This is a guest post from Nshan Melkonian, art writer and PRSC volunteer.

Enter an open-plan gallery where still photographs, prints (digital and more traditional forms), paintings, sculptures, and textile art are hanging salon style at eye level, but also high above where the lights meet the ceiling. It’s bustling, Christmas lights are hung up, and there are plenty of cold and hot drinks being served from the bar: the festivities have commenced.

The Peoples Art Fair: Winter 2023 at the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC) saw hundreds of local creatives and international practitioners coming together to share not only vibrant art work, but also ideas through various workshops, music and events. Whether listening in on La Linterna: Art & Propaganda Talk; crafting Christmas gifts in the Art Ting Makers Market; or having a laugh at The People’s Comedy, this holiday season, there was something for everybody to get involved with and enjoy.

This exhibition boasted around 300 pieces, produced by over 70 multidisciplinary artists. For example, in the foyer there were wonderfully critical and playful works such as Joe Tymkow’s Specimen (2023), which assembles together three leeks, each one labeled Bristol Water, British Gas, and Wessex Water respectively. On the other wall, a grouping of figurative portraits like Sleven’s Unity (2023), alternated from Francis Bacon expressiveness to Picasso-esque naiveté.

Joe Tymkow, Specimen, 2023.

Sleven, Unity, 2023, Acrylic on canvas.

Miss Roots, Ethiopian Angel, 2023, acrylic on canvas.

Many of the artists have been consistent exhibitors in the fair over the years. As a result, several pieces have become quite familiar to staff, and in effect their relationships have become closer too. Take Miss Roots, a Bristol-based artist who works with acrylic across figurative and abstract forms. Her piece, Ethiopian Angel (Gabriel), and its location continues to be her personal choice, always towering at the highest point of any wall as if keeping a protective eye on the artworks and audience beneath it. It’s highly stylised and rests on a flat plane while black bold lines embolden the angle, accentuating its animated form and reference to Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity.

As evident, artists are given agency. This relates to the staff’s process of incorporating exhibiting artists too. Granted there is space in the exhibition, late intakes are often accommodated, making sure that everyone has a chance to share their work with the community. Spanning emerging and mid-career artists, to even blue-chip practitioners, the People’s Art Fair exhibition is a rare gem to find amid the many—often times—overly bureaucratic art galleries. Having the opportunity to sell work isn’t the only reason artists come back time after time, above all it’s because of PRSC’s unbeknownst altruism and democratisation of art, instead of its confinement.

PRSC is a community enterprise that was founded in 2007 in Stokes Croft, Bristol. Since their inception they have been on the forefront of local activism and meaningful change, always building on ways to better shape the future by challenging the status-quo. They house various facilities including a building yard and workshop, artist studios, a china shop, kiln room, and cooperative media centre, which allows many local projects to become a reality.

La Linterna: Art and Propaganda Talk, 2023, Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft, Bristol.

The most anticipated event kickstarting the Peoples Art Fair was La Linterna‘s Art & Propaganda Talk. Out on the last stop of their ‘We are SudAmerican Printers’ European Tour—traversing 4 countries and 125 cities—project manager Fabián Villa (translated by Oriana) led an insightful talk on the origins of the Cali, Colombia collective. A display of their prints was also settled within the wider People’s Art Fair exhibition.

Since 1934, La Linterna (The Lantern) has been a popular icon of Latin and Colombian street art, creating posters for dozens of commercial and national events during the 80s and 90s, including posters for Metallica’s 1999 ‘Garage Remains the Same’ tour, which was their first time in Bogota, Colombia. However, La Linterna’s story hasn’t been without its challenges. As the 21st century approached, the advent of the internet changed communication forever; many workshops in their neighborhood of San Antonio began closing, scrapping their old-world machines to make way for new, digital ones. The traditional printmaking techniques of linoleum engraving and movable type were on the verge of extinction, along with its generations of artisan knowledge.

Much like PRSC, La Linterna’s mission is to make the work they do publicly accessible. For years they have hosted and participated in communal art festivals like the Nuqui Florence Festival, along with other similar plein air events. Fabián said during the talk, ‘We want to make art close to the people […] we don’t want to join galleries where there is a lot of privileged people, and where [the artwork] is all for them’.

La Linterna, Already Against the Next War, 2023.

La Linterna, Nadie es Ilegal, 2022.

Come 2017, there was financial crisis for La Linterna. The owner was going to close the workshop, although the printmakers hadn’t been paid for years of wages. After having noticed the great work the printmakers were doing locally, the owner struck a deal to pass on the workshop to them and they eventually occupied in 2018. The master printmakers still run the presses to this day and create lusciously graphic, but also as of recently, overtly political posters like Nadie es Ilegal (Nobody is Illegal, 2022) and Already Against the Next War (2023). These were printed in collaboration with Dog Section Press, a non-profit publisher and distributor of subversive literature. PRSC also has strong ties to Dog Section Press and is a distribution point for DOPE, a political art magazine that people can sell on the street.

“Art is not a privilege…” – Fabián Villa

The exhibition and thought-provoking talk opened up discussion about the fragility of printmaking knowledge and arts accessibility, but just as importantly, the profound impact of street art in Colombia and how art organisations serve as a life-line for local identity and civic pride. La Linterna’s dynamic has always been different, avoiding the exclusivity of select major galleries that have been built systematically for upper-class society. In reaction to this, they create prints that are more than just fine art, they’re street propaganda at its best. And these ideas strike a chord within PRSC, with its activism ethos, and mission as an institution for the people—by the people. That’s why it’s the People’s Art Fair.

The People’s Art Fair: Winter 2023 was 1 – 11 December, 2023. Registration is currently open for the next People’s Art Fair: Spring 2024, which will take place Friday 12 April, 2024 – Sunday 21 April, 2024.

* Fans of La Linterna’s work, we have a selection of gorgeous postcard prints available only in our Jamaica St shop.