to the interiors that once served as a mere backdrop to the art - and at a price we can all afford.

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Take Liberty, which last year launched its Art Collection range of fabrics, fusing the work of six established British artists with creations from the much famed Liberty Design Studio. The contributing artists included Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry, Paul Morrison, Mike McInnerney, Michael Angove, Anj Smith, and Simon Hart. Priced at an eminently affordable £19.95 per metre, these fabrics allowed fans of the artists to buy into their work, even if that work was then displayed on a cushion as opposed to a canvas, a blind rather than a print, and was bought in a shop instead of a gallery.

"Why shouldn't people lower down the scale have art?" says Alistair Archer of Creatively Different Blinds, who this March has launched a series of signed, limited edition roller blinds, featuring the work of internationally recognised pop artist, Deborah Azzopardi. "Deborah has got a reputation. Her originals are selling at £10,000 plus and her limited editions at £1,100 plus, but for £550 odd quid, no more, you could have the same thing on a blind."

The series, entitled "Flowers Quartet" includes six different colour schemes, each of which is produced only 55 times. Individually numbered and signed by Deborah, each edition is accompanied by a Certificate of Authentication, just like a real painting or print by the artist.

"This is the first time I've ever done anything other than fine art prints. It makes such a change for an artist," says Deborah. "I just think it's really neat that you can change a whole room by pulling down your blind. And only 50 odd people can have it – that's a scoop."

It's certainly a way of broadening art’s appeal – the exact thing that Will Ramsay set out to do when launching The Affordable Art Fair – but with boundaries between art and decoration becoming increasingly blurred, has the democratisation of art gone too far? And by putting their work onto functional objects in the home, are artists somehow devaluing it? "I don't think so," says Alistair, "if there is that backlash – it's once again the snobbery of the art world showing itself. It's like buying a good piece of furniture: you just have to look after it."

It's also up to you what you do with the blind, he points out. If people want to treat it as a piece of traditional art rather than using it as a blind, "they can put it up on their wall or, god forbid, just cut it up and frame it."

Stereotypical notions of home decoration, or indeed art, it seems, have no place in today’s world and if you thought that blinds, fabrics or wallpapers were functional at worst, decorative at best, or that art only belongs in a frame, then you were wrong. Walls Are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture is the first major UK exhibition of artists’ wallpapers, open at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery until 2 May, and aims to challenge the notion of wallpaper as a quiet backdrop to your art. 30 modern and contemporary artists, including names such as Andy Warhol, Sarah Lucas and Damien Hirst are featured in this exhibition, and each has used the conventionally subdued, tasteful and strictly decorative form of wallpaper to express far from muted messages about warfare, racism, cultural conflicts and gender.

By blurring the boundaries between art and decoration, more people can enjoy and appreciate the work of top artists, and engage with their interiors in a new and unusual way. But be careful not to miss the boat. While Liberty's Art Collection is virtually sold out, there’s a good possibility that Deborah Azzopardi collectors out there will snap up the blinds before ordinary buyers have a chance to open their purses. And that, says Alistair, is not the point at all.

Emily Jenkinson is interiors writer for furniture and interior design website mydeco.com.

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