• James Stewart

Fairground Pop by Tom Farthing at LAF 2022

Updated: Nov 17

We are pleased to present a new series of paintings by Tom Farthing for Platform at the London Art Fair 2022.

In this article we look at the curated area, Platform, at the London Art Fair 2022, the them of music in contemporary art and our part in it.

Then we describe Tom Farthing's interpretation of the theme and the paintings he will include in Fairground Pop.

We also present a brief overview of Fairgrounds and their associated music in contemporary popular culture. This section shows how the sounds of the fair, alongside the rides, are used to heighten the combined senses of pleasure, excitement and even terror!

Finally, we take a look at Tom Farthing and his work to date as an emerging young artist, showing why he is uniquely suited to responding to this year's theme at Platform for LAF 2022.

VIP Tickets, Preview Invitations & Complimentary Tickets at London Art Fair

We will have:

  • 25 VIP invitations for the Preview on 18 January (2-9pm) plus a programme of other benefits

  • 25 Preview Evening (digital) Invitations for the 18 January (5-9pm)

  • 50 Complimentary E-tickets for the Fair from 19-23 January

[Each ticket will give access to two people]

[All Preview Invitation holders must register online to book a time slot]

Please let us know if you would like any of these and we will try to allocate tickets to you as requested. Email james@zimmerstewart.co.uk

In any event please put the dates of the Fair (19 to 23 January 2022) in your diary to see Tom Farthing’s Fairground Pop paintings.

Platform at LAF 2022

Each year the London Art Fair’s curated section Platform, features invited galleries presenting well-known, overlooked and emerging artists whose work aligns to a single distinct theme.

In 2022 Platform is curated by Candida Stevens, and will explore the theme of Music and its part in contemporary visual art. There will be ten galleries taking part in Platform, presenting one or more artists responding to the theme of music in contemporary art.

Candida Stevens says "Music has been inextricably linked to the fashions, expressions and entertainment of mankind since the beginning of time. Music and fine art have borrowed from each other for centuries through a combination of pure inspiration, collaborations and appropriation. Visual art and music are allied in the way their movements are titled and they share terms, like mood, tone, composition. Importantly they share a purpose, to inspire and provoke, both our minds and our mood."

We see music as a significant influence in the history of art. Gustav Klimt praised Schubert, Arnold Schoenberg was inspired by Wassily Kandinsky’s abstract forms, and Morton Feldman worked closely with Mark Rothko. It is affiliated with the rise of modernism and is an inseparable factor in the rise of Pop.

There is plenty of evidence that music and visual art have a long-standing connection and mutual endorsement, which is unsurprising. Across art forms and materials, artists working in various styles refer to the movement, rhythm and other elements of music. Even when visual art and music do not overtly influence one another, they can share abstract qualities without having direct communication. Visual art and music share common cultural influences, including societal, political and technological. With contemporary craft and contemporary art increasingly occupying a shared space in both exhibitions and collections, we look at the range of music inspired visual art being made today.

In 'Fairground Pop' Tom Farthing draws on images of Fairgrounds to produce a series of paintings, in bright Pop colours and style, to evoke the music and sounds that are inextricably imprinted on our memories, evoking a mix of emotions.

Slide, oil on linen, 184.5 x 144.5 cm by Tom Farthing

'Fairground Pop'

Tom Farthing's paintings reference familiar imagery that we can all relate to and on seeing them we recall not just the feelings of excitement and nostalgia, but also the sounds of loud music on each ride - hubbub and cacophony.

Since the late 1950's in the UK fairgrounds evolved to play contemporary popular music rather than the more traditional organ tunes. The latter were used for many years and were designed to mimic the sounds of a band of musicians. It is then not surprising that with the advent of the wide use of vinyl/recorded pop music the old organs were replaced with the new electronic versions.

At the same time, Pop Art was evolving in the UK, from its roots in the USA. See our Blog post on 'Pop Art Editions', which explores the evolution of Pop Art in more detail.

Amongst the early artists that shaped the pop art movement were Edoardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton in the UK, and Robert Rauschenberg & Jasper Johns among others in the United States.

Richard Hamilton famously said in 1957:

“Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short term solution), Expendable (easily-forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big Business. . .This is just the beginning. . .“

The same could be said for the way fairgrounds in the UK developed music as well as the art that was painted on all available surfaces!

The combination of music, bright colours and movement envelop visitors into a fantasy world of excitement.

Tom Farthing has created a series of small, medium and large paintings and several associated ceramic sculptures. His source material is his own photographs.

One large painting, ‘Slide’, oil on linen 185 x 140 cm (see above) shows a bright colourful bouncy slide. The structure is striped reminiscent of a musical scale or chord. Although the bouncy slide completely fills the canvas, Tom Farthing includes several figures, he was “attracted by the relationship between the figures and the structure and how they are depicted”.

Stripes have appeared in Farthing’s works for some time now, starting with a similar ‘Circus’ series from 2019.

In this and the other paintings Farthing uses light brushstrokes with some washes, the bright bold colours are balanced not garish.

Variations I-IV, oil on linen 100 x 85 cm by Tom Farthing

Variations (see above) are a group of paintings which use the same source material but are each treated differently to create individual distinct compositions.

As with musical variations on a theme, certain elements are recognisable across all the works.

Some Variations are more abstracted than others, each could represent different times of day, or days.

In all of the works there is a tension between the excitement, absorbing, fantasy of being at the fairground that we all experience and the sense that something could go wrong – Are we really safe on the rides? Are the screams we hear in terror or joy? Does the music serve to heighten this tension and so add to the excitement?

Fairgrounds and Music in Popular Contemporary Culture

The Fairground has often been used in contemporary (music) culture as a metaphor to evoke either memories or emotions (both pleasure or terror).

As the National Fairground and Circus Archive, University of Sheffield states that “Music and lighting has always played a vital part on the fairground. At night the enclosed magic of the fairground comes into another dimension with loud music, illuminations flashing against the painted boards, carved icons, and glimpses of machinery and shows on display."

This all creates a 'dream-state', whereby fairs allow a suspension of disbelief, enhanced further with the night-time atmosphere. Everything seems more electric and scintillating.

The Archive continues "The enraptured enclosure of the fair is maintained, but powerfully lit areas contrast with darker spots, and the passage around the network of rides and stalls becomes something of a magical adventure in itself.”

'Fairground' by Simply Red was released in 1995, as the lead single from the Simply Red's fifth studio album “Life”. It topped the singles charts in the UK, Ireland and Italy. The music video was filmed at the “Blackpool Pleasure Beach” amusement park near the Fylde coast.

The song is fairly sentimental, and speaks of valuing friendship and enjoying their company at the 'fairground', see sample of the lyrics below.

Driving down an endless road

Taking friends or moving alone Pleasure at the fairground on the way

It's always friends that feel so good

Let's make amends like all good men should

Pleasure at the fairground on the way

Walk around, be free and roam

There's always someone leaving alone

Pleasure at the fairground on the way

Hitchcock’s 1951 thriller, ‘Strangers on a Train’, uses the fairground sights and sounds to increase the tension between the two main characters.

The film uses the duality of two characters and mounting anxiety throughout between light & dark, good and evil.

In the fairground scene, the two main figures are shown on a moving carousel, lights and loud music adds to the tense atmosphere. Moreover, the director takes perverse pleasure in having the viewers believe that when Miriam is being murdered in the ‘Tunnel of Love’ that she is only screaming because her friend tries to flirt with her.

In 2017 Ian Trowell argues in "The Fairground Noise" that although travelling fairgrounds are a worldwide phenomenon, there are distinctive factors that give fairgrounds a unique national flavour. In the UK this uniqueness, apart from the relatively short duration of events is the celebration of pop and dance music alongside the "iconographic excesses of celebrity, film, and cartoon culture." Trowell continues "These factors combine to give the spatial, social, visual, olfactory, gustatory and acoustic features to the British fairground."

He expanded on this theme in his 2018 article "Music Genre and Subcultural Artwork on the Post-war British Fairground". Here he looks at the development over time of the "intricate crossover between pop music and the British fairground.

Ian Trowell spent some time in 2015 researching fairgrounds. He found that certain acoustic patterns could be identified:

  1. Constant sound (such as the music, at excessive volume, which plays all of the time)

  2. Cyclical sound (running with the pattern of the ride and also including cycles within cycles particularly with thrill rides which will have peak moments of speed or inversion and are accompanied by loudest or most consistent screams at these points) and

  3. Intermittent sound (these include the electronic and human effects instigated by the operator and will be emitted to generate custom or within the ride cycles as effects to boost the experience of the ride).

It should also be noted that in an earlier article in 2016 "Collision, Collusion and Coincidence: Pop Art’s Fairground Parallel, Visual Culture in Britain", Ian Trowell looks at fairground art arguing that it is "dynamic and experimental", allowing it to break away from the restrictions of popular visual art. He includes a quote from Geoff Wheedon's article from the Sunday Times in 1981 "All the Art of the Fair":

Fairground art serves as "the repository of the public imagination, the guardian of its favourite heroes and heroines, the reflection of its aspirations, its desires and its nightmares’, moving it further away from a simple and naive classification."

Tom Farthing

Tom Farthing studied at the Ruskin School then obtained an MA from Chelsea College of Art, in 2013.

His work is concerned with reimagining figurative painting in a contemporary context.

In 2017 he undertook a residency at NES in Iceland and in 2020 he completed a two year participation in the Turps Banana Studio Programme. This programme provides a dynamic structure of mentoring, peer-led learning as well as stimulating debate through discourse & practice.

For Fairground Pop, Tom Farthing refers back to his Projections Exhibition at Zimmer Stewart Gallery in 2015. Here he presented a series of paintings based on discarded Kodachrome slides found in a market in New York. This source material provided a glimpse into family life. Because Tom knew nothing about this particular family it freed him from the usual constraints associated with portrait painting from life.

In Projections Tom Farthing’s paintings & etchings were a response to the past, but also in projecting possible narratives and alternative realities for today. In a broader sense, these portraits and family scenes, are about identity, and in so Farthing is holding a mirror to society.

At the time Tom said “My work is engaged with painting the past at the same time as imagining a way forward for painting in the current fast-paced image-saturated world”.

Tom Farthing cites his influences as Alex Katz for his friends/family portraits as well as other American artists including Fairfield Porter and Richard Diebenkorn: those artists who worked between abstraction and figuration. In terms of other influences Peter Doig and Michael Andrews as well as Alexander Calder’s circus sculpture.