Art: Go West for Artweeks

As Oxfordshire Artweeks, the county’s festival of artists and designers, runs on into its third week, the focus is on Witney and West Oxfordshire and visitors are invited into dozens of open studios and pop-up exhibitions from 18th-27th May.

Locally, dozens of painters and photographers, potters and sculptors, photographers, furniture makers, jewellers and textile artists are showing their creativity, talents and eye-catching with art and crafts inspired by local landscapes and those further afield, people and place.

Stroll through Witney and you can take in several venues including a debut exhibition by a pet portrait artist, Susy Fuentes, who in The Coffee Shed on The Leys captures the difeerent personalities and vibrant characteristics of her animal subjects with a modern twist and, occasionally, a ‘selfie’ approach as they ‘nose’ towards the view. Also showcasing the talent of emerging artists, Witney Library is hosting an exhibit of art specially-created by students from Abingdon and Witney College, whilst on Woodgreen Debbie Howard presents an inspirational collection of mixed media projects including painting, ceramics, fused glass, and textiles that seek to soothe the soul.

West of Witney, just off the A40 before Burford, visitors can discover the rustic workshop of sculptor Chris Townsend who recently appeared in an episode of the new BBC1 series Home is Where the Art Is during which he was commissioned to make wall art for a mystery buyer. ‘I was delighted to have the chance to give interested viewers an insight into way I work and the process of commissioning an artist, showing the way metal can be formed from its raw state into meaningful sculpture that will last a life-time.’ He explains, ‘I’ve always loved to demonstrate my methods and talk about the materials I use and reasons my sculptures take the forms they do, whether they are organic or figurative or something else entirely,  and I’m looking forward to opening my studio as part of the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival in May (Artweeks venue 332) when I’ll be showing my sculpture from little to large alongside delicate pieces by jeweller Guen Palmer – each of her earrings, rings and pendants is like a sculpture in miniature! Then you’ll be able to see carefully-crafted metal from tiny 10mm to toweringly tall and compare Guen’s very different techniques to mine! I hope lots of people will come along.’

East of Witney, in a rustic courtyard setting nestled in woods on the outskirts of the Eynsham Hall Estate, in the charmingly-named Cuckoo Lane Studios visitors can explore a series of studios and a variety of art types. In the centre, artist Nic Vickery has set up her 1968 caravan ‘Gertie’, her mobile garden studio and exhibiting space, which itself had a cameo role in this month’s film release from Paramount pictures, Rocketman (the story of Elton John’s life). Nic’s drawings depict animals from the traditional to the quirky characters you’d expect to find in this magical setting.

An only child, artist Nic Vickery grew up surrounded by pets, with parents that worked at a huge paper factory on the Botley road, and a ready supply of free paper combined with her life-long love of animals set her on an artistic path. Today her realistic and intricate portraiture includes dogs, horses, cats, and prize cows, pigs and chickens. ‘Anything as long as it’s got fur, feathers or scales!’ she chuckles. Her other pastel drawings however are joyfully quirky – from a Morris Dancing Magpie to Prudence the Puffin who is all set for a swim.’

Poke into the other art spaces around the courtyard and you’ll discover earring like seedpods in copper, silver and gold (‘well, bronze!’), and bespoke jewellery by Emily Fermor with unusual gemstones. Here too fine artist Rose-Marie Caldecott shows the fluidity of nature and mankind’s place within it in delicate and unusual landscapes with light and patterns in nature at their core. Artist and art teacher Carrie Stanley’s adjacent exhibition includes paintings influenced by my love of mark making, the texture of paint, the forest, high viz and low viz, lives lost and found, and – surprisingly in a leafy glad in West Oxfordshire – New York disco!

First published in The Oxford Times 16th May 2019

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