Not a second-class way of collecting: The London Original Print Fair celebrates its 25th anniversary

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The Independent Online

This Thursday, the longest running original print fair in the world will return to the Royal Academy of Arts, bringing with it 67 leading UK and international exhibitors and a collection of works ranging from Canaletto’s etchings and Hogarth’s engravings to rare linocuts by Picasso and new works by Maggie Hambling. Now in its 25th year, The London Original Print Fair has gone from strength to strength with more exhibitors and visitors than ever before.

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Helen Rosslyn, Director of the fair for the last 23 years explains: "At the beginning, we had just 16 exhibitors and it was a really specialist fair. But what's happened over the last few years is that it’s become much more mainstream. People have begun to understand that an original print is actually a work by the artist, rather than a reproductive print of a painting."

The difference is crucial in that a lot of artists have condoned somebody making a limited edition photographic reproduction of one of their watercolours or oil paintings, signed it and thus created a signed, limited edition print. But this is not an original print. An original print is guided by the intention of the artist, who has set out to make something on one surface and transfer it to another.

As Helen explains: "whether it's a screen print or a lithograph or an etching or indeed a digital – if that was always their intention, that is an original print."

Naturally, you will only find original prints at The London Original Print Fair, and these are sold by only the best and most reputable dealers, says Helen. At this year's Fair, many of the founding exhibitors will be exhibiting work: Picasso expert and private dealer in Old Master and Modern Prints, Frederick Mulder will be showcasing 25 rare linocuts by Picasso, priced between £250 and £25,000; New York dealers, Hill-Stone Inc, return to the Fair with a selection of Old Master and Modern Prints, including etchings by Rembrandt and Pissaro.

Meanwhile, one of the first contemporary galleries to sign up to the Fair in 1987, Pratt Contemporary, will be showing work by Mark Hayward, Hugo Wilson and Marcus Rees Roberts. Another of Pratt’s artists, Ana Maria Pacheco, will give a talk on drypoints as part of a new annual event staged by Pratt Contemporary, Artist in Focus.

The Fair has really helped to bring more awareness to printmaking and its importance in the working lives of artists such as Ana Maria Pacheco, says Susan Pratt of Pratt Contemporary. "The London Print Fair has helped to educate people. Artists make prints for the purpose of the medium, but through that they’re discovering and their work is evolving. Artists approach it as seriously as they would a painting or a sculpture – it’s just as important."

Printmaking may be as important to the artist in their work as a painting or sculpture (it is after all quite a technically demanding process), but with several prints made in each edition, it can also provide an affordable way for younger (or poorer) collectors to snap up a piece of original art. This year, for example, Mark Hayward has created a special collectors' edition of 75 prints priced at £50 plus vat each as a way of introducing his work to young collectors, and prices elsewhere at the Fair will range from £100 to £100,000, giving opportunities for all levels of buyer.

With such wide opportunity and an increased awareness of the artistic value in an original print, the Fair has attracted more and more interest. Last year, there were 10,000 visitors and, says Susan, it has "probably made a lot of new collectors." It's for this reason that Helen now has to turn away many galleries, dealers and publishers clamouring for a place at this most prestigious of events. That's not to say there's no new blood at this year's Fair: alongside the founding exhibitors present in 2010, new participants from New York, Mary Ryan Gallery and The Old Print Shop will be in attendance, as will international dealer, Israel Goldman, a specialist in Japanese prints.

The 25th anniversary will be celebrated with talks, a print trail through Burlington Arcade and a loan exhibition from the British Museum Print Collection, featuring prints that have never before been on public display. Meanwhile TAG Fine Art has commissioned emerging artist Adam Bridgland to produce a screenprint for the anniversary, available at the TAG stand for £250.

"It's really exciting," says Helen, who is looking forward to seeing what the exhibitors bring, "we've striven to put prints out there" and people now realise that "they're not a second class way of collecting at all."

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

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