WITH the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival in full swing, South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse, have burst into life with art of every shape, size and type.

We are all welcome to explore studios and art spaces that are normally hidden behind closed doors. It’s all free, and all we need is a touch of curiosity. And there are two more days - Saturday and Sunday (May 21-22) to enjoy the best of the south before the focus shifts to the north of the county.

In the very heart of Wantage, for example, interior designer and artist Bahar Murphy is inviting visitors to her characterful studio which tucked away in a pretty garden behind a Victorian terrace.

It’s an intriguing space, bright with flowers, bunting and stylish accessories that hint at Bahar’s friendly and welcoming character.

Her paintings are bold and busy, incorporating international architectural styles and a myriad of details from the built world. In her pieces, symbols and iconic motifs drawn from history, religion and global cultures are drawn together and reimagined in stylish compositions that capture a spirit of integration and internationalism and she builds new places with an exuberant dynamism, sweeping horizons and, often, bold colours to spark the imagination.

Oxford Mail: Oxfordshire Artweeks - south Oxfordshire -  Bahar Murphy

Bahar Murphy

“I’m an observer,” she says. “Wherever I go, I observe – people, places, perspectives – and I try and include what I have seen and experienced all around the world in my paintings.

“They are never of just one place: they are nowhere and yet they are everywhere. I am uncomfortable, politically, with what is going on in the world in many countries, and I am passionate about global unity, that the world should see itself as a single entity whilst celebrating the wonderful diversity of cultures within it today.

“It’s that global ambition that I am representing in each of my pieces.”

Looking at Bahar’s paintings, you’ll see arches and domes, spires and skyscrapers, bridges and waterways, all interwoven into a glorious world for the viewer to explore.

Oxford Mail: Bahar Murphy’s enthralling work

Each is a journey, full of iconic shapes and symbols from different cultures – minarets meet medieval clock towers, gothic skylines meet modernity, their coming-together exciting yet harmonious. Each could be a set for a magical dream or an aspiration for a future way of life.

“Although they are still a collage of elements from all around the world, many of the paintings on show have been particularly influenced by Oxford and Oxfordshire,” she says.

“It’s a beautiful county and I feel very lucky to be spending a few years here. I think to really understand a place, you should live in it. For me, Oxfordshire inspires a calmer, more subtle palette than the colours I use for lands under the burning a sun. So I have used gentle pastel shades and muted hues, as well as strong black and whites for domes and spires. There are always some bursts of strong colour too.”

Oxford Mail: Oxfordshire Artweeks - south Oxfordshire -  johannes von stumm

Piece by Johannes Von Stumm

Venture south to the Ridgeway village of South Fawley, and in a farmyard setting you’ll find a very different studio. Here German-born Johannes von Stumm has found his true vocation.

Undeterred by the advice of art professionals who warned him against his chosen route and choice of materials, von Stumm followed his instincts, carved himself a niche in the world of sculpture and was, for several years, President of the Royal British Society of Sculptors.

Von Stumm grew up in Munich making 3D objects in the cellar of his parents’ house during the long winters and it was on a school trip to Paris as a teenager that he first really encountered sculpture, and was transfixed.

At college, however, his life drawing tutor dissuaded him from planning a career as a sculptor, warning him of the grim realities of being an artist: no money, a disillusioned family and a rusty old car.

Von Stumm took this advice and went to university to read law and politics, the “sensible choice”, but explains that the lure of being a sculptor was too great – deep inside he knew that he wished to live as a sculptor.

“Even when I was studying fine art, the professor told me that granite and glass were an impossible alliance which would never work,” he says.

“However, I had grown up in the Alps where water, stone and wood are seen together in beautiful natural combinations so this was an irresistible challenge for me.

“I was also intrigued by how age-old materials speak to the soul and wanted to capture that in my sculpture. I persevered and experimented, and after several years and a lot of broken glass I finally developed a way of joining the opposing forces of the different materials in an inseparable and interdependent form as a carpenter might join two pieces of wood.”

In the combination of very different and apparently contradictory materials, each sculpture represents both the fragility and strength of life, the solid and the liquid, the dark and the transparent, all meshed together perfectly to form harmonious static entities which has a fluidity and dynamism. And from the first, these extraordinary combinations of iron, granite and glass attracted public and critical acclaim.

Most recently, the transparency of glass and the challenges and weight of larger glass parts has also led Johannes to experiment with using empty space within his sculptures to channel the light in a similar way, and his latest work, the Immaterial series, sculpts the human body from air as a cut out within steel which can be filled with light or darkness, with rain and snow or with sunshine and stars.

There are dozens of other studios to explore locally too: in Chiltern there’s a new venue with three artists showing silver jewellery, colourful pottery and contemporary paintings in artist Lin Kerr’s new Ridgeway studio, and for a multi-artist feast of ceramics and glass with a festival atmosphere visit The Cobb in East Hendred where 15 select makers will be giving live demos of pottery techniques, hands-on taster sessions, alongside a display by Oxford Archaeology which highlights the origins of pottery.

For more information on these and other local venues, visit artweeks.org

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