From an Oxfordshire Garden to the Traditions of Sudan In Art

Jun 04 2018

It’s the time of year for Open Gardens across England’s green pastures, and here Oxfordshire we’re celebrating ‘The Garden’ in art, (from 16th June) at the Sarah Wiseman Gallery in Summertown. The eminent early eighteenth-century landscape architect William Kent said ‘All gardening is landscape painting’ and this exhibition explores the enduring influence of horticulture and gardening on visual art, bringing together painting, printmaking and sculpture from artists renowned for their interest in the natural world.

Visual art and horticulture are two disciplines that share a long association. Claude Monet was perhaps most famously influenced by his garden at Giverny, with later twentieth century examples of gardening artists including Derek Jarman and Barbara Hepworth. For many artists, nature is an irresistible draw, perhaps because it’s endlessly changing, or because like creating a successful artwork, a successful garden takes planning, experimentation, with plenty of time and dedication, with part of the thrill being that you can never quite predict the end result. Gardening lends itself naturally to painting as a visual stimulus, but there are wider, more deeply felt implications to consider. Gardening is cyclical; in a garden, we witness new growth, but also its decline and decay as the seasons’ change.

The Garden at Sarah Wiseman Gallery includes works by Sarah Spackman, who regularly makes paintings of her allotment produce; there is also a new series of paintings by Alison Pullen, who will be working with Chelsea Physic Garden and Kew, painting on location in their glass houses and gardens and pieces by James Fotheringhame, who is a renowned garden designer and the gardens he creates fuel the inspiration to paint the flora and fauna that inhabit these spaces, satisfying a need to document his discoveries.
Just down the road at The North Wall (until 16th June) artist Mark Carr presents Cup of Life, an exhibition of paintings and prints which references 18th-century satirists and social commentators such as Hogarth and visits the Garden of Eden in some of the works. Carr takes as his underpinning the idea that every action or cause taken in this world has a reaction or effect: ‘It is said that if one drinks from the cup of life to gain an immortal soul, another’s life is taken’. His approach is both playful and yet a darker underbelly is clearly apparent.

Underpinning is the concept at the core of a very different exhibition, in West Oxfordshire’s Bampton, which showcases recent work by six textile artists, The Brunel Broderers. The word underpinning is evocative of many things from the history and archaeology of a city to personal concepts that signify and generate practice and each artist has taken her own ideas to make a collection of textile related work varied in form, methodology and inspiration, as well as working on a collective engagement project with the public in the form of altered postcards, representing connections.
Over in Modern Art Oxford, A Slice through the World: Contemporary Artists’ Drawings is a group exhibition that celebrates the sustained power of drawing in the digital age.

In an age of mass media, where the rapid proliferation of images leaves many on the verge of digital exhaustion, A Slice through the World explores the power of traditional drawing to make us slow down and reconsider how we look at the world. Fourteen international artists, committed to the materiality of paper and pencil employs these commonplace yet resilient drawing tools, often in conjunction with other multimedia techniques, to examine and respond to a variety of cultural conditions, using their drawings to explore the complexities and problems of both the past and the present. Nigerian-born Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze, for example, celebrates her transcontinental experiences in large-scale colourful drawings featuring figures cavorting through space; while Irish artist Kathy Prendergast questions the implications of territory, borders and settlements in Atlas, a vast horizontal installation which comprises 100 abstracted copies of the AA Road Atlas of Europe.

Meanwhile, over in The Ashmolean, until 2nd September, enjoy a solo exhibition by the pioneer of African and Arab Modernism, Ibrahim El-Salahi, which is displayed with specially selected ancient Sudanese objects from the Ashmolean’s collection. The artist draws from a vivid imagination rooted in the traditions of his homeland, Sudan, which he fuses with inventive forms of calligraphy, abstraction and a profound knowledge of art history. The works, alongside the pottery which is decorated with images of the people, plants and animals of the region, reiterate how, in El-Salahi’s words, ‘the past is linked with the present’.

Some other places to see good art this month : 
– The Garden: various artists (runs from 16th June until 28th July) at Sarah Wiseman Gallery, 40-41 South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JL
– Mark Carr: Cup of Life (until 16th June) at The North Wall Arts Centre, South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JN
The Brunel Broderers: Underpinning (runs until 23rd June)
West Ox Arts Gallery, Town Hall, Market Square, Bampton OX18 2JH
– A Slice through the World: Contemporary Artists’ Drawings (runs until 9th September) at Modern Art Oxford 30 Pembroke St, Oxford OX1 1BP
– Ibrahim El-Sahahi: a Sudanese Artist in Oxford (runs until 2nd September) at The Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH