Artweeks 2011

Oxford's annual artists' 'open studios' event. Guides available from TIC centres, libraries, etc.
Across Oxon, May 2011. Seen something beautiful/inspiring/remarkable this year? Tell Oxford about it here!

May 26, 2011
I really recommend the exhibition by Susannah Brough, in a very nice airy Garden Studio on Oakthorpe Place, just off Banbury Rd. (It's exhibition 317 in the catalogue.)

The exhibition consists of painted furniture, including child-sized tables and chairs, and memory boxes. Some are stained so the woodgrain shows through. There are also photos of some of the murals Susannah has produced - in schools, the JR and private homes (and which she can be commissioned to do).

The paintings are hyper-realistic, often larger than life and consist of objects like cricket balls, ballet shoes and fruit, and animals including rabbits, monkeys and fish. I haven't seen so much fruit painting since school art lessons, but somehow here they look cool - tasty, fun, incredibly solid, but still realistic.

My favourite of all was the children's tea table, ready set out with painted teacups, all patterned bone china, like the most intricate offerings from a vintage fleamarket. No two cups matched, but they were equally beautiful. I'd say the table would be wasted on the kids!

May 25, 2011
With so much on offer in Artweeks it’s difficult to choose what to see. However the advantage of there being artwork on display in absolutely every region is that it is quite possible to visit a few exhibitions just on your way somewhere. I began in Summertown with a visit to the Turrill Sculpture Garden and the North Wall Arts Centre, and then dropped in to see Rachel Ducker’s wire sculpture in Jericho on my way back into town.

The Turrill Sculpture Garden is a permanent feature in Summertown, just behind the library. I don’t think it had any kind of special exhibition for Arts Week; however it there were some good looking stone sheep, an unidentifiable sculpture made with bicycle chains hanging off it, lots of blackbirds (live ones), and a fountain. It was a small oasis of calm, and very pleasant to walk around.

I looked around two displays in the lower gallery of the North Wall Arts Centre. The bigger of the two displayed the results of a collaborative project to capture live dance in static drawing. Four artists had joined with a choreographer, a musician and some dancers to produce the artwork alongside studio dance sessions – a slide show on one wall showed various project members experimenting with dance positions and observing their silhouetted forms on the wall behind. The resulting ink on paper pieces were succeeded in being full of movement and their simplicity made them striking from a distance. The different work of the four artists cohered within the common theme, and yet they also each managed to bring their individual styles to the work. Clare Bassett’s dancing figures reminded me of Chinese letters in the boldness of their black lines; other artists made their figures smoky, or more like ink blots, or with thinner aquatic coloured lines around the figures as if to represent the movement itself.

Claude Harrison’s paintings of harlequins took up the other wall in the lower gallery. These are pleasingly surreal snapshots of patchwork clad performers in mysterious situations: in Popping Up, the characters seem to appear like Jack-in-the-boxes out of a waist high maze; in Fortune’s Wheel they hang off swing seats attached to a wheel which is spinning them dizzily high in the air; and in Hey Presto two clowns stand blankly in a desert landscape, one having clearly just revealed the other from beneath some white fabric. It’s all thoroughly bizarre, but I found myself making up explanations behind the scenarios – which I think was the intention of the artist, who hoped that the ‘formal and largely abstract constructions’ would, ‘like the first few lines of a poem, … catch the imagination inexplicably.’

I very much enjoyed my visit to Rachel Ducker’s house, with its three rooms and garden crammed full of sculpture, photography and jewellery. The photographs, by 12 year old Lucien, who won the competition to have his photograph on the front of the Arts Week programme last year, seemed to focus in on small sections of landscapes or buildings, making you guess the context of the snippet you are given, and meaning that what you couldn’t see was as important to the composition as what you could. I found Rachel’s sculptures really expressive, with the wire bound figures alternately in a tortured stance, or wildly ecstatic, or with electric hair standing on end as if in total shock. The larger pieces in the garden seemed humorous, if weird, with life-size wire torsos climbing out of the earth, and single arms waving at the viewer from out of the ground.

I only saw a tiny corner of what is on offer, but it whetted my appetite for more. I highly recommend getting out and visiting exhibitions in your area – and review them here to share the experiences as widely as possible!
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