Artweeks: See Oxfordshire Afresh
"Like the human fingerprint, the marks on each individual are unique. I’m working on a series of different butterflies and moths in glass which I think is much better than a specimen cabinet packed with dead insects. The glass seems to make them come alive!"
As the sun comes out, we hope, for May and the Artweeks Festival, there’s a real opportunity to look around and notice Oxfordshire anew in all its glory - its many faces and the myriad of marvellous facets that sparkle through our windows, in hedgerows, beneath our feet, in the people who live here.
Having worked for twenty years in a London school, artist Sophia Stewart-Liberty (Artweeks venue 81) took the plunge and moved to Dorchester-on-Thames last year to become a full-time painter, enjoying seeing the continual flux in the local countryside through which she walks her dog each day. She paints and blogs a picture a day, capturing veils of colour and the light as it shifts over landscapes changing the patterns and atmosphere, committing to paper the luminous and spiritual nature of the places she visits.
Nearby, glass artist Vikki Rose is the Oxfordshire Moth Conservation Officer for Butterfly Conservation, a British charity devoted to saving butterflies, moths and their habitats throughout the UK. “I like under-represented creatures like bats and moths,” she explains, “and ever since I got involved in the Oxford Moth project I’ve been fascinated by all the different colours and patterns of moths: there’s an incredible diversity and they’re just as beautiful as butterflies.” It’s this beauty that Vikki recreates and will be showing in Little Wittenham (venue 84) for Artweeks.
“And did you know,” she continues, “that like the human fingerprint, the marks on each individual are unique. I’m working on a series of different butterflies and moths in glass which I think is much better than a specimen cabinet packed with dead insects. The glass seems to make them come alive!”
It’s sheep, however, that inspire Oxford textile artist and designer-maker Nicki Parsons (Artweeks venue 367), who became aware that in a county which built riches on the Cotswold wool trade - Witney remained a bastion of blanket-making until only recently - wool is now worth very little. Hoping she might highlight the plight of British sheep farmers, she became involved in the International Feltmakers Association for whom she is a course mentor and YouTuber and now, amongst many other things, creates lampshades with the wool of different breeds of sheep which have surprisingly different properties although all cast a soft warm organic light.
Previously inspired by wool too, whether knitted or crocheted, Headington’s Helle Christensen (Artweeks venue 302) then turned to pottery and now uses plaster moulds to create what look like ‘knitted’ mugs. And over in Osney, rag-rugs are created over a coffee and a chat – visit and see the pictorial results for the floor or the wall along with silk scarves, calligraphy, papier-mache sculpture, handmade prints and willow baskets. “Originally, it was me that was going to learn willow-weaving,” says Louise Summers (Artweeks venue 370), “but in the end the course wasn’t for me, so I sent my husband instead and he now is an expert creating bowls and stools, as well as living sculpture!”
There’s willow-weaving out in Wytham Woods too, and recording the work of FarmAbility and the achievements and joy of adults with autism and learning disabilities, meet Howard Stanbury, who is also exhibiting as part of Oxford Photographers (venue 391) whose genres range from architecture and landscape to wildlife and local street photography. Another of the Oxford Photographers is Martin Wiggall, Oxfordshire’s Bunkfest photographer who, so I’m told, has a series of coloured Dr. Martens under his belt! He is exhibiting as part of a group exhibition beneath medieval artwork in newly refurbished Chalgrove Church (Artweeks venue 106) where you’ll also find Oxfordshire flowers (and other things) which are given a permanent lustre when encapsulated in resin with silver fittings as charming unique jewellery.
Local flowers are also the subject matter of Bloxham photographer Jane Fabian (venue 209) who is exhibiting a series of wonderful images from a broken camera in a large garden shed. Having accidentally dropped the lens, she discovered the camera now takes extreme close-ups with stunning results, its focus only achieved by moving backwards and forwards towards the subject. “Without a tripod and on a windy day I never knew what the camera would capture, and it could be surprisingly beautiful, or occasionally disastrous,” she explains, “and I chose botanical subjects for my experiments because my garden was very colourful and provided quick and easy access on sunny days. There was no need to travel to Kew or anywhere else exotic.”
In her new garden studio near Wantage (venue 19), Artweeks first-timer Leila Anderson says, “For an artist, what could be more inspiring or intriguing than the power of The Uffington White Horse Hill and Wayland's Smithy; Dragon Hill and The Ridgeway itself dating back to the Bronze Age and beyond.” She moved to South Oxfordshire from Ludlow just over a year ago to find she had all this history and natural beauty sitting right on her doorstep, in The Vale of the White Horse.
Showing local scenes with the Abbey Group in St Nicholas' Church in Abingdon (Artweeks venue 72) is Dougie Simpson, who paints with a precision and delicacy that you’d expect from a man who has spent time as a dressage judge. He took up art with a year's post-retirement sabbatical in Venice (“a city where there are no horses!”) where he studied the basics of drawing and watercolour painting, learning Italian and enjoying the cuisine and café lifestyle, before returning to paint Oxfordshire. “But I don’t paint horses,” he chuckles, “because they keep moving!”
And over at Witney’s Cogges Manor Farm (Artweeks venue 141), artist-in-residence Sally Wyatt has spent a year making a visual record of the beauty of this ancient working landscape that boasts an 1,000 year history, interpreting the heritage farmstead in her own unique way, producing an expressive, abstract and figurative sequence. “I have spent time at Cogges through the seasons, absorbing, mark-making and sometimes drawing the meadow, trees and nature,” says Sally, “observing the vegetation in the meadow, the woods and the garden in summer, seeking interesting light and shade, the tree structures devoid of leaves and the starkness of deepest winter. My previous memories were of the old farm museum that my own children visited 20 years ago and so this year has totally changed the way I see the place!”