Artweeks 2010

Wander round participating studios and discover artists all over Oxfordshire
For full listings, times, dates and help to plan your visits see the Artweeks website.
8th – 31st May, all over Oxfordshire

May 12, 2010
Whistle-Stop 1 Hour Artweeks Tour (east Oxford), Mon 10 May 2010
Artweeks is brilliant - not just because you can go and poke your nose into people's crazy/beautiful/amazing houses and workspaces, and talk to them about their work too - but because it opens your eyes to just how much industrious creativity is buzzing all around you, all the time.

On a whistle-stop 1-hour tour of east Oxford Artweeks shows (they've got their own distinct area map this year - collect one at any of the east Oxford area locations), I managed to get a good look at 6 very different shows in settings ranging from a community garden to a cafe and a church. Stop One was no. 174 in the Artweeks guide: jeweller Lucy Polson's workshop off Warwick Street (behind Iffley Road). This charming higgledy-piggledy building is an Aladdin's cave of shiny treats, with chunky bangles, earrings and more made of copper, silver and semi-precious stones. Prices are artisan level, but then, you get what you pay for: a one-off, totally unique piece, made to suit you (she does commissions) and totally unavailable on the high street. Alongside Lucy's work is some colourful, scarily perfect quilting by local textile artist Janey Forgan (who currently has a piece on display in the V&A). Chances are high that Lucy will be there jewelling in person when you visit.

Stop 2 is just round the corner, at the bottom of Bedford Street (no. 176 in the guide). In a sunny little lean-to conservatory, you'll find Laurence Burrell's soft, misty, vivid blue-green pastels of local river scenes, landscapes and French beaches; watercolours of local city scenes; pencil nude studies and dinky pen-and-ink drawings of Oxford streets (originally created as Christmas cards, but quickly so popular that further reproduction became essential). Ask Laurence about his work - he'll be happy to discuss it.

On again to stop 3: Jane Hope (no. 175) on Argyle Street. I spotted a card by Jane at Laurence's - an eyecatching blue street sky scene with the strung overhead power lines so characteristic of north America. I've got a bit of a thing about the way these spindly structures intersect and interact with the natural and the rest of the built environment, and clearly, so has Jane! In her gorgeous garden studio there are more of these bright, mosaic-like oil paintings and pastels, alongside some
surprisingly easy-on-the-eye east Oxford street portraits (some made to commission) and colourful, attractive fruit and veg still lives. I loved the way the spidery, architectural shapes in Jane's San Francisco power line skylines were echoed by the bare trees in her winter Oxford streetscapes. (www.janehope.co.uk)

Stop 4 was St Alban's Hall, Charles St (no. 180), where Paul Proudman's large-format digital photos of California hang in a fabulously eyecatching way (with an interactive picture trail for children to investigate). I have to say that the picture in the guide (a big red truck) would not have enticed me in, but ignore this! I've seen some unremarkable stuff in St Alban's in the past (sorry!), but this is a stand-out show. Following on neatly from Jane Hope's San Francisco streetscapes, these pieces show a side of California that non-natives might not expect - with a range of nature-based images conveying a more rural perspective (with the odd huge truck, street evangelist or Hell's Angel for variation). There are detailed black and white studies of living cedars, massive hunks of beach driftwood and the grain of the weatherbeaten planks of ruined barns (with a combination of starkness and quirk evoking a kind of hippy Ansell Adams); colour shots of people enjoying beaches and of crazy junk scupltures and a stunningly captured pelican in flight. There are nearly 50 fascinating pictures here so allow yourself some time.

Stop 5 was The Magic Cafe (154, 155), where I expected to see Deidre Ruane's lush-looking ink drawings, but instead found Omega's group exhibit on life with ME. This is pretty heart-rending stuff and, as you might expect, mainly thought-provoking rather than decorative, but it's worth a look if you're passing (and if you don't know anything about ME). There is a gorgeous brightly coloured piece by the loos which uses innovative photographic techniques (by - I think - Luke Bell?) which was the stand out work for me. If anyone knows where Deidre's work has gone - let us know!

My last stop was Barracks Lane Community Garden (no. 145, behind Cowley Rd, signposted via Cumberland Road) where a garden design installation by Kate Jury and Emi Itom is on display in a spacious yurt. These technical print-outs and drawings were a bit dry for my tastes, but if you need a garden designing - a living artwork created, as it were - this would be the place to come to find out more. Helpful people are on hand and the garden itself is a hidden delight. Sign up to the garden's events mailing list while you're there too.

All in all, the standard of work is very high this year, and I was pleasantly surprised at every stop. Not all of these exhibitions are selling exhibitions (see guide for advice), but at those that are, you stand a good chance of being able to pick up a reasonably priced piece of real art by a local person. Most of them close at 6pm but a few open til 7pm - again, see your yellow Artweeks guide. Hop on your bike and see how many you can get to in an hour!

Full info at www.artweeks.org

May 10, 2010
Selected Central Oxford Artweeks Shows, Tue 11 May 2010
Oxford excels at unexpected triumphs; who would have thought that one eccentric aristocrat’s book collection would become one of the largest libraries in the world? Who would have thought that a bet between two old school friends would one day be one of the most popular sporting events in Britain?

The thinking behind ArtWeeks is equally unconventional: it's an umbrella organisation encompassing any artist, collective or gallery wishing to display work anywhere across the county. Cafes, colleges, church halls, studios, hospitals and many private houses are turned into free public exhibition spaces for the duration of their regional 'week' (City: 8-16 May, South Oxon: 15-23 May, North Oxon: 22-31 May - though timings vary, so do check in your yellow ArtWeeks guide, which you can collect free at most of the exhibitions).

You might think this inclusive policy would create a panoply of mediocrity, crammed full of works by people with more talent for self-promotion than art. In fact, the range of talent on display is staggering, with excellent work from many media - from sculpture to photography, ceramics to painting and beyond. Even more interesting is how easy and fun it is to see them. Every exhibition is free, most work is for sale and the participating venues (hundreds of them) are scattered across the entire county. Each exhibition is also pretty small, easily viewable in a lunchtime with time to spare, and the variety and quality of works ensures that you won’t get bored.

Here’s a selection of exhibits in central Oxford. Whenever you see the distinctive blue and yellow flag denoting ArtWeeks, try popping in - you’re not likely to be disappointed.

Christine Fertey-Green (no. 17), a south Oxfordshire oil painter, is showing her oil paintings in the café of Blackwell’s Bookshop, on Broad Street. She describes herself as being influenced by Gaugin, Matisse and Cezanne, and there certainly is a post-Impressionist touch to her works. They’re thickly textured, richly coloured semi-abstract landscapes, a combination which creates a slightly dreamy, almost psychedelic feel. Ideal for contemplating in between chapters (or while having a coffee).
Prices between £400 - £900. Café Nero, Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad St. 8-29 May: Mon-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 11am-7pm

A range of talent from current and past Teddy Hall students and staff is on display at St. Edmund’s Hall (no. 15). With such a wide range of contributing artists, there will inevitably be a range of abilities on display. Personally, I loved the photographs, which ranged from some beautifully composed architectural studies to great slice-of-life snaps from the “Hall Life” photography competition. There was a suitably eclectic selection of fabrics, sculpture and even furniture also on display, although personally I felt most of the painting, especially the portraits, lay somewhere between bland and banal.
Non-selling exhibition. St. Edward’s College, Queen’s Lane. 10-15 May: Mon 1-5pm, Tue-Fri 12-5pm, Sat 12-4.30pm

The Oxford Playhouse (no. 18) actually hosts two artists’ work, in an exhibition called Line and Form; the drawings of Michael Gabriel (drawn from the stage), and the sculptures (in the form of moving, empty dresses) of Alison Berman. As a big fan of the Playhouse, it was great fun to see memorable scenes from past productions captured on the page- from Die Fleidermaus to the fantastic giant from last Christmas’s Jack and the Beanstalk. However, I didn’t feel that Gabriel’s cartoony style really captured the sense of motion and action that it aimed for. Alison Berman’s dresses were better at this; both, however, were worth a look.
Prices on request. Oxford Playhouse, Beaumont St. 8-15 May: Mon-Sat 10am-6pm

The windows of Covered Arts (no. 13 - in, surprise surprise, the Covered Market) are playing host to the painting of Ron Ford, OAS. A selection of rural landscapes and more abstract pieces, Ford’s paintings really display a brilliant control of light and shade, with the texture of the acrylic blending wonderfully into the softness of his watercolours. The whole effect really makes the dramatic compositions start off the canvasses, and the whole display makes this corner of the Market even more charming than usual.
Prices between £150 - £ 780. Covered Arts, Covered Market. 8-31 May: daily, 9am-5pm

An antique shop might not necessarily be the ideal exhibition space, especially for a craft group; there’s always a risk of losing track of what’s on display and what’s for sale! Still, that’s what a group of local Oxford craft artists have chosen to do, by commandeering the back room of Antiques on High (no. 14) to display their work. Once again, variety is the name of the game (although the quality of design and craftsmanship remains consistently high). Items on display (and, naturally, for sale) range from elaborate jewellery using stained-glass designs from churches around Oxford to Rosie Howlett’s hand-painted cards. And Tania Norman’s ridiculously multicoloured bow ties, cummerbunds and pashminas were something else! Probably your best bet for an off-beat, low-key purchase, either from the exhibit or the antique shop.
Prices from £13+. Antiques on High, High St. 8-15 May: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm

The Gallery at the Town Hall (no. 12) is hosting a display of work by a group of leading ceramic artists, and really makes you consider the possibilities of pottery. There’s a dazzling range of techniques, designs and styles on offer, with something to suit everyone, from the strictly minimalist earthernware designs to Antonia Salmon’s bizarre, spiky “strata” pieces, perfectly (if decoratively) useless, except possibly as a toast rack. I rather liked Peter Haye’s lovely gilded miniature pots, which looked rather a lot like Egyptian tomb goods- which should give you some idea of the level of inventiveness and ingenuity on display here. 
Prices from £15 to £1475. Oxford Town Hall, St. Aldates. 8-22 May: Mon-Sat 9.30am-5.30pm, Sun 10am-4pm
The small but beautifully formed taster exhibition in the Vale and Downland Museum, Wantage gives a tiny introduction to what is going on in the Vale of the White Horse this week. A tour round the town and village sites when the countryside is at its best should not be missed. There are sculpture and painting by Dawn Benson and Lendon Scantlebury (237), paintings by Patsy Jones (238) and Pam Hardy (240) and two very contrasting textile artists Jill Cooper (239) and Amanda Hislop (236)all within a few minutes of each other. I particularly enjoyed driving through the local landscapes then seeing the locals interpretations of them.
We saw a very neat exhibition last night, one of the growing trend of the workplace "here's what our staff do in their spare time" category. These are also popular in schools, celebrating the endeavours of children, staff, governors and parents.

This one was at OUCS - the University's Computing Services outfit, and described itself as "a bunch of talented geeks", which was both true, and reassuringly not precious about their work.

I like potluck exhibitions, with a bit of everything. The most represented art form was probably photography, covering a whole range of subjects: international sights, some black-and-white Yosemite Ansel Adams-style shots, extreme close-ups of flowers so they cease to look like recognisable forms and become abstract structures.

One main area of the exhibition was the Dragonfly cooperative, made up of bellydancing OUCS staff, who offer IT services to support charities. They make a variety of things but most notably jewellery from recycled computer bits. It's quirky and individual.

The Dragonfly items were for sale, as were some of the photographs, but many things weren't. It felt as if everyone had been encouraged to contribute something. I was very taken with the paintings of the chillis, and the giraffe; with a spiky clay dragon; and by a lone textile abstract of trees bleeding red sap.

Lots to mull over, and the participants we met were very friendly. Also, helpfully, they're open till 8 on weekdays so you can go after work.
During this year’s Artsweeks in Oxford I would like to recommend the latest mixed media exhibition at Artspool. Although the quality of the work on display overall is very good I would like to draw your attention to three very distinct personalities who emerge from this show.

Jemma Watt’s work seems to be the most striking. “Binge” (1, 2- coloured pencil and photocopy) are forceful, rather Baconesque and vividly pornographic images of two naked, visibly intoxicated women in the centre of a town at night. Their obvious sexualisation is amplified by the use of deep red to emphasise their mouths, shoes and nipples. This orgy of colour is contrasted with the stark greyness of the city landscape; the bleakness of which is representing the emptiness of their lives. “House” (1, 3- etching) gives us images of female entrapment within the intricate outlines of a building. Finally in “Domesticity” project (cliché verre), in what seems to be at first glance an assembly of playful pictures, we encounter sexual violence; this time channelled by a naked woman being assaulted by everyday kitchen objects. Jemma Watts’ pieces speak very loudly about femininity which is constrained and deformed by the contemporary culture.

This leads us to the work by Omar Castaneda: “corpses over my land”- a sketch on fridge doors depicting plucked corpses of chickens, their anatomical detail not distracting one from the presence of death and the power struggle. In this case, not purely pointing to the inadequacy of the relations between humans and animals but symbolically being representative of any oppressed minority.

Lastly, Andris Wood’s oil painting “Head of a Suicide Bomb Victim” is reminiscent of the anguished faces in “The Raft of Medusa” by Gericault. It also works as an inversion of a portrait painting, a negative vanity- this sitter will never admire his own likeness. It bridges the gap between Romantic art and the modern viewer.

Don’t miss it. Challenging as it might sound it is a deeply rewarding exhibition.
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