Oxfordshire Artweeks is the UK’s oldest and biggest open studios and pop-up exhibition event, and this year’s 40th anniversary festival is all set to be brighter and bolder than ever before.
In Banbury and the surrounding villages more than 60 artists and makers - potters, sculptors, jewellers, wood-carvers and more – in twenty local venues are throwing open their doors to welcome visitors, for free, into their open studios and pop-up exhibitions from 21st-29th May.
You will be able to see, touch and talk about hundreds of thousands of pieces of art and craft in many different styles: it’s an opportunity to chat to the artists about their methods, materials and inspiration as you enjoy iconic local landscapes through fresh eyes or travel to exotic destinations in the art inspired by colours, styles and fabrics brought back to Oxfordshire from far flung places.
Start perhaps at Church Lane Gallery, the home of Banbury Artists' Co-operative, or The Mill where printmaker Amy Vik evokes memories in a series of nostalgic prints, an eclectic mix of physical and personal landscapes that recall her previous place of residence, Mexico. Walking the cobbled streets of Oaxaca City, Mexico, and seeing printed artworks pasted on the sides of buildings, and peering out from street corners and ‘shouting’ at her as she passed, she was intrigued.
“Visiting studios and speaking to local artists there, I saw the city alive with art in a way I hadn’t experienced in other places before,” she explains. “I had dabbled in printmaking at university but here it was, in the streets, living and breathing. I left with such a strong impression that as soon as I got back to my apartment in Mexico City, I decided to embark on what I would later coin my “Graphic Route”; a personal journey through printmaking.”
Amy’s work hinges on a meticulous process of studying, reworking and refining old photographs from their original found state into a hand carved and hand printed graphic reproduction. “I find this process evocative of the construction of our memories - we play them over in our heads, we focus on the more vivid parts and we forget others, we distort and we reinterpret, we too often fall foul to our own personal propaganda, justifying what we want to believe and leaving aside what we would rather forget,” she continues.
“Rediscovering my creative practice was not only playful and enjoyable. It was a powerful way of reaching a deeper personal understanding, of finding acceptance and of showing vulnerability. I forged connections with other artists there and was introduced to the concept of ‘Graphic Migration’ - the life of your work as a graphic artist in distinct landscapes – and from Mexico and now back in the UK, my work has acquired a new context and an altered trajectory, but what inspires me remains the same. "
You can travel through Mexico with AmyVik in The Mill, and around the world in King’s Sutton where there are six venues on a pretty walking trail and where Artweeks newcomer David Bostock is exhibiting travel photography from extensive adventures in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Madagascar, Africa, New Zealand, Europe and the USA in the Millenium Memorial Hall.
Another venue is The church on The Square with its infamous crooked spire which plays host to an artist collective with many different types of art including abstracted local landscapes by popular award-winning artists Rachel Cronin and Sarah Smith. Depictions of the shapes, patterns and spaces that she sees in the countryside have inspired Sarah’s striking new paintings which reinvent the landscapes we see every day from the lines of a road or pathway, the birds sitting in a tree waiting, the forms of fields with the crops growing or laying fallow for the winter, often in subtle blues and golds. Sarah has also painted a number of imaginative pieces inspired by the Riverbed. “When you look down into a stream, brook or river, there are enormous number of different shapes, patterns and colours. I have taken the essence of these and placed then to describe the riverbed with the water running over pebbles and stones in simple patterns, the bumble bee hovering over the surface and spiralling water whizzing past.
Alongside, you’ll find unusual jewellery by Jane Griffiths with seaglass and rough found stones set alongside highly polished precious ones. “I love the contrast,” she explains. “For the same reason, I’ve been using rich semi-precious beads in the same necklaces as pieces of found wood.” Here too a new face for Artweeks 2022, David Wollard, is presenting a very different series of work, original generative prints made he has created in conjunction with a robot! “I use programming to create art and my pen plotter robot draws it with a biro,” he explains. “The robot is called Stephen and he even makes interesting noises! My work is inspired by the natural world and the pursuit of using machines to create organic shapes and forms. It is also inspired by whatever bonkers creative rabbit hole I happen to be diving down in that moment.” This Hyper-Kinetic series is, David says, “equal parts love letter and hate-mail” to his ADHD, and the results arrange from misty mountain scenes to gravity pinned down on paper.
Elsewhere in King’s Sutton, visitors can explore several working studios with pottery and printmaking demos, be wowed by large floral paintings inspired by the wonderful garden in which they are exhibited and be intrigued by an immersive sound and image experience in the garden of artist Jon Bowen, on the theme of "Hopes and Dreams" and in which it’s all about having an experience in the moment. Jon has built a structure from coppiced chestnut poles and black sailcloth. Within this dark space is a sequence of paintings and sculptures on unstretched canvas. Bright colours, texture, form, multiple layers of materials with multiple layers of meaning. The whole immersive experience is accompanied by a soundtrack which combines natural sounds with synthesised music to give an atmosphere of mystery and enigma.
For details of these venues and dozens more, visit www.artweeks.org. The Artweeks festival begins on 7th May – North Oxfordshire week runs from 21st-29th May.