Oxfordshire Art Weeks is an annual festival in the county of Oxfordshire, with hundreds of local artists and crafters opening their houses to showcase their work, and many local businesses such as restaurants, book shops, galleries, university departments and even the castle holding exhibitions. Not only holding over 500 free exhibitions over the course of three weeks in May, the festival also organises tours, workshops, speakers and forums, their focal event this year being a panel discussion of ‘What is Art?’
Oxfordshire ArtWeeks facilitates an immense variety of techniques and media. Not only are there the more traditional painters and photographers, but also jewellers, ceramicists, sculptors and woodturners. The festival is divided up into thirds, with each week being the focus of a different section of the county, the north, south and the city of Oxford. Jericho itself provided a large range of opportunities for mid-afternoon artistic browsing and during my excursions to some of the venues I encountered some really interesting artists and was exposed to many different types of art. The Oxford Ceramics Gallery, which is located on Walton Street, exhibited a selection of porcelain pieces from various local ceramicists. Helen Beard’s pottery in particular was charming. Helen drew her inspiration from ‘quirky, individual and curious’ places, which she would then hand paint on to Limoges porcelain and group the pieces together in sets to create a story.
The Albion Beatnik, is a wonderful bookshop and café that often hosts events and readings, as well as intimate gigs and even bookbinding courses. In their basement for Oxfordshire Art Weeks, Stella Shakerchi exhibited. Stella’s work is based on her academic past where she studied amongst other disciplines medieval mythology. In her own words, Stella wants her art ‘to reflect the fun in life hidden behind what looks serious.’ The pieces were made from a huge range of materials such as iridescent powder, mirrors, holographic card, sequins, coloured glass and there was also a UV light to see in the dark parts of the art hidden song lyrics and poem stanzas. Stella’s work shows an acute attention to detail, the colours are rich, vibrant and the collages provide a forum for texture and emotion. Unlike chain stores, the Albion Beatnik’s ethos is personal and intimate, a perfect place for an art exhibition.
Hidden in the depths of Jericho, St Barnabas Church housed a wide variety of work encompassing an assortment of materials and pursuits. There were The Ten Potters, ceramicists that included Alison Jones, whose wall vases and unusual designs that worked with shape and movement were fascinating. The careful leaf print designs of Liz Teall were also beautiful, and the process of printing the leaves onto the pottery ensures crafted and refined designs. I also loved the graphic digital art prints of David Harris, the completely contrasting embroidery of Jane Bale and the still lifes of Clova Stuart- Hamilton.
Venturing further afield and along the Woodstock Road, I visited the exhibition of Katherine and Richard Shock, a painter and wood turner respectively. Exhibiting here as well were the silversmith John Huddleston and the jewellery designer Guen Palmer. John creates delicate jewellery as well as candlestick holders and brooches, including some really unusual cat brooches, using a drawing of Katherine’s.
Art Weeks allowed the ‘outside Jericho’ adventure and subsequent discovery of new venues most notably The Old Boot Factory in Cowley, unsurprisingly, an old boot factory that has been converted into an arts venue and exhibition space, utilised during Art Weeks by Sarah Mayhew and her installation ‘The Natural Course of Things.’ Having originally studied international relations, Sarah’s art demonstrates the potential for art as a medium for socio-political messages and reform. Her work is ultimately concerned with the ‘psychology of space,’ how people view one another as well as the wider world around them. This particular installation draws from experience of the impact of weather, the environment and nature and how these impact on decisions and behaviour, and luckily I was able to view the exhibition in daylight as well as in the dark, when it looks a lot different. On the final night of the installation, Shelter held a charity gig in the venue where the bands The Half Rabbits and The Scholars as well as the soloists Richard Walters and Phil McMinn performed amongst the art. As well as Sarah, lighting designer Jon Barker’s installation ‘Journey’ was staged behind a black curtain, where walkers became part of the installation themselves, as whenever a Twitter post with the word ‘journey’ in it appeared, the message was projected onto the individual behind the curtain. Finally, in the Old Boot Factory, Joseph Fairweather-Hole’s ‘Chimney’ commanded attention as a dominant concrete structure surrounded by moving lights.
Just off the Cowley Road is The Garden Café, the main office of mental health charity Restore, which works with people who have experienced severe mental health problems and aims to rehabilitate them using skills such as woodwork, gardening, construction, cookery and art. As part of Oxford ArtWeeks, Restore’s Straw Bale Gallery housed some work from the Oxford Complex Needs Service, including poetry as well as paintings, sculpture and mosaic.
There was also a sculpture by Tessa Campbell Fraser outside the Museum of Natural History...