Oxfordshire Artweeks Festival
Oxfordshire plays host this month to the UK’s biggest (and best) open-studio and pop-up exhibition event in the UK: from 5th – 28th May 1000 artists and designer-makers create a county-wide art gallery for the Artweeks Festival! For three weeks, you can enjoy art in towns and villages across Oxfordshire for free, in the beautiful Cotswolds and historic market towns, in Oxford itself, and along the Thames and the Ridgeway as 470 art spaces welcome you in with eye-catching paintings, porcelain and pottery, fine-art photography and stained glass, sculpted stone, fashion and furniture, treasures in precious metals, and designs with a difference.
For many, the charm of the event is exploring the intimate and often unexpected spaces where artists indulge their creative talents and make wonderful pieces of art, inspired by the local environs or places and ideas from further afield. Here Festival Director Esther Lafferty suggests a number of gallery exhibitions you can visit at which to collect a festival guide or local artist trail map and then delve deeper into the visual arts experience that Oxfordshire has to offer.
At Oxford’s North Wall, for example, husband and wife, photographer Rob Fraser and poet Harriet Fraser present ordinary trees in an extraordinary exhibition, The Long View. Rob and Harriet have spent two years walking, watching and writing exploring places, journeys, culture and environment and offer a considered insight into these remarkable trees in all weathers and all seasons, night and day. In the airy gallery space, with photography, poetry, screen-prints, 3D work and a book, they introduce visitors to seven Cumbrian trees and the very different landscapes that surround them and invite viewers to slow down and consider the challenges faced by the landscape today.
Just three hundred metres away, and do visit the Turrill sculpture garden behind Summertown Library where their Artweeks exhibition includes a tribute to the late ceramicist Christine Burgess, on the way past, in the Sarah Wiseman Gallery you can enjoy Foundations, an exhibition of hauntingly familiar and almost dream-like paintings by Daniel Ablitt explores the landscape and the ‘home’ as an emotive subject, depicting partly-imagined places and half-remembered landscapes captured mostly from his travel experiences and childhood. These memories are pieced together with other fragments of influence, absorbed through film and literature; combining to express and explore a personal mythology. Occasionally, a distant figure is seen, enhancing a sensation of scale, so that the viewer feels a sense of smallness of our place in the world. By painting largely on panel, Daniel has the freedom to scratch into the paint, rub it back or blend without fear of denting or tearing a more delicate canvas, an expressive technique he couples with an eye for detail and light brushwork, or washes of colour.
In East Oxford on the plain, Twist @ Sinolink Gallery presents a mixed exhibition of art by fourteen talented artists. These include fine art photographer Benedict Ramos and sculptor Rachel Ducker both of whom are also opening their studios in Tackley and Jericho respectively.
Benedict Ramos is drawn to the old-fashioned beauty of the natural world. He captures minimalist flower portraits and elaborate and dramatically lit flower an food still-lifes in a single shot with little manipulation, printing everything himself with archival pigment inks and cotton rags or more traditional photographic baryta papers, choosing for each photo the right paper to give the image the ‘feel’ he is looking for. His close observational pictures are poetic, capturing the viewer’s attention with their exquisite detail – you are unsure whether it’s a photograph or a perfectly rendered still life in the style of a Spanish or Dutch old master!
Rachel Ducker, in contrast, is a contemporary sculptor Rachel Ducker who creates incredible wire figures inspired equally by the shape and movement of the human form. Well-practised in life-drawing as a basis for an appreciation of the human shape, her vibrant and emotive wire sculptures capture movement, human nature and something ephemeral, fairy-tale even. There’s a sense of life and character, in these static and yet dynamic pieces that look as if they could spring into action any moment, whether they are small winged ‘tinkerbell’ pieces or full-size sculptures emerging from the earth or expressively bounding into the space ahead of them.
For equally iconic pieces, visit Bampton in The Cotswolds where sculptor Piotr Gargas is a stone carver who works on gargoyles and grotesques for the Oxford skyline. A selection of these will be on show in the West Ox Arts Gallery between walls displaying varied art by the C21 group of artists and pottery by Claire Powell. She is inspired by the shapes she sees in her country garden and on the hills and surrounding valleys on the edge of the Cotswolds that inspire her thrown earthenware in striking jewel colours that are sometimes muted to give them an ethereal quality bringing fairy gardens to mind. Claire’s love of nature is clear in the designs of her mugs jugs bowls & cheese domes, all thrown on the wheel, which features leaves picked from the garden or the hedgerow alongside: she uses Lupin, cow parsley, Herb Robert, ferns and other plants, often overlaying them to give an almost three dimensional effect.
In Deddington’s Wychwood Art, there’s a wealth of inspiration. Jon Rowland’s paintings on a theme ‘Portraying the essence’ are rich with colour and space and you can see Blenheim and key locations in this iconic parkland, while Judith Yarrow says: ‘I painted Bird in Spray [of which a Giclee print is on show] after a particularly invigorating walk down past the house in Prussia Cove where ‘Ladies in Lavender’ was filmed. The edge between land and sea has become a theme in my work.’
In ‘Every Cloud’, Jeremy Houghton who has worked as an artist in residence with H.M. The Queen and H.R.H The Prince of Wales, discover an original oil on canvas that has captured the movement of the birds flying, creating a fun and lively feel to the painting. The birds are illuminated by the way that he shapes the spaces between things, and the spaces in which bodies linger, shimmer, move and often take flight whilst Jessica Leighton’s stylised painting ‘Golden Fields’ inspired by her walks in the Cotswolds was created with a collage of seeds, newspaper clips, fabrics and layers of paint which are scratched away to create an organic texture.
You can travel beyond the UK to the Mediterranean in Radley, in an exhibition Crossing the Aegean by Susan Moxley whose paintings, prints, jewellery and ceramics are inspired by the current turmoil in the Middle East which has prompted thousands of people to embark on the dangerous journey across the Aegean in search of peace and safety in Europe. Susan Moxley’s work is bold and direct and often appears playful and light-hearted. However, a serious, reflective message is embedded within it, as the artist forces us to look again at the idyllic picture of the calm Mediterranean. The calm blue strokes of Aegean are imbued with dark undercurrents of danger and fear for those who have recently crossed it. There are references too, to ancient mythological odysseys crossing the same stretch of sea, now separating the West from the East.
And for something as out of the ordinary as any mythological beast, in Witney’s SOTA Gallery, an impressive lofty space, which holds the work of 50 artists and artisans within its walls, you can see truly astonishing animal sculpture, by Ean Dawbarn whose ‘retro-futuristic’ creatures are actually built around the skulls, breastbones and other parts of real skeletons. Ean combines these with recycled copper brass and other metals, in intriguing futuristic pieces with a steampunk flavour, each designed to highlights the tremendous complexity, delicacy and beauty of life in the animal world as it sits alongside increasing industrial and technological advancements.
Some places to see good art this month
Harriet & Rob Fraser: The Long View (until 26th May)
The North Wall Arts Centre, South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JN
Artweeks Exhibition including a tribute to ceramicist Christine Burgess (until 26th May)
Turrill Sculpture Garden, South Parade, Summertown Oxford, OX2 7JN
Daniel Ablitt: Foundations (until 26th May)
Sarah Wiseman Gallery, 40-41 South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JL
An artist spectacular for Artweeks (until 26th May)
West Ox Arts Gallery, Town Hall, Market Square, Bampton OX18 2JH
Wychwood Art’s Artweeks extravaganza (until 26th May)
Upstairs Gallery, The Town Hall, Market Place, Deddington OX15 0SE
Susan Moxley: Crossing the Aegean (until 18th May)
Sewell Centre Gallery, Radley College OX14 2HR
Group exhibition: Twist Art
Sinolink Gallery, 11 St Clement’s, Oxford OX4 1AB
Various artists including Ean Dawbarn
SOTA Gallery, 11 Langdale Gate, Witney OX28 6FG
For more information on nearly five hundred venues taking part in the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival and artist trails in towns and villages, visit www.artweeks.org. What’s near you?