Art in Oxfordshire this March

Mar 01 2017

It’s finally spring and as new life bursts forth in the green Oxfordshire countryside, many of Oxfordshire art galleries have a focus on life and people, capturing the essence of being human in a variety of forms and media.

Over in Chipping Norton, in the Theatre Gallery, discover revealing photographic portraits of many authors and media stars who have contributed to the Chipping Norton Literary Festival over the years whist in Oxford’s bohemian Jam Factory Arts Centre, people peer down from the walls in portraits by two very different artists. Mark Haddon is an internationally respected novelist, best known for The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time (2003). He has always been fascinated by making pictures of people and writing alike, and admits these days that portraits fascinate him more than anything else; partly because he is fascinated by people; partly because portraits are so difficult; and partly because, when you can really capture someone, ‘something mysterious happens’. Showing pictures of artists, academics, family and friends, all of whom he knows personally, Haddon commits a sensitively familiar and significant beauty in each piece.

These hang along the bold oil portraits of Tom Croft, an acclaimed South-England based painter, whose talent was recognised from a young age – he was offered an art scholarship at St Edwards, Oxford, before spending three years training under artist and illustrator, Roger Barcilon. He is commissioned to produce much of his work, painting public figures such as footballers, musicians and Bishop Libby Lane and says that regardless of client or context, he has always most enjoyed capturing people.

In a striking exhibition on Identities in Summertown’s Sarah Wiseman Gallery, enjoy the diverse and exciting work by four prominent women painters as they explors different themes within figurative art and common and relatable experiences from personal histories to cultural influences.

Clare Bonnet is well known for her paintings of women who appear in pairs or as solitary figures. These women are all known to her and are involved in the painting process through conversation bringing an honesty and history to the work. ‘I am interested in the collaboration between the subject and painter in order to create paintings that hold both universal and personal meaning.’ she explains. Toni Cogdell’s paintings, in contrast, are more spiritual in their approach using sparkling light and overlaid imagery to explore themes around our dreams and their place in the reality of every-day life whilst Henrietta Dubrey, often identified as an abstract artist although she oscillates between figurative and abstract arenas, reflects on of her own life in meditative paintings, smooth pools of colour or scrubby washes layered upon the canvas.

In the series of paintings alongside, Veronica Wells investigates the influence of fashion and popular culture, and the glamour on the pages of fashion magazines. Beautiful women in exquisite clothes in daubed, rough brush strokes are often distorted, their features exaggerated, exposing a world that is fickle and flawed yet seductive, keeping us going back for more.

‘We wanted an exhibition of contemporary figurative painting, and the four artists that came to mind just happen to be women.’ explains gallery director Sarah Wiseman. This is worthy of note when, throughout history, women’s artistic achievements have been far less well acknowledged than their male counterparts and a good exhibition to visit alongside a trip to see Lubaina Himid at Modern Art Oxford.

Lubaina Himid is a British artist who lives and works in the North of England. She has been a pioneer of the Black Arts Movement challenging stereotypical depictions of black figures and women in art history, championing the contribution of black voices in the contemporary art scene, and highlighting the contributions that people from the African diaspora have made to European cities and their the cultural landscape. The current exhibition at Modern Art Oxford brings together a variety of pieces from throughout Himid’s career as she has worked to change this perceived misrepresentation through the opening of minds and conversations.

For light-hearted off-beat charm, head to Oxfordshire’s only dedicated contemporary jewellery gallery. Named from wold (n. field, open countryside) and stone (n. piece of rock; this shaped or polished; precious stone), Woldstone in Woodstock brings the brilliance of the world’s most precious gems to the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, and throughout March is hosting a ‘Festival of Brooches’ with adornments to wear close to the heart beneath luxurious and harmonious still life paintings by David Williams-Bulkeley. Jeweller Claire Fyfe-Jackson whose creations take centre stage shows a range of corset brooches inspired by a visit to see antique corsets at the Costume Museum in Bath. ‘I’ve always loved vintage textiles and fashion,’ she explains, ‘and as I tried on various versions of corsets, I was struck by the instant feeling of elegance and poise that wearing one creates because of the improved posture it give you.’

In Woodstock too, Junction Art Gallery celebrates its 5th anniversary this month. The exuberant dynamic wire sculptures of human life by Rachel Ducker stand beneath paintings by two of Scotland’s foremost contemporary painters; Alison McWhirter whose intense paintings of flowers which verge on the abstract and exude energy and Claire Beattie, whose pictures are built up in layers of subtle hues which dance on the canvas and gradually reveal their depth, and we can’t resist a mention of new intricate porcelain sculptures by Jasmin Rowlandson, each a delicate micro-worlds, echoing forms of sea urchins and coral and full of texture and vitality, their graceful structures are complemented with subtle mother-of-pearl lustre and gold gilt.

‘Life Atelier’, an exhibition of life drawings, paintings and sculpture from artists who work from the nude, runs this month at West Ox Arts Gallery in Bampton, whilst Figure it out is a group exhibition in Summertown’s Turrill Sculpture Garden showcasing multiple styles and interpretations of the human form and posing questions to the viewer. The pieces do not convey an ideal form, but instead, are the result of working with life models in a collaborative approach taking inspiration from the modernist sculptor, Rodin who said a life model creates a “correlative inspiration” for use to express a “sentiment, thought or experience”.

For prints with a sculptural flavour, Oxford’s Zuleika Gallery is presenting a pop-up exhibition Richard Smith: The Sculptural Printmaker in an art space at Pembroke Street’s Story Museum from 15th – 22nd March. The show includes dynamic graphic prints from the 1970s which were produced at the time when Smith was gaining a reputation for his Kite Paintings that pushed at the boundaries of painting, blurring the lines between sculpture and painting and achieving spatial rhythm through the arrangements of the shapes, the injection of colour and the overlapping of planes At the same time, Smith produced an extraordinary body of prints that were equally ground breaking at the boundaries of printmaking, blurring the lines between two dimensional and three dimensional work. Many of the works are printed on large pieces of paper that are folded to reveal a square or rectangle or elliptical shape completely different to the unfolded work and Smith introduced collage in the form of ties and paperclips, occasionally transparent paper.

Good places to see art this month:

Writers in the Frame by Silver Apples Photography (9th March – 6th April)

The Gallery Chipping Norton Theatre

Portraits: Tom Croft and Mark Haddon (7th March – 9th April 2017)

The Jam Factory, Hollybush Row, Oxford OX1 1HU

Identities (4th – 25th March)

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

Lubaina Himid: Invisible Strategies (until 30 April)

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

A festival of Brooches and paintings by David Williams-Bulkeley (1st March-15th April)

Woldstone Jewellery and Silverware Gallery, 25 Oxford Street, Woodstock, OX20 1TH

A 5th birthday celebration

Junction Art Gallery, 43 Oxford St, Woodstock OX20 1TJ

Figure it Out

at Turrill Sculpture Garden, South Parade, Oxford, OX2 7JN

Life Atelier: a multi-artist exhibition (4th-26th March)

West Ox Arts Gallery, Town Hall, Market Square, Bampton OX18 2JH

Richard Smith: The Sculptural Printmaker (15th-22nd March)

The Story Museum, 42 Pembroke Street, Oxford OX1 1BP