Art can take you to some extraordinary places, and as the city leg of Oxfordshire Artweeks begins, it allows us to study some itinerant work in the most interesting of surroundings.

They include the wonderful cloisters of the church of St John the Evangelist, just off Iffley Road. Here, among a veritable tribe of talented sculptors and ceramicists, we meet painter Caroline Harben, a painter who spent her childhood in Zimbabwe and has lived in South Africa, the US and Denmark, but who has now made Abingdon her home.

Her paintings have been inspired by what she calls the ‘spirit of place’, which began with architecture in landscape and has become increasingly abstract: they are now about the land itself.

“I was a geographer originally, perhaps because I always loved going to new places, and particularly wild places,” she explains. “For a long time, I had a soft spot for geomorphology, which is essentially the history of the landscape. I also worked for many years in international market research, which involves human geography and the way it affects people and their habits. That took me to more than 50 countries.

“After a conference in Taiwan, we were shown some of the countryside which was like nothing I had ever seen. I remember a gorge of huge rocks, like giant boulders, about 3000 feet high, which completely dwarfed us. I suddenly understood that feeling which Chinese paintings often portray of high mountains with the tiniest people at the bottom. It reminded me again that nature is just so much bigger than mankind.”

‘I love open spaces in the vast landscapes of Southern Africa and the central United States where you can drive for miles and miles and feel as if you have the landscape to yourself. In Canada, I remember being a hundred miles away from the Rockies in Calgary, and yet still have to look up at the mountains – they come out of the plains and go straight up! I always tell people going on safari that it isn’t about counting what you see, but about being with the animals. To watch a herd of elephants at a waterhole is to experience how elephants are and what they do, not what they look like or how many there are.’ Somehow, you have a sense of being “in” the landscape rather than looking “at” it and it is this sense of wonder that I want to capture in my paintings.

These hang alongside abstracts by East Oxford’s Emma Davis and Banbury’s Christine O’Sullivan, striking sculpture and delicate jewellery, intriguing ceramics and more.

For a South American flavour, meanwhile, head to Wolvercote where painter Judith Zur´s interest in people and their cultures inspires her art. A clinical psychologist and social anthropologist, she lived in Latin America for nearly twenty years and her work on how people reconstruct their lives after political conflict lead to her series of paintings of Guatemalan indigenous people and the story of their survival: how they sustain themselves on the rural lands and their relationships with their animals.

In The Jam Factory in Oxford centre, you can visit India with British Asian artist Kamal Koria whose striking stylised images are rich with the feelings and colours of a childhood elsewhere: vivid reds and dusty brown, saffron, ochres, orange, shining black hair and a wonderful feeling of sunshine. Looking at the women and buffalo, you are transported to another continent to experience the simplicity of Kamal’s childhood, and you can almost hear the noise that would surround these street scenes. Kamal’s latest paintings explore symbolism from the elephant-headed god of good luck Ganesha to the bindi on the forehead and the bangles worn by the women of Gujerat in this exhibition to coincides with the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

And you can travel too beyond this world to the Garden of Eden, in St Barnabas’s Church in Jericho! Here, amongst a utopia of artists and designer-makers, hatmaker Lizzie Hurst displays her stunning ‘Midnight Temptation’ saucer hat. Inspired by the story of Adam and Eve which depicts the moment before the serpent lures Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, the hat is a dark purple-blue with, at its crown, a saucy and sensational apple in shining red and green sequins, and the contrast is striking. Creeping around the apple, a more muted ribbon of spotted snake curls to a lightly feathered rim, a charming fellow with friendly glitzy eyes, peeping over a rim beneath which a few leaves of garden green shimmer to frame the face. Whoever knew that hats could take you places rather than the other way round!

For more information on these exhibitions and the hundreds of exhibitions open for the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival (which runs until 29th May), pick up a festival guide in the library or another local information point, or visit – week 3 (Oxford City; 20th-29th)

Oh The Places you’ll go! all without leaving the ring road, all with Oxfordshire Artweeks!