23rd May 2012
Amira Hashish meets two enterprising women who believe that art is an integral part of interior design in every room.
E-commerce whizz kids, Elinor Olisa and Isobel Beauchamp are on a mission to prove that you can transform a home into a work of art without spending scary amounts of money. The pioneering pair are behind ArtHAUS, an exhibition at east London's DegreeArt Gallery until June 29.
Bursting with statement pieces by up-and-coming creative talent, this eclectic show is bridging the gap between contemporary art and interior design. The downstairs floor of the Hackney gallery has been split into five small spaces, each of which looks like a different room in a real home.
'We have found that Londoners' tastes really reflect the multi-cultural city they live in; the influences are wide and varied and size often matters'
Tucked away on ultra-hip Vyner Street, the building is also the HQ of DegreeArt, a website that Olisa and Beauchamp set up while at university (Olisa at Goldsmiths in south London, Beauchamp at the London College of Fashion) in 2003.
Nearly a decade later, and with a Dragons' Den audition under their belts — they rejected the offers — DegreeArt is the UK market leader in graduate and student art sales online.
"Our aim is to make original artwork affordable, accessible and exciting," says Beauchamp, standing in what she and Olisa term "the Execution Room", the physical hub of their business. "We present work by emerging artists in a practical way that bypasses the formality and white walls of a conventional gallery. We want to show people how artwork can transform a space — even with just a few items and a relatively small budget."
Mission accomplished. ArtHAUS has turned the DegreeArt building into a fashion-forward apartment. The rooms through which visitors are invited to wander include a living area, bedroom, dining room, kitchen and bathroom. Each of the spaces has been populated by the work of students and graduates from British art schools and everything on show is for sale. It is a novel way of demonstrating how the items can work in your home and is a fantastic platform for emerging designers.
Each well-formed area is structured to reflect a contemporary London look. In the living room, for example, there are echoes of the Jubilee with Nick Lord's spray-painted portrait of the Queen, which hangs boldly opposite Michael Cole's racy framed pictures formed from cut-up £50 notes. Reworked furniture with Union Jack emblems, 1950s telephones and a contemporary graffiti wall reflect how the capital has changed during her reign.
The bedroom responds to the busy lifestyle of Londoners. "We live in a hectic city so the bedroom has been designed with the notion of using dreams to escape," says Beauchamp. "Through the gold, feathers, and floral in the artwork, we created a world where the pressure of the daily milieu might be left outside."
Bed linen in cream and pastel shades, delicate jewellery boxes and an elegant room divider contribute to the calming effect. And Lorna May Wadsworth's Blue Angel painting is a striking vision on a light purple wall Neon fans fawn over the Pop-Toxic dining room. Bright orange brick walls and ceiling lights are teamed up with vibrant paintings.
It is a lesson in how to make colour clashes work. And Londoners aren't afraid to experiment, as Beauchamp recognises. She says: "We have found that Londoners' tastes really reflect the multi-cultural city they live in; the influences are wide and varied and size often matters. For example, large sculpture pieces find themselves winging their way across the West End and the quirky, limited-edition prints are often bought for edgy north London homes."
Everyday objects are turned into aesthetically pleasing works in the bathroom. Janina Holloway's urinal is decorated with gold lace decals, paying homage to Marcel Duchamp's Fountain and a red origami-inspired floating wall hangs in the space, alongside Myung Nam An's ceramic sea urchin-like Eyes 4 sculptures. The room was influenced by Dadaism, a movement that questioned what constitutes art.
The kitchen offers an abundance of inspiration for being creative with recycling. It is amazing what you can do with old light bulbs, coffee cups and containers. The Warholian utilisation of consumer goods is acknowledged but the artists work with low-grade objects in a way that doesn't merely echo commodification.
Louise McNaught's Squirrel it Away Baby series, made out of Pringle boxes, is lots of fun and Jana Emburey has even managed to create a sculpture out of egg shells for All is One.
The themes weaving together the rooms in ArtHAUS are an amalgamation of the most popular trends Beauchamp and Olisa have observed from their customers in recent months.
The show is aimed at those who want their homes to reflect their personalities. "A desire to stand out is a popular trend that runs across the capital and that is why people are starting to say no to the mass-produced images available at large homeware stores, opting instead for something unique that won't break the bank," says Beauchamp.
DegreeArt allows visitors to choose works according to price brackets, artists, variety, date of creation or the latest works to have been consigned.
There is also the option to commission works. So if an item on show at ArtHAUS appeals but has already been snapped up you can find full details of the artist on the website, explore the rest of their catalogue and get in contact to commission a similar piece.
Users can check what wall colour would best suit the work, see the scale of the piece and even take it home for two weeks to test it out.
DegreeArt is also part of the Art Council's loan scheme Own Art, where buyers can pay for the work over the course of 10 months with an interest-free loan. It is a valuable resource for homeowners seeking something special and an ideal starting point for new art collectors.
Part of the excitement of visiting ArtHAUS is the prospect of spotting and investing in the next Tracey Emin or Chapman Brothers. Choose wisely and you may get far more than you bargained for. At the very least, you should walk away with ideas to liven up your living space.
ArtHAUS is at DegreeArt, 12a Vyner Street, E2 (020 8980 0395; degreeart.com) until June 29. Open daily noon to 6pm; admission free.