Oxfordshire: a place to stand and stare!

Dunraven Bay

Oxfordshire: a place to stand and stare!

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
William Henry Davies

Oxfordshire is, for many of its visitors, primarily the place where you can find Oxford, and in their mind’s eye, Oxford is synonymous with the university, a hallowed historical institution with wonderful buildings from which age-old knowledge is imparted to some of the world’s finest students.

And yet it is, of course, so much more. Oxfordshire is a thousand square miles of rolling green and scattered towns with pretty market squares and villages that glow gold when the setting sun rests on Cotswolds stone. Old Father Thames wends his lazy way through the county, while the ancient Ridgeway path tracks the Southern border and runs into the East. From these fields and furlongs, you can find world-class innovation in engineering, science and technology, and across the county throughout the calendar you’ll also see the arts in glorious abundance if you only take a moment to stand and stare!

Peter Kettle is a young contemporary landscape artist best known for his expressive, textured landscapes, most notably of his native Wales and, described by Moneyweek Magazine as ‘one to watch’, his paintings are an 'alchemy of light and landscape'.

Often inspired by more rugged British terrain, for his solo exhibition at Oxford’s Sarah Wiseman Gallery this January, Peter has derived his inspiration in the wide expanses and gentle hills of Oxfordshire. Beginning with a walk through the county along the Glyme Valley Way from Chipping Norton to Woodstock, and encompassing the verdant Christchurch meadows and Oxford’s cobbled streets, Peter observed and sketched along the way before returning to his studio.

Peter uses a variety of materials from oil paint to clay and acrylic to create works that capture a landscape in all its elements from terrain to the weather. Although the majority of his larger pieces are made in his studio, Peter also enjoys taking canvases outside during the painting process, and in doing so he exposing them directly to the changing weather conditions: as wind and rain whip across the canvas creating unpredictable patterns, an unusual way of allowing nature to directly influence the end result.

And across the road, in a tranquil green space tucked away in the Turrill Sculpture Garden (accessed through Summertown library), sculptural pieces in glass add sparkle to the January sunshine and frosts, simple animal forms in metal romp in the garden below and colourful mosaics bring winter cheer.

In the city centre, it’s the last month of two popular exhibitions in the magnificent surroundings of the neoGothic Oxford University Museum of Natural History. In the main court, Microsculpture presents the insect collection of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History through the lens of photographer Levon Biss, in a series of captivating high-magnification portraits up to three metres across, combining art with science. Each photograph is created from around 8,000 images in which around 30 different segments of the specimen were lit and photographed separately, ‘stacked’ to maintain sharp focus throughout, then combined into a single high-resolution file. Due to the popularity of this exhibition, it will remain open throughout the month.

In contrast to the representation of the tiny in giant photos, the Arctic (that’s 14.5 million km2) is presented in the Upper Gallery by artists and designer-makers based in the county who have responded to fragile and beautiful Arctic landscape. An Artweeks Arctic captures a variety of responses to an increasingly threatened environment in over 90 works, from paintings to glasswork and textiles to ceramics. “There is no part of the world that is changing more rapidly than the Arctic,” says Professor Paul Smith, director of the Museum of Natural History. “Within a human lifetime there has been visible and rapid retreat of many glaciers and ice caps, even in the far north a few hundred kilometres from the North Pole. It is timely that we capture images and impressions of these landscapes now as they will not be the same for our children or grandchildren.”

You can take a very different look at the world and how is it changing from 21 January, in Modern Art Oxford which presents the first major survey exhibition by British artist Lubaina Himid. Born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, and now living and working in the UK, Himid was of the pioneers of the British Black Arts Movement, when in the 1980s when she began organising exhibitions of work by her peers whom she felt were under-represented in the contemporary art scene. Over four decades her work has challenged the stereotypical depictions of black figures in art history and highlighted the important contribution of the African diaspora to Western culture. This new exhibition, Invisible Strategies, includes paintings from the 1980s to the present day, many never seen before in a public gallery, as well as sculptures, ceramics and works on paper, opening with Himid’s monumental Freedom and Change (1984), which transforms the female figures from Picasso’s Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race), into black women, a powerful and humorous subversion of one of Picasso’s most important miniature paintings that is much discussed in Western art history.

In The Jam Factory, a more bohemian arts centre just a stone’s throw from Oxford station, three very different series of work look at the relationship between man and the world in which we walk. From 18th January Legs to Walk us, Drop us is a series of new collages and prints by Ben Giles which show an almost mythological universe described as a fantasy springboard for the imagination from which the viewer is be inspired to create their own stories. These works are underpinned by ideas of nature, colour and metamorphosis and Giles seeks to explore man’s relationship with nature and, conversely, the reactions of nature to manmade environments, how it evolves, and how it can be manipulated against its will and to our needs.

Alongside these, in stark contrast, see Edgelands, a series of black and grey analogue photographs which document the suburbs and outer edges of cities, the forgotten elements which photographer Matthew Thompson captures. He gives a rather bleaker depiction of man and his environment, his crafted dystopian vision showing entropy and concrete, industrial forests. Developing his negatives himself Matthew often opts to leave in marks, spills and leaks in an attempt to echo the haphazard development of the landscapes he captures.

And in Winter Works in The Boiler Room to the rear of The Jam Factory main gallery spaces, Oxford painter Andrew Manson presents street-side views of the cityscape of Oxford and its subjects in bold brush strokes, his popular and distinctive style much inspired by the impressionists movement. They’ll leave a gloriously colourful impression of Oxford in your mind as you head home.

Good places to see art this month:

Peter Kettle: On Meadow and River (14th – 28th January)
at Sarah Wiseman Gallery, 40-41 South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JL

Winter Sculpture (runs until 25th February)
at Turrill Sculpture Garden, South Parade, Oxford, OX2 7JN

Levon Bliss: Microsculpture (runs until 27th January)

Artweeks Arctic (runs until 29 January 2017)
both at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PW

Lubaina Himid: Invisible Strategies (21 January until 30 April)
Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke St, Oxford OX1 1BP

Andrew Manson: Winter Works (runs until 22nd January)

Ben Giles: Legs to Walk Us, Drop us (18th January until 27th February)

Matthew Thompson: Edgelands (17th January until 26th February) The Jam Factory, Hollybush Row, Oxford OX1 1HU

Across the county there is a wealth of art on show in Oxfordshire this month – for a list of galleries and art venues that host a variety of changing exhibition programmes visit www.artweeks.org/OGN.

Oxfordshire Gallery Network
Oxfordshire Artweeks