ART: Abingdon Artweeks 2019

Oxfordshire Artweeks blooms across the county this spring as artists and designer-makers open their studios and invite you in, or present pop-up exhibitions in interesting spaces, and in and around Abingdon from 11th until 19th May, there are forty places to visit, for free.

New to Abingdon Artweeks at Peach Croft Farm Barn (venue 221) this year, you can meet stone carver Piotr Gargas who makes gargoyles for the Oxford skyline. Having grown up in Poland when he first came to Oxford to restore the masonry along the top of Exeter College Chapel, he fell in love with it instantly. ‘Oxford is a dream city for architectural masonry,’ he smiles. ‘The buildings are incredible and I am so proud to be making a contribution to the city. It’s wonderful to think that the gargoyles and grotesques that I am carving, creatures from my imagination, will be looking down on generations to come. I see all the other people taking photos of the buildings and it’s wonderful that the beasts I carved are in their photos.’

When carving a gargoyle or grotesque, Piotr explains, there isn’t always an exact plan and he uses his imagination for a new sculpture based on what was left of the original. For Exeter College, for example, where there had clearly been a curled winged beast but without any other clues, Piotr carved a winged jaguar. Other pieces are more predetermined.

‘One carving I did was of a man with curly hair for a cornice and the family who owned the house gave me a photo and asked me to make the man look like the man in the picture. Because I always try to add signature attributes to people – so a scroll and a quill for a Professor for example – I asked who he was and it turned out he was one of the builders on the project with whom they’d become friends, so I made him holding a hammer. He really left his mark on the building!’ laughs Piotr.

Although the gargoyles for his building commissions are large, Piotr sculpts digitally too, using 3D printing and cold-cast bronze to create mini-gargoyles and framed pieces that will fit into any home.

Piotr is exhibiting alongside twelve other artists including Mia Sarosi, a ceramicist with an international reputation who specialises in porcelain. Mia produces hand-thrown and hand-painted functional and decorative ceramics which are sold at world class establishments including The British Museum and Heal’s which included her ‘Octopus Plate’ in their design icons for a century of design at Heal’s. Each is decorated with swirling tentacles in the ‘Delft blue’ for which she is best known – although look out for the dazzling fireworks collection too where multi-coloured splatters streak across plates and cups. Head over to Peach Croft at 2pm each day for demonstrations: with painters, potters, jewellers and textile artists exhibiting their work there’s plenty to enjoy.

Meanwhile, in the very centre of town, in St Nicolas Church the Abbey Group (venue 228) includes artist Dougie Simpson an enthusiastic contemporary artist specialising in watercolour of Oxfordshire villages and countryside. It was a he travelled around the country’s classiest houses judging dressage events, decided to start painting to capture the wonderful views. He then studied in Venice for a year becoming interested in buildings, their reflections and the light on the water so his paintings now include urban scenes too.You can see his local pictures alongside other paintings and creative glass art by five Abingdon artists in this beautiful Market Square church.

On John Mason road, Dionne Freeman (Venue 225)  invites you into her exhibition to see paintings that add a fresh perspective on Abingdon and its surrounding landscapes whilst on the Oxford Road, silversmith Sophie Snaith creates wonderfully-bold rings, bangles and other pieces of jewellery. These are sculptural and tactile and the fourteen different collections encompass the gentle swirls and curls of silver in a ‘Nest’ series; surprisingly square beach rings to series; and fun ‘Picasso’ pieces in which Sophie has created playful faces in sheet silver with a soft satin finish.

The airy, modern Mall Gallery at Our Lady’s Abingdon (venues 223 & 224) is the setting for an Artweeks exhibition of ceramics by Helen Holden and paintings by Clova Stuart-Hamilton, two artists who have taught pupils at OLA for the past fourteen years, and this gives locals a chance to get an insight into the professional, creative lives of their teachers. Clova is an artist who loves to travel.  Artefacts and textiles acquired from many countries provide the starting point for her colourful paintings which blend still life and atmospheric interiors as they slip between cultures with pattern and texture. Helen’s ceramics loosely modelled and modestly illustrative ,many evolving from tiny pinch pots to tell a story. .

Over in Kennington (venue 216), Leila Jevadi records her adventures in the frozen North in free flowing use of oil paints that brings life and energy to her illustrations, ‘Since a small girl I dreamed of going into the vast wilderness – traveling over mountains and sitting beneath the northern lights, beside a campfire watching the stars; amazed at all the natural beauties of the world. I would paint and sketch wildlife and landscapes at every given moment with no limits to my imagination.

And now Leila both lives and paints her dreams. She has travelled the world and scuba-dived with bull sharks, galloped on horseback through the Canadian Rockies, and lived in Alaska through six winters, enduring many arctic blizzards. She has raced 300 mile sled dog races at 50 below, hallucinated from lack of sleep, been charged at by moose, survived grizzly bears ripping out the back end of her truck, and followed trails in the polar regions that were extremely challenging but beautiful as her paintings show.

To see more on these exhibitions and the others in and around Abingdon visit http://www.artweeks.org

First published in Abingdon Town magazine May 2019

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