Bursting into Spring

As a very wet February turns into March, here’s hoping that spring bursts into action across Oxfordshire. However, whether there’s an inclement or otherwise, there is plenty of brightness in the county’s galleries this month.

In the very centre of Oxford, across from the Railway station, a group of UK artists and illustrators remind us all to ‘Notice the Small Things’ in an exhibition of small and cheerful illustrations that explores moments of joy the many mediums including embroidery, ceramics, brush pen to digital drawings, all depicting the whimsical wonder of all things bright and small. Look out for Laura Sayer’s incredible teeny tiny papercuts, the charming and ‘wonky’ illustrations of life by ‘Too Lilyish’, and paintings by award-winning illustrator Charlotte Orr whose work is rich with the harmonious emerald and Robin Hood greens of lush foliage, to the colourful dynamism within city streets, from Oxford and London to Berlin.

Oxford is portrayed in The Jam Factory too by street artist Joshua Squashua whose enchanting ‘Misillusions’ are wavy, dream like studies of everyday life in Oxford City glow with the light of golden hour seen through rose tinted lenses. Squashua is inspired by the Fibonacci spiral, discovering the golden ratio that is so often found in nature amongst the paths and spires of Oxford. As he captures his an alternative perspective of what some might consider mundane, reality is warped and wonderful in his paintings.

There’s colour and flair too at the “Modern Artisan” exhibition by the Oxfordshire Craft Guild, a group of some of Oxfordshire’s most talented makers at the Sewell Gallery, Radley College. Visitors to this renowned college environment can see, for example, scarves and shawls in silk, linen, wool and occasionally a stainless-steel yarn which together give a lustrous and iridescent finish that shifts in the light like the surface of water. Mary Lowry designs and weaves these using the Japanese technique called woven shibori which produces permanent pleats in the cloth which add depth and dynamism, and creates movement of colour from one side of the cloth to the other.

Here too look out a select collection by ceramicist Robyn Hardyman which is stunning in its simplicity, each piece perfectly proportioned and placed with the purity of Japanese art, and for the unique colourful pieces by Graham Lester, the vibrancy of the plastics he uses to create crisp modern bowls and vessel set against wood to great effect. Above, a second string to his bow of many talents, his ‘station poster’ paper sculpture has an undeniable wow factor.

In the Sarah Wiseman gallery which present Twilight by Ade Adesina, monumental lino-cut prints also have a wow factor. These large-scale monochrome pictures juxtapose motifs, such as the baobab tree, as well as buildings, bridges from cities around the world, to pieces of oil-extraction infrastructure from his home in Aberdeen. These complex works are a commentary on the human impact on earth. His visions are surreal and dream-like; in his prints he has turned the earth turned on its head with fish swimming through the air, scorched deserts scattered with sinking ships. He says that ‘Issues such as pollution, climate change, religion, endangered species, human survival and adaptation are things that I have always focused on in my work.’

‘I work in a very strange way,” says Ade. “Every print, sculpture or painting owns a story; it is like reading a novel. There are different characters coming in at different chapters. I don’t find it interesting knowing where a piece of work is going to end before I begin. I can start on the earth and end on the moon. What I enjoy most includes not knowing what direction a piece of work is going.”

And there are stories on the wall in Didcot too as the LiterArties, a group of author-artists tell their visual stories. There have always been storytellers with stories to tell, but words are not enough for these storytellers!

‘Paintings are like stories: it takes time, patience, practice and experience to bring out an emotional response in another,’ explains artist Kamal Lathar. “We draw a story in lines, plot its progress in oils, and bring the conflict to a head with brush strokes. Paintings can move you, reveal things to you, invite you to come and observe, be a symbol for your feelings and vehicle for your expression.”

Alongside Alan Kestner tells stories in detailed paintings that appear like theatre productions pinned in a moment of time, the scenes laid out across the paper. Rich with imagination, narrative and humour, each picture tells a thousand words, an often anarchic tale that appears only once he has put paintbrush to palette. ‘I start off with a great big sheet of paper, and add blobs of colour and indistinct lines at the beginning,’ he explains, ‘and then it’s almost as if I look into it like a crystal ball, and piece by piece the picture appears, grabbing my imagination and taking it further, and over the few months it take to complete the painting, the story emerges. I am fascinated by nature and have lived close to the Thames all my life so Oxfordshire fauna and flora feature prominently.’

As an author, Wantage’s Debrah Martin writes psychological thrillers and literary fiction – centred around her love of people-watching and the observation of how action creates reaction. In her art, however, she is inspired by what that which exists already: the richness of the landscape all around us as it grows and declines through the seasons, the sensuality that is all around us in the sounds, sensations and sights that we daily experience yet often fail to notice, and in the beauty of colour and light that transforms both us and the simplest scene that we see. Her paintings reflect the richness, luminosity and drama of what we so often take for granted, from the humblest tree to the stormiest sky above. They’re another reminder to appreciate the small things and the large whatever the weather!


Four top tips for places to enjoy art this month:

Notice the Small Things (various artists; runs until 6th April) Joshua Squashua: Misillusions (runs until 20th April) The Jam Factory, 4 Hollybush Row, Oxford OX1 1HU

Oxfordshire Craft Guild: Modern Artisans (runs until 19th March) Sewell Centre Gallery, Radley College OX14 2HR

Ade Adesina: Twilight (runs from 7th-28th March) Sarah Wiseman Gallery, 40-41 South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JL

LiterArties: Author-Artists and their Visual Stories (runs until 22nd March) Cornerstone Arts Centre, 25 Station Road, Didcot OX11 7NE


The Art Blog is written by Esther Lafferty of Oxfordshire Artweeks.