Oxfordshire Artweeks’ Esther Lafferty looks at work inspired by the natural world

Red kites have only reached the north of the county fairly recently,” explains Ronny Loxton, from her studio in countryside near Banbury.

“We’ve had one in particular that has been visiting the garden for a year or so and I was really keen to paint him. One day I was lucky enough to get a snapshot of him from an upstairs window as he flew low over the grass and it gave me the idea of doing a bird’s eye view.

“I went up to the Avon-Dasset hills just north of Banbury where the views are spectacular and painted one of the views incorporating the bird, so the painting is really a composite of the two things.

Ronny has always painted the landscapes and wildlife she sees in the Oxfordshire countryside

She is holding an exhibition of her watercolours in the historic Swalcliffe Tithe barn, a magnificent 15th century construction with an intact half-cruck roof.

And yet, lately, her bent seems to be particularly ornithological: “I know!” she says. “I seem to have been particularly keen on painting birds this year,” she laughs, “And there are great tits as well as other garden birds, pheasants and owls in this year’s exhibition, including a pheasant flying low too, as well as my large and more typical misty landscapes.”

Ronny also paints familiar farm animals such as the chickens in her cottage garden and local cows grazing – recognisable vistas from the surrounding countryside. But don’t be surprised to also find pictures of zebras and elephants at the other side of the barn, as she

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grew up in Kenya where her parents were born, from whence she’s never truly escaped, as the wide open skies in her paintings suggest.

Sally Wyatt is also a painter whose abstracted landscapes evolve from observation, her rapid gestural sketches made outdoors, pin down a passion for bleakness in the landscape as well as beauty.

For Artweeks she is showing a new series of paintings which provide a visual record of a year at Cogges Manor Farm in Witney where she was artist in residence. These reflect the beauty of a working landscape farmed for 1000 years through an artist’s eyes.

“I’ve grown up loving the countryside, and the wilder the better,’ she explains. “Nuances of colour and tone fascinate me, and I seek pattern and form in quirks of nature. This year I have been able to discover a very different side of Cogges Farm having spent time there through the seasons, absorbing, mark making and sometimes drawing the meadow, trees and nature” says Sally, “I observed the vegetation in the meadow, the woods and the garden, seeking interesting light and shade, the tree structures devoid of leaves and the starkness of deepest winter. I rather like the inclement weather of autumn and winter when places are quieter and you can be more reflective.

“When I paint, I use watercolour for the expressive serendipity it brings and oils, for example, for their gorgeous malleability, sheen, subtlety and versatility. I apply the paint onto the canvas with my hands, big brushes, and palette knives.”

For traditional local farming scenes stop by the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock, to see a touring exhibition of British engraver, etcher and watercolour painter Stanley Anderson RA (1884 –1966) made up almost exclusively from private collections. Anderson is best known for his detailed engravings of country crafts, depicting real people, everyday techniques and tools which he produced in the 1930s-40s whilst living in the countryside near Thame. Anderson’s art was anti-modernist embodying his feelings on the dramatic changes he observed as the war affected the face of British landscape and society.

Over in Bampton, photographer Nik Stanbridge concentrates on abstract photography of rural and industrial scenes with a focus on today’s changing landscape and a series of monochromes images of the strategically-placed pillboxes built in harsh concrete along the Thames in the early 1940s to offer protection in the event of a German invasion. “I have been taking photographs of pillboxes for many years,” he explains. “I love how they are just there, stuck in the landscape. Many of them are in obscure and remote locations often overgrown and hidden, an incongruous reminder of an invasion that never happened. As subjects for photographs, they are, to me, ideal: monolithic, monochrome, abstract, concrete, decaying, crumbling, slightly creepy, and disappearing into the landscape. Life is going on around them and they are almost unnoticed as they melt into their surroundings. My photography is about capturing what’s right there in front of us that we all walk past without really noticing. I look for what’s hidden in plain sight that’s either transient, disappearing or so obvious we’ve all stopped seeing it.”

Oxfordshire Artweeks – Week 2 (North and West Oxfordshire runs from May 13-20) The festival runs until May 29. artweeks.org