Janice Caswell

Art to Start With

Want to Collect? These unpretentious artists are ideal first buys
Sometimes it seems like the art world just doesn’t want you, with those too-cool–for-school gallery staffers, ,and conceptual installations you’d never want in your house. (A box of broken TVs? No thanks!)

But not every New York artist is a snob. And many galleries are happy to help a novice collector.

There’s even an annual event for people like you — the AAF Contemporary Art Fair (formerly known as the Affordable Art’ Fair), which runs this Weekend.

More than l30 galleries will offer original works by some 500 artists at the fair and every piece is between $100 and $5000. There will also be art demonstrations and tutorials on how to buy.

Of course, five grand is still a lot to spend.

So we asked experts for suggestions of up-and-coming artists you should check out. Some are at the fair; some aren’t. But all are represented by local galleries. You can also see their work online.

William Steiger
Margaret Thatcher Projects, 511 W. 25th S tat 10th Avenue; (212) 675-6322. www.thatcherprojects.com.

This Chelsea-area artist creates muted, Hopper-esque paintingslithographs of water towers, railroad signals, blimps and steel bridges. There’s an almost aching loneliness in his pictures.

“They’re about actual places, but they’re also about a place in my own head,” says Steiger, 42. “I’m very specific about certain things — the edge of a building, the structure of a train signal–but other areas are completely left out. The landscape could be just a bar of green, just a horizon line.”

James T. Pendergast
Contact Bianca Lanza, (212) 929-4159 or Pendergast at 212-473-3606

Many painters would be horrified if you laid a finger on their art. But this Gramercy Park artist wants you to play with his. Pendergrast does works in watercolor, acrylic and other media, then cuts them up and sticks them onto blocks that you can move around to make your own art. His latest series, the “inside-out blocks,” go for $2,500.

But he does smaller sets starting around $500. “It all began when I was a frustrated child,” says Pendergrast, who spent 20 years as the house cartoonist at Rolling Stone magazine. “I saw a toy at a friend’s house when I was about 8. It was a set of blocks that made faces — an Indian chief, a fireman. I never persuaded my parents to buy me one, in spite of my begging. So when I was an adult I decide to make my own.”

Jenny Laden
Jeff Bailey Gallery, 511 W. 25th St., at 10th Avenue; (212) 989-0156. www.balleygallery.com

Laden’s delicate watercolors of women and girls in deep thought are “a feminist response to the lineage of portraiture of women,” says this Park Slope artist, who photographs her friends in unguarded moments, and then paints from the results. The portraits start at $1,000. “You’re lucky if you have a moment to just stop and pause and think,” says Laden, 34, who’ll be at the fair. “This is where knowing ourself comes from.”

David Mann
McKenzie Fine Art, 511 W. 25th St., at 10th Avenue; (212) 989-5467. www.mckenziefineart.com

Mann’s globular forms, which he paints with a rubber squeegee, suggest at once microscopic worlds and vast cosmic vistas. While his current style was inspired by imagery he saw through an electron microscope, the Park Slope artist actually started painting because of morning cartoons, he says. “As a kid I was drawing Woody Woodpecker,” says Mann, whose smaller paintings start at $2,500. “My parents said, ‘Hey, you can draw!'”

Richard Pasquarelli
Luxe Gallery, 24 W. 57th St., between and Sixth avenues; (212) 404-7455. www.richardpasquarelli.com.

“When I was a kid, my parents thought I was very macabre,” says Hoboken-based Pasquarelli, 36. And he admits he still is. Not that his paintings show any knife-maniacs. Instead, doe-eyed women and boys stare vacantly ahead. Long hallways lead to empty rooms. Abandoned cars sit at the roadside. “It’s not gory or graphic or horrific like Stephen King,” says Pasquarelli, whose work starts at $3,500. “But it’s more subtle, and after a while it makes your hair stand up on your head. That’s what I hope it does, anyway.”

Benjamin Edwards
Greenberg Van Doren, 730 FifthAve., between 56th and 57th streets. (212) 445-0444; www.gvdgallery.com.

This Washington, D.C., artist draws from digital images to create frenzied cyber-worlds on canvas. Flowcharts and icons float in space. Site lines cut diagonally through the landscape. “The places are inspired by going through the process of daily life, and having things bombard me,” says Edwards, 34, who has multi-thousand-dollar works in the Museum of Modem Art, but still sells small pieces from as low as $500. “There are things like SPAM, and pictures of Paris Hilton and advertisements for a big movie coming out. I think of them as seen by someone, maybe 5,000 years from now, and looking back on our culture.”

Rob Carter
Eyestorm, 547 W 27th St., between 10th and 11th avenues: (212) 226-1000. www.eyestonn.com.

Carter’s psychedelic, color-saturated photograms – works created by placing objects on light-sensitive paper – are often the result of pure chance. “Photography is all about experimenting,” says Carter, 36, who is based in London and learned his craft through stints at advertising firms. His recent series, “Traveling Stills,” features horizontal lines streak across the bottom of the pictures — sleek abstractions created by moving the camera along real landscapes.

Rudy Shepherd
Mixed Greens Gallery, 601 W. 26th St., at 11th Aveme; (212) 331-8888. www.mixedgreens.com

Cartoonish ink drawings of Marvin Gaye and Marcus Garvey. Photographs of a tiny “housing project” on the beach and in a pasture. Portraits of a long-haired black man in a suit, overalls and shorts. “I am fascinated by facades,” says Shepherd, who is based in Harlem. “Whether they’re the facades of houses or the clothes in which we dress.

Janice Caswell
Schroeder Romero, 173 N. Third St, at Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn; (718) 486-8992. www.schroederromero.com.

Caswell’s drawings sometimes look like squiggly lines passing colored circles, punctuated by pushpins. But the works (which run from $800 to $1,500) are about the way various relationships in her life have played out. Each memory is a different colored line. “They’re based on the way I remember the spaces in my head,” says the Manhattan artist, adding she also bases some on novels, such as Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage.”