As it prepares to mark its 30th anniversary year, SARAH MAYHEW previews some of the attractions coming to Oxfordshire Artweeks, which is bringing creativity to the county throughout next month.
Hands up if you’re not exhibiting or attending Oxfordshire Artweeks next month?
Now the country’s biggest open studio event, with more than 500 exhibitions and events taking place across Oxfordshire between May 5-27, I picked up a guide last week and thought I was going to put my back out, it was so chunky.
But where to start? It’s a very good question, and I guess it depends on how you take tea.
The event is divided up into three weeks, with the concentration on exhibitions in North Oxfordshire from May 5-13, moving to Oxford from 12-20, and finally into South Oxfordshire from 19-27. And, if you want to make a day of it, a number of towns, villages and pockets in the city are producing their own Artweeks trail guides to help visitors plan their days out and find the exhibition venues along an easily navigable route (these will be available to download at artweeks.org from May).
One thing is for sure, the work by artists who open their doors to make this the county’s largest arts festival grows more eclectic each year, and I for one am pleased to see the event developing in this way, not least because it means there will be at least five exhibitions that every person in Oxfordshire (and beyond) will want to visit.
In fact, not only does Oxfordshire Artweeks present a fantastic way to expose yourself to new art of all disciplines, it’s also a really fun way to explore the county, meet new people, stock up on gifts (large and small) and, with a host of activities and participatory events on offer, enable you to entertain the family.
Oxfordshire Artweeks is all about accessibility – welcoming introductions (and the odd cup of tea), it’s as far from pretentious as art gets, so get stuck in and open your eyes, minds and imaginations.
From the more conventional open studio to caravans and canal boats, there’s an exhibition to be found the length and breadth of the county in almost every conceivable location. This year is the 30th anniversary of the event, so where better to warm up than with a glimpse inside the private moments of 30 Oxfordshire artists at work, captured on film in black and white by Simon Murison-Bowie in his exhibition Artists & Studios: Private Views.
Capturing the wealth and variety of creativity in the county, this exhibition continues in Modern Art Oxford until April 29 before touring to The Mill Arts Centre in Banbury.
There’s a well-trodden path around North Oxford that will do what people have come to expect Artweeks in North Oxford to do, and I’ll leave you to find your own doors to knock on in that department as the rest of the city is awash this year with more unusual treats and surprises.
That said, this year’s Mary Moser Prize winner, Raku ceramicist Crabby Taylor, will be exhibiting in both North and Central Oxford (O3 Gallery, Oxford Castle Quarter, and 82 Southmoor Road, Oxford) – dicing with fire, this artist’s daring approach to an art form is definitely work a look.
There’ll also be a photography exhibition celebrating the reality and surreality of everyday life in contemporary Britain in a small but perfectly formed 1969 mustard caravan that will be parked in Castle Street Square in Oxford Castle Quarter from May 5-12. Described as “distressingly perceptive, beautifully absurd, and seriously thought-provoking”, artists Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale (aka The Caravan Gallery crew) have been busy touring the nooks and crannies of Oxford taking photographs that capture the idiosyncrasies of the city as you and I see it (as opposed to the dreaming spires admired by the two-hour tourists). The fruits of this finger-clicking labour will be exhibited in the O3 Gallery alongside video portraits created by Oxford Brookes University art students in association with The Caravan Gallery that will also be available to view in Modern Art Oxford and The Gallery at The Old Fire Station in Gloucester Green.
Oxfordshire Artweeks director Esther Browning, pictured bottom far left, said: “It’s exciting to be capturing the city photographically in this way as a counterpoint to more traditional images of the city that will also be exhibited during Artweeks.”
The Gallery at The Old Fire Station is a new Artweeks venue on the block, and if its 2012 exhibition, Here and Now, is anything to go by, the future is looking very bright for this shiny new venue.
Organised in collaboration with The Caravan Gallery, O3 Gallery, Oxford Castle Quarter, Crisis Skylight, Grandpont Children’s Centre and The Redbridge Travellers Women’s Group, Here and Now is an open-entry photography exhibition that seeks to present a series of snapshots of Oxford that might be at odds with the more rose-tinted city that non-residents encounter.
Jericho’s Albion Beatnik bookshop-cum-cafe will be hosting a fascinating sounding series of paintings in its underground gallery (who knew?) that explores the use of light as a way to make symbols and words jump out from the canvas.
The exhibition at Edith Road Workshops, off Abingdon Road, also looks interesting with work by new Artweeks exhibitor Sarah Wilkes, whose intricate compositions show painted and drawn images of people in a variety of constructed landscapes.
Then to East Oxford, an area that never fails to deliver something a little bit different.
Five fabulous artists have taken cinematic themes as their inspiration and will install work in the auditorium at the Ultimate Picture Palace in Jeune Street.
Lorraine Berkshire-Roe will display her playfully poetic papier maché birds on biscuits, whilst other artists draw inspiration from their favourite films including 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Wizard of Oz.
Taking participation to another level, Andrew Roe will exhibit a series of canvases that have been stamped, mailed and man-handled through the postal service. Telling the story of their journey, Andrew’s canvases feature hand-written messages inviting Royal Mail workers to draw or paint on them, and the drawings of those workers that took up the invitation.
Tucked in behind G&D’s on Cowley Road is the studio shared by Stella Campion and Charlotte Berry; step inside for an exciting opportunity to take a break from the 2-D and visit the workshop of a professional jeweller and silversmith.
Never one to miss an opportunity, nestled neatly between Cowley Road and Iffley Road is the Old Boot Factory, on St Mary’s Road, where I will be exhibiting a new-media installation, The Natural Course of Things.
The work explores the themes of language and decision-making, and the paths that we find ourselves following, or the course that we find ourselves carving out in life, consciously or otherwise.
Take a stroll along the river to an exhibition to the original 1930s Corpus Christi College barge on Meadow Lane, off Donnington Bridge, where you will find jewellery and furniture inspired by nature. Or venture out of town to Kingham Lodge, in the heart of Kingham, to explore over 150 sculptures created by more than 30 sculptors in the five acres of landscaped gardens.
If you’re inspired to invest it’s worth knowing that all proceeds from the Kingham Lodge exhibition will be split between a number of international arts charities, and others closer to home including Helen & Douglas House.
Clearly, the list is exhaustive, and this is only the tiniest taste of the tantalizing creativity at play this May.
So hopefully, see you on the street with a guide in hand (available to download from the Artweeks website).
* Oxfordshire Artweeks takes place from May 5-27 (North Oxfordshire May 5-13, Oxford 12-20, and South Oxfordshire 19-27).
For more information about participating artists, venues, and art trails visit www.artweeks.org