Though short, the history of British contemporary art is incredibly rich. From the prestigious Royal Academy, to the more experimental Young British Artists (YBA) of the 1980s, the 20th century saw exponential growth in the British art scene - with London asserting its status as a key player in the global art market.
Today, the markets for a number of British artists are thriving - making them a smart addition to a growing collection. So what should you know? Here, we break down some key terms for those eager to buy British art – and point to some of the market’s most exciting names.
Terms to look out for
Established in 1786, the Royal Academy is one of Britain’s most famed art institutions. Its members – known as Royal Academicians – are elected by committee, and have included some of the most eminent artists and architects in British history - from David Hockney, to Grayson Perry. Although not always considered ‘blue chip,’ artworks by artists recognised by the Royal Academy possess a certain esteem – which can make them a wise addition to a collection. Look out for the ‘RA’ initials after an artist’s name when buying.
DAMIEN HIRST, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, 2007
Anyone familiar with British 20th century art will be familiar with the YBAs – a notorious group who grew to prominence for their shock tactics and innovative use of materials. The movement began in 1988 when Damien Hirst – then a relative unknown – organised an exhibition called ‘Freeze’, which featured work by some of his fellow students from art school Goldsmiths. Participants included Sara Lucas, Angus Fairhurst, and Michael Landy – many of whom came to be indissociable with the movement. Tracey Emin is also associated with the movement, and captured its unorthodox approach to materials by presenting her own, unmade bed as art.
TRACEY EMIN, ROOM 2112, GOUACHE ON PAPER, 2016
Names to know
Is your collection in its infancy, or perhaps you want to support the arts on home ground? Either way, emerging artists are a great way to add a British artist to your collection without breaking the bank! With an opportunity to follow the evolution of the artist, along with potential financial and personal rewards, an emerging British artist is always a great addition to any collection. Artists who are at the beginning of their career, such as Graceland, offer invaluable insight into the current artistic landscape as they often capture the zeitgeist. Graceland’s stark exploration of consumerist capitalism perfectly reflects current trends and is a great example of a British emerging artist who is sure to go far!
GRACELAND, DRINK DRIVING, ACRYLIC AND OIL ON CANVAS, 2020
From photographers to sculptors, there is an established British artist fit for any medium. Having rapidly progressed in their careers, these British artists are well on their way to becoming household names. A great example is the monochrome photographer David Yarrow. Famed for his dramatic compositions and large-scale shots, Yarrow’s work is well regarded – regularly achieving healthy prices at auction and enjoying a cult celebrity following.
DAVID YARROW, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, ARCHIVAL PIGMENT PRINT, 2020
Blue Chip Artists
Although a globally relevant term, Britain has produced some of the world’s top blue chip artists. The term ‘blue chip’ refers to any artist whose works are expected to increase in price, regardless of general economic conditions. A prime example of a British blue chip artist is the Bristol-born Banksy. The anonymous street artist, who first rose to fame in the early 2000s, is known for his political prints and graffiti. His works have won international critical acclaim and his widely celebrated art has firmly placed British street art on the map. Although collecting blue chip artists may require a larger budget, it is a fail-safe way to add an iconic piece to your collection. Guaranteed to stand the test of time, why don’t you consider adding a Banksy to your art assemblage?
BANKSY, QUEEN VIC, SCREENPRINT, 2003