Sparkling Art for a Fabulous Christmas

Nov 29 2018

As Christmas approaches, galleries and exhibitions offer a refuge from the High Street, a quiet space for enjoyment, reflection and delight, and – for those seeking unique and unusual Christmas gifts – an alternative to the mass-produced merchandise.

In Jericho, this month, the Oxford Ceramics Gallery also celebrates pioneers in the visual arts this month. On the corner of Walton Street and Walton Crescent, their changing programme always offers a remarkable insight into the best of contemporary ceramics and over the Christmas period (until 3rd Jan) ‘Oxford Pioneers’ celebrates fifty years of the ‘Oxford Gallery’ which was based on the High Street until 2001. This exhibition marks the pioneering presence of the original gallery by bringing together ceramic pieces by more than two dozen exceptional UK artists principally in the field of ceramics who either had important chapters in their early career and/or long term relationships with the original gallery as well as those who continue to the tradition of quality craftsmanship and innovation. Exhibitors include the ceramicist Edmund de Waal, also known for the Costa prize-winning The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), and renowned architectural silversmith Vicki Ambery-Smith whose trademark minatures take your breath away.

Meanwhile, the Banbury Museum is hosting iconic prints inPop Art in Print’, featuring work from the V&A’s collection of Pop Art graphics by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Damien Hirst and other iconic artists of the 60s and 70s alongside contemporary artists. Vibrant, sexy and very much of the moment, Pop Art reflected a fascination with celebrities and brands, and pop artists recognised the potential of prints to communicate ideas quickly and cheaply, creating art which both mirrored and critiqued the American Dream. Inspired by commercial graphics and popular culture, the movement generated an innovative and prolific culture of printmaking. Bringing together over 60 works by more than 30 artists, this exhibition offers a comprehensive and exciting view of artists working in this style from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

‘At a time when images and information can be found and shared at the click of a button, it is easy to forget that the reproduction and sharing of a picture or an idea was once viewed as truly miraculous,’ says Amanda Jewel of the Sewell Gallery, Radley College, Abingdon, which is currently presenting Inked Up by the Oxford Printmakers’ Cooperative, a wonderful array of prints using a variety of long-valued printing techniques (runs until 11th December). Vincent van Gogh explained the act of printing as a ‘miracle’ like the growing up of a tiny seed of grain to an ear: “One drawing is sown on the stone or the etching plate, and a harvest is reaped from it.”

‘Printmaking evolved as a medium to satisfy this most basic of human desires: to communicate images and ideas and send them to the four corners of the world. A print is created by incising an image into a matrix-a metal plate, a block of wood or a stone-inking the image, and then running it through a press onto a piece of paper. By repeating this process, multiple impressions of the same image can be produced. Before cameras, photocopiers and scanners, the ability to reproduce prints allowed thinkers and artists to disseminate their work, and over time prints became an art form in their own right. Indeed, the German Expressionist painter and printmaker Ernst Kirchner said that ‘the technical procedures (of printmaking) doubtless release energies in the artist that remain unused in the much more lightweight processes of drawing or painting.’

Who, under the Christmas tree, wouldn’t want to be whisked away to somewhere wonderful – and in ‘Landmarks’ at The Jam Factory, just by Oxford station contemporary art by six artists (Sandra Hoeft, Sally Holman, Liz Hough, Simon Nash, Jacqui Porter and Viviana Riccelli) can transport you to either Italy, where all the artists have spent time, in Tuscany or Umbria, or Cornwall – and St Ives in particular (runs until 15th January).

In the gallery space in Chipping Norton Theatre,  meanwhile, Creative Coverage’s Winter Exhibition (until 14th January)  features the paintings of Artweeks artists Jane Vaux, William North, Andrea Bates and Maureen Gillespie who are joined, amongst others, by glass artist Sue Purser Hope (Chair of the Contemporary Glass Society) whose colours capture the joy of the festive season. With views from the Oxford skyline – acrylics capturing movement and light over the rooftops – and the tranquillity of its neighbouring Otmoor Nature reserve in delicate watercolour, it’s a warm way to enjoy the local countryside!

For magic from still further afield, in Summertown, Oxford’s North Wall Gallery presents ‘Once Upon a Time’, with art and rare books that transports the viewer into a bewitching world of fairy tales as seen by artists and illustrators – from Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin to Peter Pan and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Presented by Blackwell’s Rare Books and Zuleika Gallery, the exhibition traces the visual history of fairy tales and magical story-making, through the work of artists and illustrators from the 19th century to the present day. Original prints, drawings and paintings include those by William Heath Robinson and EH Shepard, and  JM Barrie’s 1906 edition of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens with drawings by Arthur Rackham, JM Barrie’s contemporary and illustrator of an early version of the story in 1906 whose inimitable impish style has captured the imagination of generations. Alongside a print by Maurice Sendak, best known for his striking depiction of a land Where the Wild Things Are find charming and characterful illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark, and Michael Foreman. Look out too for a piece of fairy tale-inspired contemporary ceramics by feminist artist Claudia Clare who tells contemporary social stories on slip-painted, earthenware jars with a satirical twist.

Across the road the Turrill Sculpture Garden promises pieces to suit the everyman garden – from resin owls to alloy butterflies – and for perky ‘pocket-friendly’ pieces to suit all tastes and Christmas stockings, the Sarah Wiseman Gallery’s Christmas exhibition ‘Guiding Stars’ features small pieces of work including charming, handmade ceramic snowmen by local artist Clare Nicholls and new printmaking by acclaimed artist Angie Lewin,  pictures by award-winning children’s illustrator Catherine Rayner, and ceramic sculptures bordering on the fantastical and surreal by Jane Muir whose Little Men and Ladies who smile serenely as if keeping a great secret alongside her much loved snowbirds. Soft and chalky white with the texture of the clay visible in places, they have a simple elegance and tactile finish.

There’s also a wonderful collection of handcrafted pieces in many media from the Oxfrodshire Craft Guild in the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock. Here you can look forward to the summer in bright paper sculpture by award-winning Graham Lester or count-down to Christmas with jeweller Sara Withers who has been getting ready for Christmas with new varieties of her trademark ‘magpie’ necklaces that often use often cogs and faces from watches, encapsulated in resin, with silver sparkle and colour to catch the eye.

Good places for art across Oxfordshire this month:

Oxford Pioneers (runs until 22nd December)
Oxford Ceramics Gallery, 29 Walton Street, Oxford OX2 6AA

Pop Art in Print (runs until 3rd March; £5 admission charge applies)
Banbury Museum, Spiceball Park Road, Banbury OX16 2PQ

Oxford Printmaker Cooperative: Inked Up (runs until 11th December)
The Sewell Centre Gallery, Radley College, Abingdon, OX14 2HR

Landmarks (runs until 15th January)
The Jam Factory, 4 Hollybush Row, Oxford OX1 1HU

Creative Coverage – various artists (until 14th January)
Chipping Norton Theatre Gallery, 2 Spring Street, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 5NL

Once Upon a Time – various artists (until 5th January)
North Wall Arts Centre, South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JN

Winter– various artists (until 23rd February)
The Turrill Sculpture Garden, South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JL

Guiding Stars – various artists (until 31st December)
Sarah Wiseman Gallery, 40-41 S Parade, Oxford OX2 7JL

The Oxfordshire Craft Guild’s Christmas exhibition – various artists (runs until 30 December)
The Oxfordshire Museum, 14 Park St, Woodstock OX20 1SW