Brighton, UK is home to a thriving “contemporary” art scene. Why do I put “contemporary” in inverted commas? Well, Brighton art galleries are contemporary in that they certainly sell art. And in a contemporary world you need to sell art to be a sustainable art gallery, no doubt. Whether or not the art that’s sold in Brighton is what’s commonly classified as contemporary art is an open question.

Yet Brighton’s art scene is a hotch-potch collection of pop art, digital prints, canvas prints, and particularly screen prints. Most of the content is an amalgam of pop art motifs (pop art variations of the Queen are particularly popular, ditto David Bowie), as well as screen-printed motifs designed to appeal to the tourist crowd, such as Brighton Pier, Seagulls, deck chairs and the like.

Does that count as contemporary art? Well you get some great contemporarily-made art for your walls. And it seems there’s a pretty big market for wall art, whatever its content.

But contemporary art is surely more than wall-decoration. Contemporary art (hopefully) has something to say. Does contemporary art have a place in Brighton?

What’s to be found in Brighton’s Art Galleries?

Some of the art in Brighton is clever. There are plenty of self-referential bits and pieces. One of the big-sellers at Enter Gallery, probably Brighton’s leading art gallery (Formerly Art Republic – the online bit of it – artrepublic.co.uk – was sold off and the physical gallery then changed its name to Enter Gallery) is a representation of an angle-tipped bird flying upwards. It’s a lark, going upwards. Ascending. Geddit? The lark is a perennial in Enter’s front window. Clever, if you like that sort of thing.

Nostalgia Art

Another favourite is what I would call nostalgia art. The rave scene of the nineties has recently been picked up in many of Brighton’s art galleries. Think smiley faces and acid references. And it seems that several DJs of that time have now – in their fifties and sixties – taken up the brush (or spray can) and can now call upon their brand-recognition to satisfy some large wallets. Again, it’s nice stuff if you’re into your period art.

Meanwhile, the corporate chain of Castle Fine Art (this is surely a misnomer) plugs away at endless favorites of contemporary commercial art with Ronnie Wood of Rolling Stones fame. If oil paintings of the Stones on stage is your thing (and it obviously is for some), then Castle Fine Art is for you..They also have art by Bob Dylan and Billy Connolly (who probably produces the best art of Castle’s ‘contemporary’ art celebrities). Contemporary Art? Yes, but at a price, perhaps also to your sense of taste.

Pop Art

On the other hand there are also some big ticket pop art items, such as Andy Warhol prints and Banksy prints in the Hidden Gallery in Kensington Gardens. It’s a bit of a surprise to walk into the Hidden Gallery and find pieces of contemporary pop art for sale at $100,000; most of the rest of the street has knock-off sunglasses and retro-themed five-pound antiques. Perhaps it’s little surprise that the Hidden Gallery has large, gated shutters thrown across its windows come closing time.

Grass-roots art in Brighton

There’s also plenty of innovative, unusual stuff – Brighton galleries are obviously connected to their grass-roots artists, with new and hard-to-find art-creators regularly showcased. It’s a far cry from the galleries of, say, London’s Kensington, whose artists represent the exclusive, moneyed crowd that lives around Harrods.

And that’s not to forget Brighton’s Artist’s Open Houses, a yearly event that sees hundreds of artists from around the city fling open the doors to their homes and let the great unwashed in. There’s plenty to be found in this extravaganza of art-effort, if only to find plenty of oil-based and watercolor portrayals of landscapes.

Contemporary Brighton Street Art

To cap it all off, take a walk around the central Brighton Laines and you’ll come across a variety of street art sprayed all over the shop(s). Brighton street artists seem fixated with celebrity. All well and good. But is representing celebrities really a comment on our contemporary situation (as Andy Warhol might or might-not have been doing)? Or is it an attempt just to curry clicks and develop an Instagram following. Regardless – spray heads are up and active on Brighton’s streets – think Cassette Boy – their work is often also found in the galleries around town.

Environmental Art

Finally, Onca Gallery in St George’s place. A small an interesting place with a continuing turnover of exhibitions. The owner, the remarkably monikered Persephone Pearl, cuts a valiant thrust along the niche of Environmental Art, which may not be a big seller, but is certainly contemporary, if you think human survival a worthwhile art subject to be pursuing.

Brighton Art – Contemporary, if you like that sort of thing

But is it all Contemporary Art? Perhaps, perhaps not. But certainly a diversity of choice to be found that represent a diverse array of styles to fill any art-collectors wallet, and a great artistic representative of Brighton as a city – diverse, conflicted, prone to celebrity worship – just as our contemporary situation would have it.