A Rocking day in the life of… Fresh: Contemporary Art Fair

We catch up with Ellie and Anthony Wardle, Founders of the Fresh: Contemporary Art Fair. Now in its second year, it looks better than ever, with a showcase of 46 galleries, 400 artists and 5,000 works of art from all over the UK.

So how did the Fresh: Contemporary Art Fair come about?  

Anthony: When Ellie opened the Paragon Gallery in Cheltenham about five years ago, it didn’t take long to realise that there was no major dedicated contemporary art fair in the Cotswolds, nothing really serving the ten county towns and cities that lie within an hour or so’s drive of Cheltenham. There was a gap in the market begging to be filled.

Ellie: As a Gallery we were (and still are) exhibiting at art fairs in London and provincial venues but were not convinced that exhibitors always got the best deal. Fairs are expensive for galleries to attend and organisers’ investment in marketing is not always as good as it might be. So we thought we’d do our own fair.


Fresh cafe

Did you choose your location of Cheltenham Racecourse for any particular reason?

Anthony: Most art fairs are city centre so visitors have to choose between public transport and the challenge of parking. If you’re buying a painting or sculpture it helps to have the car close by. Cheltenham Racecourse is edge-of-town and has pretty much unlimited parking …and it’s free. It’s about 10 minutes off the M5 and it even has the Park & Ride on the premises.

Ellie: Cheltenham Racecourse is one of the most famous in the world with fantastic facilities. They cater for everyone from 70,000 Irish punters (in a day!) to Her Majesty The Queen. The Centaur building is purpose-built for exhibitions, fully air conditioned, well served with cafe’s, bars and restaurants and fully staffed with incredibly helpful Stewards to manage the crowds. They even have their own helipad which will be available to our visitors and our Partner H R Owen is providing a Bentley shuttle from helipad to Fair.


Adventures in a Hat by Irene Jones at the Hybrid Gallery

How many people/suppliers do you work with and what do they do to help you create the fair? 

Anthony: It’s only our second Fair so we still run a pretty tight ship. It’s also very much a family business. Ellie and I do most of the development work and Ellie is curator. I do the marketing and the new outdoor Sculpture Park. Alexis supports us on marketing, Kate on Social Media and Alix on design.  Come the event, we swing in the rest of the family …mother, sister, aunt, brother-in-law, various friends and a team of volunteers.

Ellie: The key to a successful art fair is the venue and the stand building. We have amazing support from The Racecourse and the brilliant Intershell who build and light the Exhibitors’ stands – 46 of them. The Racecourse does all the catering and security among other things, that all contribute to a successful event.


Rendez-Vous by Dan Parry-Jones at Gala Fine Art

What are the fabulous and trickier parts of working as a father and daughter team?

Anthony: When everything is going well it’s wonderful.  When it’s tricky it’s because we both have a slightly mulish gene …my fault I guess …but we also know when to give ground. It works.

Ellie: Anthony has been running his own companies all his life which makes for rich experience. But he’s also used to doing things his way. We’ve found that the route to success is a two-way street.


Papps by Will Rochfort at the Wey Gallery

What’s a fairly typical day for you?

Anthony: About a hundred emails and quite a lot of miles meeting with Sponsors and Partners …they’re very important to us.  St. James’s Place Wealth Management is our headline sponsor and H R Owen Ecurie will be bringing some of their own works of art to the Fair …Aston Martins, Bentleys, McClarens. RRA Architects are sponsoring our new outdoor Sculpture Park. We work with the Royal Academy in Bristol; the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists; Cheltenham Festivals; Bonhams; Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and Gallery; Modern Art Oxford; Cheltenham’s Wilson Gallery and many more.

Ellie: Once the Fair was sold out, the work switched to managing Exhibitors needs. Lots of calls and emails going through the minutiae of stand configuration and working with the stand builders to make sure that Exhibitors get what they ask for. Filling the two artist demo studios and curating the foyer space.


Nasturtiums on a Grey Table by Vanessa Bowman at White Space

Where would you recommend to eat during your lunch break in the Cotswolds?  If you get one…

Anthony: Quite …what lunch break? …it’s normally a sandwich from the Co-op. The Fair office is at the Paragon Gallery in Montpellier, Cheltenham so we might have coffee at The Ivy (right opposite), lunch at Cote, and maybe a glass of something at John Gordon’s at the end of the day.  I live in Bath where Woods Restaurant is my favourite haunt.

Ellie: Regular haunts…Brasserie Blanc and 131 but like Anthony, you can’t beat a glass of something at John Gordon’s.


Edie by Maria Rivens at Byart Art

What’s been the most challenging and most rewarding part of running the fair to date and why?

Anthony: The most challenging was undoubtedly getting galleries to make the leap of faith. A new Fair is a big risk for Exhibitors …they’re signing away several thousand pounds hoping you’ll help them make a decent profit. The most rewarding is having galleries email me everyday asking if we have a spare space or if they can go on the list for 2019.

Ellie: The most challenging was the opening evening of our first Fair last year. We knew we had some wonderful galleries and artists, we knew we had something for everyone …original prints, paintings, sculpture, glass and ceramics from £100 to £50,000 …but we had absolutely no idea how many people would come and what they would think. The most rewarding was seeing 4,300 people come through the doors and listening to them say “wow …I didn’t think it would be this big …I didn’t think the art would be this good”.


Aspect South Malvern by David Prentice at the John Davies Gallery

Any exciting new pieces of art or galleries we should be looking out for in particular this year?

Anthony: That’s Ellie’s department. However, we are introducing a new outdoor Sculpture Park which we think is a first for a UK art fair. It will have 80 outdoor sculptures by 20 artists exhibited by five leading galleries. There will be a rich variety of work in bronze, stone, marble, steel, wood and other media, from emerging artists to members of the Royal Society of Sculptors.

Ellie:  In the spirit of “freshness” there will be 20 new Galleries this year and also new artists from our returning galleries. Newcomers include The Doorway Gallery from Dublin; John Davies Gallery from Moreton-in-Marsh; Quantum Contemporary from London and Gallery Pangolin, the fine Art Gallery of Europe’s biggest sculpture Foundry. There’ll be lots of exciting emerging artists and quite a few Royal Academicians including Mary Fedden; Bridget Riley and Sir Peter Blake.


Togetherness by Alexei Bazanov at the Paragon Gallery

If people only had one hour to spend at the fair – what would you suggest they do?

Anthony: It takes two to three hours to do the Fair justice and more if you want a bite to eat. If you only have an hour I would tour the whole show and see what stands out …the Fair Guide gives you space to make notes. Then go back to the top three or four, take a longer look and buy the one you love most.

Ellie: First stop the Champagne Bar, then a quick tour of the ground floor, a refill before you go up to the Balcony.  Don’t miss the Balcony a) for some fantastic galleries and b) for the view of the show. Back to your car via the Sculpture Park …it’s en route.


Meadowcliff Mayhem by Doug Eaton at the GreenStage Gallery

What’s your favourite thing to do to unwind in the Cotswolds?

Anthony: A long walk on a sunny day with the promise of a pretty pub at the end

Ellie: I agree with Anthony …we don’t always agree but this time he’s spot on.


Fresh: Art Fair tickets are on sale now: www.freshartfair.net

£6 per person on-the-door and only £8 for two when you buy online.

Tickets are valid for the whole weekend …return as often as you like.

Entry will be free on Friday from 11.00am to 5.30pm (no ticket required) and Friday Happy Hour from 5.30 – 8.30pm (ticket required) – free drinks all evening!

All children under 16 will be welcomed free throughout the fair. Sadly, dogs are not allowed in the Centaur Building.


Rock the Cotswolds is a not-for-profit campaign created to promote the talent and creativity of the area.  

It is sponsored by Crowe Clark Whitehill in Cheltenham – their belief in what we’re doing and generous support helps keep the campaign alive and kicking!