WITH blockbuster shows by globally renowned artists like Ai Weiwei, Yves Klein and gold lavatory creator Maurizio Cattelan pulling in the crowds, Blenheim Palace has firmly established itself on the artistic map.

But as the Woodstock stately home prepares for its next groundbreaking annual spectacular, this time by Tino Sehgal, art lovers are being invited to admire stunning work by a clutch of artists from closer to home.

Woodstock’s Zuleika Gallery is presenting a new programme of exhibitions for the palace Stable Yard’s new Gardens Gallery Café. And while the names may not be as familiar as the big guns in the palace, they are equally appealing, with strong local links to the landscape. Their pastoral scenes of nature, parkland and the open countryside chime with our shared experience of reconnecting to the natural world and outdoor spaces over the past year.

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Celebrating the re-opening of the palace after months of lockdown, the Expressions of Nature exhibition jointly showcases the work of regional emerging and established contemporary artists Rachel Gracey, Rod Craig, Rosannagh Scarlet Esson and Peter Care, whose work is inspired by landscapes and the natural environment – including those of the surrounding hills, woods, lakes and valleys.

The show, which runs till September, is curated by Zuleika Gallery founder and director Lizzie Collins and senior director Hannah Payne, and comes as Zuleika launches its own show, Brave New World, at its gallery in Park Street, featuring artist Stuart Hartley.

Oxford Mail: Rachel Gracey

Rachel Gracey

Oxford printmaker Rachel describes herself as an artist enthused by the power of nature and is inspired by Oxford University Parks. She says: “The pandemic has shown how important local landscapes are to us. I am thrilled to be invited to exhibit my lithographs of the University Parks in a setting such as Blenheim where the changing shape of nature is similarly fostered and admired.”

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Woodstock artist, Rod Craig switched to being a full-time artist in 2010 after a long career in design. Motivated by the contrast between city life and the Oxfordshire countryside, he has made many studies of Blenheim’s parklands.

Oxford Mail: Woodstock artist Rod Craig is among those showing his work at Blenheim

Rod Craig

He says: “I am absolutely thrilled to have been asked by Zuleika Gallery to be a part of this exhibition. Over the last year I’ve painted in and around Blenheim Park a great deal. It’s truly inspiring and right on my doorstep.

“I’m very happy to be working with them and to have the opportunity to show some of my latest work at the palace.”

Based at her studio in Charlbury, Rosannagh Scarlett Esson creates abstract expressions of colour and form through exposure to elemental forces, harnessing the transformative effects of fire, rain, ice, time and gravity to reflect the untameable nature of the elements, and the duality of creation and destruction.

Themes explored include wildness, rewilding, ecological succession and alchemical symbolism. Since graduating from Oxford Brookes in 2016, she has exhibited across Europe.

She says: “I am delighted to be exhibiting at Blenheim. Not only is it a beautiful and inspiring environment for artists, but their pioneering sustainability programme makes it the perfect setting for an exhibition focused on nature.”

Oxfordshire painter Peter Care demonstrates a love of nature but resists literal representation, using paint to carefully reveal and expose forms previously hidden.

Oxford Mail: Peter Care

Peter Care

He says: “Where subject matter is often used as a starting point in painting, for me it is often found at the end of the painting process. In other words, the process of making the painting produces the image.”

The works presented are all for sale through Zuleika Gallery, which is a member of the Own Art Scheme – a government funded payment scheme which makes buying art accessible through interest-free instalments.

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Zuleika’s Hannah says: “It’s wonderful to celebrate and support artistic talent living and working in the county, and also to promote wellbeing through the enjoyment of art and creativity. As we emerge out of lockdown, this inaugural exhibition reminds us of the value of connecting to nature and its ability to lift the spirits when we need it most. With our gallery located close by in Woodstock and our connections to the Oxfordshire arts community, we’re delighted to curate exhibitions in the beautiful new Gardens Gallery Café at Blenheim Palace”.

See zuleikagallery.com