Esther Lafferty is excited by the many and varied artworks - and artists - on show for this year's Oxfordshire Artsweeks event
Are you sitting comfortably, coffee in hand, luminous marker pen ready?
Because Oxfordshire Artweeks kicks off this Saturday and runs for almost the whole of May to celebrate the county’s visual arts.
It’s the UK’s biggest open studios event with around 500 exhibitions and events taking place for free, your only problem being where to start. So get your hands on a copy of the Artweeks Festival Guide (or download it from their website) and start organising your own schedule.
And you’ll be amazed at the breadth and quality of the things you’ll be able to see in and around your own neighbourhood.
From ethical fashion design in Abingdon to steam punk sculpture in Summertown, the secrets of the Pegasus theatre in East Oxford and jewellery inspired by Faberge Eggs in Dorchester-on-Thames, or even squashed smurfs there’s something to intrigue and delight every taste, whether you’re interested in fine art, modern design, photography, ceramics, wood-turning or perhaps, like me, the breadth of the art available excites you with 200 exciting new exhibitors showcasing their talents in 2014.
The venues are almost as much fun as the art itself, from conventional artists’ studios and quirky homes to medieval barns, cottage gardens and grandiose manors, you can not only study art in situ but share in the artistic process (often with a cup of tea or a glass of wine), discover the artists in person and hear the inspiration behind their pieces.
For example, if you visit the latest Mary Moser prize winner, Headington sculptor Martin Smith, exhibiting in both North and Central Oxford (O3 Gallery and St Michael’s Church, Lonsdale Road) you can hear how he was inspired by Henry Moore as a young teenager and decided then and there to become a sculptor.
Or Eynsham artist Jane Tomlinson who tells the story of her life lived in Oxford through a quirky pen and ink map, which will be on show in the Hamptons International office on Banbury Road.
Artweeks is also the chance to discover secret spaces locally, whether hidden cloisters down the Iffley Road as SJE Arts present an exhibition at the church of St John the Evangelist; in the oft-undiscovered Ardington estate, where a whole village will be bursting forth with sculpture and other art; or in the paintings of versatile Wantage artist Stuart Roper, whose sizeable paintings in acrylic, gouache and watercolour are displayed in the Vale and Downland Museum Alternatively, visit John Blandy in Wytham who has been painting the Seacourt stream for 40 years.
Visiting the many different venues, also helps you to see the world through the artist’s eyes: follow America’s iconic Route 66 through the eyes of Jericho photographer Frank Newhofer, journey through the arctic with Frances Brann in Burcot who spends six months of the year painting the scenes she sees from her 24 foot sail boat, or the wild and remote places experienced by wildlife photographer Ross Mackenzie.