Artists, galleries and art dealers from across the world are set to arrive in Norwich this week, for Art Fair East. And local artist Helen Oghenegweke is exhibiting at what is described as one of the biggest contemporary art fairs outside of London, for the first time
When I turned 50 this year, I took on a new job as a 1:1 teacher in a local school in Norwich, as I really enjoy helping others and seeing them grow and make progress. But it was my creativity in the first place that led to me working in education for the past 18 years. After having children, I began writing and illustrating books in my spare time. With my husband’s support, I eventually became an author, which led to me visiting numerous schools. It was here that I discovered I loved being in a school environment, for the children’s enthusiasm was infectious. My first job, after having children, was as a midday supervisor in a school. I also volunteered in class, became a parent governor, and later became a teaching assistant. I attended evening courses for seven years to complete an NVQ level 2 and 3, a foundation degree, before topping it up to gain a full honours degree in Education. I then went onto a teaching course to become a teacher. It was a great deal of hard work, but worth it.
I was born in Halesworth, but raised in Saxmundham, the same town where the famous artist, Henry Bright grew up. I mention him as I loved his work as a teenager. I later moved to Norwich, after meeting my future husband. I’ve been living there for the past 28 years.
It was my dad who brought art into our lives. He would bring pencils and paper from work and would lean against the table to sketch scenes from his imagination, usually of a man and his dog in the countryside. I used to mimic his style and technique. At school, I loved art lessons and realised I had a talent for it. As a child, I loved reading and looking at the illustrations in comic books, such as Mandy, which inspired me to write and draw. When I left school, I attended Lowestoft College to study a National Diploma in Art and Design. However, lacking confidence and belief in myself, I never took this to degree level. But for years I would continue to explore and dapple in art, creating pet portraits, making handmade cards, book illustrations and commissions.
Just before my dad passed away, 26 years ago, he told my husband to never let me give up my art. His words have always remained in the back of my mind. I had been teaching for several years, when I finally decided to give it up to pursue a Master’s Degree in Fine Art. Despite not having a degree in art, I was accepted onto Norwich University of the Arts Master’s Degree course. My portfolio of work and acceptance on the course provided a confidence boost. Completing it paved the way to developing a body of work for Art Fair East.
Just as my handwriting is varied, so too is my art style. Depending on my creative mood, I can switch between drawing intricate details in pen one minute to painting vibrant, mixed media abstracts the next. I used to blame my variety of interests and styles on being a Gemini – the sign of the twins. Over the years, I’ve discovered that this is okay for my own wellbeing, but if I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist, I needed to create a solid body of professional and quality work. My ‘Dragons of Norwich’ series fulfils this. This particular style lends itself to working in a more illustrative fashion, which I am drawn to, having illustrated my own children’s books more than a decade ago. Since I love historical buildings, appreciating their structure as they stand the test of time, I thought I would combine them with dragons, for there are many myths and legends involving dragons and they have always fascinated me. I see the dragon as a protective, spiritual guardian.
Being part of Art Fair East is a huge opportunity to not only meet fellow artists and to view their work, but to build a network with other professionals too. It’s a promise to myself, to believe in my work enough to put myself out there in the public eye to be seen. I love meeting and chatting with people, but I am quite an introverted person too, preferring to be in the shadows than in the limelight. So, this is a really big event for me in more ways than one and I am really looking forward to it. I believe it’s a mammoth event, undertaken by two amazing artists, Brian Korteling and Will Teather, and much appreciation goes out to them for making this happen.
It’s exciting, as all the artists will be available to discuss their work. I will have some original art for sale, as well as some professional prints by Saxon Digital Services. I was also lucky enough to have Broadland Framers and Gallery frame four of my larger pieces, which look absolutely beautiful.
I would love to become a full-time artist. I have invested in an art studio in my garden, so have the space to keep on creating and producing. I would love to produce more work for the ‘Dragons of Norwich’ series and eventually have the collection published in a book. I would also love to develop a colourful collection of abstract pieces in the future, which is something I keep thinking about in my quieter moments. I am currently working on my largest drawing to date, which measures 2.16m by 1.5m, and I’d like to exhibit my work in the UK at some point in the future. But it’ll be a costly venture in getting them framed and moved. But to dream is to live!
Art Fair East will run from December 1-3 at St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich. Many well-loved local talents such as Helen, Ellis King and Gareth Hacon will be bringing paintings, drawings and photography to the event.
A number of galleries such as London’s Ad Lib Gallery and Antiques and Appraisals from Holt will be stocking works by legendary 90s DJ Goldie and works by famous New York artist Keith Haring.
Art Wars will also be at the event for the first time; the international touring project of life-sized Stormtrooper helmets that have been transformed into highly collectable pieces of art by artists including Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Jake and Dinos Chapman, D*Face, Retna, David Bailey, Alison Jackson, Joana Vasocncelos, Antony Micallef and Mr.Brainwash.
The project has toured locations in Miami, Hollywood, Las Vegas, London, Dubai, Gothenburg and now comes to Norwich.
Art Fair East offers the chance for people to meet artists and view their work and with all the art for sale it’s a fantastic opportunity to choose a unique artwork for your home, to start Christmas shopping or perhaps invest in a future star of the art world.
The fair was founded in 2015 by leading Norfolk-based artists Will Teather and Brian Korteling, who will both be exhibiting at the event at St Andrew’s Hall – in the heart of the city’s cultural quarter. There is no need to book in advance with tickets available on the door. Tickets are £5 or £3.50 concessions, under 16s free. Art Fair East is sponsored by Musker McIntyre Estate Agents & Financial Services and Chadwicks Limited. For more information visit artfaireast.com. Also, visit helenoart.com.