A Summer of Art

Jun 05 2019

This June there’s a wealth of very different art to discover across the county, with something for every taste, whether that’s contemporary landscapes or figurative drawings, animal sculpture, newspaper sketches by a Royal Academician or modern papercuts with a breath-taking delicacy.

Visit Modern Art Oxford which presents Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance  (runs until 8th September). Johnson is an arresting figurative artist with British African-Caribbean heritage  who creates larger than life studies that are both intimate and powerful, and this, her first solo show at a major institution for nearly thirty years, includes approximately 30 paintings and drawings in pastel, paint, ink and charcoal with fluid lines and compelling sensitivity.

Throughout her career, Johnson has questioned the boundaries imposed upon black women and musing that “a very small twisted space is offered”, with an empathetic approach Johnson has invited her sitters to “take up space in a way that is reflective of who they are”. “I do believe that the fiction of ‘blackness’ that is the legacy of colonialism, can be interrupted by the encounter with the stories that we tell about ourselves” she explains, and you can see some of these stories in the works on show. In one of the earliest, (Untitled) I Came to Dance (1982), the single dramatic line that cuts through the composition was created by the artist as she moved her body in one gliding movement, stretching from the top of the paper to its base; others gazed directly at the viewer, engaging the viewer in their rich interior lives,  whilst the intriguing  Standing Figure with African Masks gives an insight into Johnson’s complex relationship with early Western modernism. Her central figure holds our gaze while she stands alongside other figures that seem to recall Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon; one of the most well-known examples of an artist referencing African symbolism.

Also in the city centre, Art at Oxford Saïd presents Significant Others – an exhibition of work by Nigel Hall RA (b.1943) and his late partner Manijeh Yadegar (1951-2016), who lived and worked together for over 40 years.  This exhibition explores the intellectual and artistic dialogue between the two artists – a sculptor and a painter respectively – whose practices are both dedicated to abstraction and minimalism. (The exhibition is open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays.)

Head over the road to The Jam Factory which is hosting two exhibitions in stark contrast to one another. In Amy Oliver: Still Life, dark and haunting photographs of women who have feminine curves yet hold themselves stiffly; the portraits are intimate yet distanced, and vulnerable paint peels from ‘skin’ to reveal a core strength within. Amy Oliver uses mannequins and her own sculptures to draw upon narratives from the female perspective, based on her own experiences of women’s rights and identity, domestic violence, mental health and invisible illness and this exhibition ‘is a depiction of the fragility and durability of real life as a woman.

In a space alongside, Laura Sayers: A Time For Every Purpose, is a fun celebration of the mundane in tiny, incredibly-detailed illustrated scenes that explore the spaces around us, comment on the human condition, and introduce different character personalities as a reflection of the everyday with the gentle charm of illustrations for children’s books. Through manipulating different layers of paper, freely cut with scissors and finished with painted details often on a miniature scale, the rather whimsical result is a bold yet intricate way of image making that experiments with colour, shadow and shape.

In North Oxford’s Summertown, South Parade boasts three exhibitions at which you can wile away and afternoon – in a secret green space behind the library the Turrill Sculpture Garden, the innovative bronze sculptures of Lucy Kinsella transformed the garden into a menagerie, a celebration of nature – from the jaunty strut of an olive baboon to the gentle repose of a silverback gorilla, regal tigers and pensive hares.  On the same street, in The North Wall in an exhibition presented by TWIST Art (runs 4th-15th June), you can enjoy a truly vibrant variety of art ranging from figurative wire sculpture and still life in paint and fine art photography and at The Sarah Wiseman Gallery you are invited to lose yourself in ‘New Horizons’. ‘

Here, in this exhibition of contemporary landscape, artists explore rugged and mist-shrouded hillsides, far flung expanses of wilderness, and gentler pastures found closer to home,’ explains gallery director Sarah Wiseman. ‘Each of these contemporary painters is drawn to the landscape in differing ways, exploring light, texture and atmosphere through paint and gestural mark making. Much of the work is about the artists’ emotional response to a particular location, rather than painting a likeness, allowing the viewer room to imagine and explore.’

‘The gallery is located in Oxford, a city famously surrounded by rolling countryside, as well as having large expanses of green within the city itself, so living with nature and landscape is very much part of local life’ explains gallery director Sarah Wiseman. ‘We wanted this exhibition to reflect this, but also focus on contemporary artistic responses to landscape.’

Visitors can also take a trip out into the Oxfordshire landscape to find art in Chipping Norton in The Cotswolds where the Owen Mumford Gallery, Chipping Norton Theatre is hosting an Ian Seymour retrospective:  a charming but shy man, Ian Seymour Wells (1937-2019) was the drawing tutor at the world-renowned Central St Martins arts college, and a British Royal Academy member who exhibited in London during the 60s and 70s but in his later years chose a quieter introspective life as an artistic diarist and observer, his view of human emotion and motion sketched on the napkins and newspapers of the cafés he frequented.

In this retrospective, a collection of his unique newspaper drawings are seen for the first time.  Ian’s life drawings, still life, landscape, portrait paintings, and inks have been collected and will also be on show. This exhibition runs until 23rd of June.


Our recommendations to enjoy good and interesting art this month:

Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance (runs until 8th September)

Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke St, Oxford OX1 1BP


Significant Others: Nigel Hall RA and Manijeh Yadegar (runs until 27 August; Tues & Fri)

Saïd Business School, Park End Street Oxford OX1 1HP


Amy Oliver: Still Life (runs from 11th June-15th July)

Laura Sayers: A Time For Every Purpose (runs until 8th July)

The Jam Factory, 4 Hollybush Row, Oxford OX1 1HU


Lucy Kinsella: Wildlife sculpture (runs until 13th July)

Turrill Sculpture Garden, through Summertown Library, South Parade, Oxford, OX2 7JN


Twist: various artists (runs until 15th June)

The North Wall, South Parade, Oxford, OX2 7JN


New Horizons: various artists (runs from 15th June to 27th July)

Sarah Wiseman Gallery 40-41 South Parade, Oxford OX2 7JL


Ian Seymour Wells: a retrospective (runs until 23rd June)

Owen Mumford Gallery, The Theatre at Chipping Norton, 2 Spring St, Chipping Norton OX7 5NL