The Sea at Oxfordshire Artweeks
No sea exhibition would be complete without a boat...
As April arrives, whatever the weather showers upon us, we know we can lean forward and almost touch the summer, and start to make plans for those sunny days ahead. And whilst you can’t get much further from the country’s coastline than Oxfordshire, many of us will brave the traffic and head to the sea.
However, if you love the waves but would rather avoid the queues, or the mercury in the thermometer hasn’t yet risen high enough, then take a trip this month to The Jam Factory in Oxford, just a stone’s throw from the station to whet your appetite: many local artists draw much of their inspiration from the edges of this island so, for April, Artweeks artists are bringing the sea to the dreaming spires in an exhibition by sixteen very different artists that runs until 29 April.
Janine Philips from Thame is an avid surfer and paints in the open air on the beach, her wetsuit round her waist. ‘I have to be quick, you see,’ she laughs, ‘to capture the light and the way it dances on the water because the clouds shoot across the sky so fast, and as time and tide wait for no man (or artist), you’ll never see that exact same view again’. Janine has always been drawn to water and its reflective qualities.
‘I never tire of looking at the unpredictable rhythm of waves and the sense of depth felt when looking at the distant horizon,’ she explains. Her Devon sunsets over the water and big seascapes, both representational and abstract, always evoke a sense of place. Rich blue stripes glint with the ephemeral qualities of sunshine as the rich texture of oil paint applied thickly with a palette knife, like the waves, changes with the moving light.
Jostling with Pembrokeshire coastlines by Cote painter Neville Crowson, from Kent, we have the view from the late film director Derek Jarman's shack on the shingle at Dungeness by mixed media artist Caroline Chappell. She describes awful blowy weather with low cloud, and yet how in his garden the salty stones shone out, and so did the writing onthe gable wall....John Donne's poem writ large, 'Busy Old Fool, unruly Sun...etc. and how, miles from anywhere except taciturn fishermen and a nuclear power station, as she turned to look towards the sea, the shingle bank almost hid it. (This painting is one in a whole series of seascapes which will be on show in The Jam Factory throughout May for Oxfordshire Artweeks as venue 195). The Jurassic coastline also takes its place in the form of a contemporary mosaic in rich purples by Oxford’s Claire Kearney inspired by the fossils of Lyme Regis.
For those who prefer to enjoy the view from a colourful deckchair, their toes in golden sand, there’s an inland beach at one end of the gallery where you can sit and watch people playing in the waves!
Jill Colchester trained as a contemporary dancer and, used to working with movement, her brush is responsive and fleeting as she depicts on canvas the warm body in cold water, the sun sparkling on the retreating wave, and that thrill of a quick dip in the white horses, and captured, by glass artist Wendy Newhofer, you’ll find a swimmer golden against pale aquatic tones.
John Stephens' The Three Graces on the Beach is based on a famous sculpture in the Louvre, a wonderful figure group in marble by Jean Jacques Pradier. The figures have been transported by artist John Stephens onto a hazy beach setting in a painting both simplified and yet monumental, while the memories of Jim Robinson, a Chalgrove artist, playing with cousins on Bexhill beach in the 1960s, deliberately painted in the palette of the early Ladybird books , and a childhood in India provide a touch of beach nostalgia, alongside an unusual and lighthearted depiction of beach ephemera by Harwell’s Robert Strange.
A new series of work created especially for this April exhibition contemplates the deeper water beyond seeing parallels in this and the personalised nature of decision-making, of pathways in art and life, and the way that one’s environment can dictate direction. Intrigued by the moon, magnetic forces, the seabed, and tides,
Oxford Mail art critic Sarah Mayhew Craddock’s On a Level is a mixed media series of pieces
placing emphasis on the surface level whilst acknowledging the mystery of ‘what lies beneath’, inviting the viewer to acknowledge the enormity and influencing factors of what lies beneath and above.
No sea exhibition would be complete without a boat, skimming the top if the water, provided here in large-scale acrylic by Jane Vaux, herself fresh from the Devon coastline, and the power of the water is perhaps felt nowhere more keenly than in coastal villages.
In an oilskin installation called Fisherman’s Blues, textile artist Claire Blackburn records the story of the fishing community of Brixham in South Devon using print, embroidery, appliqué, and digitally printed photographs, her narrative based upon a series of interviews with fishermen, lifeboatmen and coastguards.
The fisherman’s life is challenging and yet in the face of dangers, difficulties and the economic hardships; is there a touch of a romance with the deep blue water that lures these men back to the deep blue yonder? The work, dedicated to all those fishermen that fill our Oxfordshire freezers week in week out with their fresh fish straight off the boat, makes me appreciate how lucky we are to enjoy the treasures from the sea so far afield. And now, as we are a county awash with farms, anyone for Oxfordshire ice-cream?
For more information on all these artists visit artweeks.org
Artweeks is Oxfordshire’s largest visual arts festival and the UK’s oldest and biggest open studios event, a three-week celebration from 2-25 May with more than four hundred venues and exhibitions across the county.
Top Image - Jane Vaux
Bottom Image - The Jam Factory
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