In his new solo exhibition Vantage Point, Christopher Farrell is setting out to explore Oxford, recording not only its iconic skyline but the rapidly changing face of the city too, writes Sarah Lacey

Already well known for his interpretations of historic painting techniques, used to make his distinctive paintings of London, often large-scale, his paintings contain breath-taking detail with combinations of highly skilled drawn marks as well as more gestural and abstract forms.

Using similar approaches to painters of the past, in particular Canaletto, Christopher practices methods that have not changed for centuries, yet he doesn’t romanticise or omit indicators of a rapidly changing skyline – the cranes, traffic lanes and glow of air-craft tail lights are all very much part of his work.

Turning his attention to Oxford, Christopher aimed to ‘learn’ the city through drawing. With this in mind, visitors can expect to see an artistic investigation of Oxford. Christopher is particularly interested in using traditional methods such as red chalk, silver and gold point, on specially prepared surfaces. These techniques date back to the 14th century, used by artists like Durer, Da Vinci and Raphael. It’s an unforgiving method, taking many hours of practice.

The new collection features a mix of drawings and large-scale paintings of the city’s skyline at differing times of the day from the middle of the day, to twilight and night, when the street lights are aglow. Other paintings examine the streets’ spatial make-up, capturing the mix of architecture and the sense of movement from traffic and people.

As a new addition to Sarah Wiseman Gallery’s carefully chosen group of artists, Christopher Farrell has only recently begun visiting Oxford. He began his research by taking a guided tour with Sarah Wiseman, director of Summertown’s Wiseman Gallery, scrambling up every tower and high spot they could get to – including Oxford Castle mound and former prison, Carfax Tower, Saxon Tower, the Ashmolean, and Varsity Club. He was struck by the variety of buildings and architecture, and for this exhibition felt that this mix of buildings needed his visual distillation in order to build a unified impression of the city.

“Oxford is very exciting and complex, with the mix of the architecture and the city overall,” he says.

“The painting process starts off by me thinking about the composition and colour. I gradually introduced the buildings as my understanding of the city grew, using the drawings as source material to reinvent my vision of Oxford in a non-representational way; I want to try to avoid obvious viewpoints so I have opted to try and capture the essence of the city, combining figurative painting with abstraction.

“I am always thinking, what do I need to make the paintings look like Oxford? Do I need to have representational paintings with the spires? Can a painting represent Oxford with just colour and only a suggestion of the architecture, through gestures, lines and space?’

The city of Oxford is at a moment in time where rapid development and building is creating a new facet to the life of a town long associated with ancient tradition and academia. A glittering new shopping centre, new housing, manufacturing and transport links to London have all meant that Oxford’s image is refocussing itself. Christopher’s paintings echo these new beginnings, but also reference and highlight links with the city’s renowned history.

  • Vantage Point : A Contemporary View of Oxford
  • Sarah Wiseman Gallery, South Parade, Oxford
  • Until February 10