Art Jericho’s new owner is bringing a fresh approach. Anne James reports

This month sees the reopening of Art Jericho under the ownership of Jenny Blyth, taking over from Patricia Baker-Cassidy, who for the last five years has provided Oxford with a wonderfully varied series of art exhibitions, all executed to a consistently high standard.

Jenny, whose career includes a number of years working with the Saatchis, is bringing her own distinctive influence to the gallery and has chosen as her debut exhibition Ground Work, paintings by Andrew Walton and poems by David Attwooll. The exhibition will see the launch of their pamphlet Ground Work: Twelve Walks, in which each of Attwooll’s poems is accompanied by one or more illustrations by Walton. There are 12 poems, one for each month, and they and the illustrations capture the mercurial nature of Port Meadow at different times of day and in different seasons: in sun, shadow, frost, snow, rain and fog.

Work on show includes the original artwork from the pamphlet and wall-mounted copies of Attwooll’s poetry. In order to make their work, both men visited and revisited the meadow regularly, thus cementing impressions and images so they could translate them into words, drawings or paintings.

Dominating the gallery entrance is a bank of Walton’s images, Snow 2013, each working beautifully as individual pieces and together as a collective whole.

Between them they speak of the impact of snow on earth, the sinuous movement of water and the repetitive patterns of expanses of grass. Each is executed on khadi paper, a paper made from Indian cotton waste that possess particular qualities that absorb ink and paint, producing soft gentle lines as in Track and Wind. This is a wonderfully tactile deconstructed view of Port Meadow that takes the remains of pony tracks, one weaving past another as the animals seek the best route through boggy ground, all flanked by a rhythmically repetitive pattern of grasses and the strong blast of the wind. Walton was at art school in the mid 60s when the teaching emphasis was on the conceptual and abstract. He explains that it took him some time after graduating to realise, and to have the confidence to believe, that his strength is as a ‘maker of images’, describing his approach as ‘looking and trying to translate that into paint’. It is something he achieves seemingly effortlessly by capturing the reality in front of him and moving each piece beyond mere representation.

Many of the paintings in the exhibition draw from his experience of walking on Port Meadow and in other parts of the Thames Valley. As Walton explains, when you are walking your gaze is lowered and your focus is on the ground before you, horizons and skyscapes are lost from view, as demonstrated by the paintings where huge swathes of grass dominate and horizons become peripheral and skies non-existent.

Also included are the 15 landscapes that Walton has created in the 18th- and 19th- century tradition of producing an oil painting in situ: one that moves from warm colours at the front of the piece to cooler colours at the rear and in the skyscape, as in Wytham Looking NE 2012. Walton has put the landscapes in his own handmade frames, each in a subtle charcoal grey, the colour of each frame matched to each individual picture.

In another style and tradition Walton has created a more representational image of Nunnery Godstow, in ink on paper, describing this as ‘a doorway’ to his work. Shown alongside and in contrast is a line drawing of the Nunnery on a stark white background. The two pieces provide complementary perspectives on this iconic ruin so integral to the meadow. Included too, is a wonderful Cabinet of Curiosities that Walton has specifically assembled for the exhibition. This, in the classic Tradescant tradition, contains objects found over the years, many from the municipal dump that used to inhabit part of the meadow, alongside more ‘natural’ treasures such as a mummified frog. Completing the cabinet are Walton’s sketchbooks.

The exhibition is a fine launch to the programme Jenny Blyth Fine Art has planned for 2014 and beyond. It also prov-ides a chance to engage with the work of an exceptional visual artist, and the eng-aging poetry of David Attwooll — and to reflect on one’s own experience of walk-ing the meadow and the privilege it is to have open access to such a special place.

The exhibition includes a poetry reading on the evening of February 6.

Ground Work: Twelve monthly walks over Port Meadow and Wolvercote Common
Art Jericho, King Street, Oxford
Until February 23