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Oxfordshire Artweeks: Good Enough to Eat!

Esther Lafferty, Festival Director of Oxfordshire Artweeks, on art good enough to eat - or eat off!

Who could fail to be delighted by Pomegranate Chutney on a picnic blanket?

Food and art are two of the greatest pleasures in life, and still-life paintings have been part of human culture from as long ago as we’ve been eating and painting!

The established tradition of making an offering of food is shown in the earliest pictures in Egyptian tombs illustrating the provision of a banquet for those who had moved on to the after world. Seventeenth century Dutch artists lavished their attention, and prized pigments, on expensive foods like lobster and lemons and on silverware and glassware that spoke of wealth and conspicuous consumption.


More recently, the stylised ‘fractured’ still-lives by twentieth century cubist painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braques, may have challenged the need for realism in the depiction of everyday objects yet still reflected the tenor of the times with regards to the table!

Traditionally, botanical art has been the province of the watercolourist, like Charlbury’s Maureen Sparling who loves to capture the natural beauty of flowers and vegetables, often over-looked in the rush of everyday life: her illustrative work has been seen on the menu in the restaurant of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Recently coloured-pencil has become a preferred media for many botanical artists, including Dianne Frank, an Oxford member of the Society of Botanical Artists, whose oranges grace the cover of the Artweeks festival guide this year. Her technique involves the application of many delicate layers of pencil, blending colours and burnishing overall to achieve a vibrant and painterly effect. It is through careful observation to detail in form and colour that these pictures really do look good enough to eat, as do Marie Robinson’s ice-creams.

Neil Butterfield is another Oxford painter well known for his use of colour – there’s a vibrancy to his palette that he ‘found’ in India, and in particular Rajasthan. His fresh contemporary paintings are usually domestic scenes and often depict food preparation, each picture strikingly served with simple colour blocks that shape the picture.

Neil describes colour, patterning and composition as the critical elements in his work and talks of his almost obsessive need to get it right. ‘It’s all about balance,’ he says, ‘and knowing when to stop – rather like cooking, a favourite activity of mine.’

Caroline Chappell too is passionate about cooking and also enjoys painting and drawing to celebrate the familiar. While her paintings involve building layers of paint, creating texture using acrylic mediums as well as collage and pastel, her inky drawings are usually worked fast, with lots of flicks and blobs and it is with these she developed the idea of creating a cookery book. ‘It seemed a natural combination,’ she explains, ‘to blend beautiful mixed media drawings with text as an art form.’

The result was a series of hand-finished limited edition prints delicious enough to grace the finest kitchen, and who could fail to be delighted by Pomegranate Chutney on a picnic blanket?

Dining also inspires potter Charlotte Storrs who, in her garden in Culham, makes beautiful white stoneware with simple surface textures and a zen calmness from which to serve lunches and supper. Since visiting potters in Japan, she now makes the handles for her teapots and other pieces with the Japanese Chocolate Vine traditionally used for weaving in the Far East, its fruit eaten as vegetable, as described in an 1870 book Flora Japonica.

Wood-turner Richard Shock takes a different approach to serving with finely crafted veneered and inlaid platters and fruit bowls in cherry, maple, ash and even eucalyptus! These are buffed to a polish with carnauba wax from the leaves of a palm grown only in north eastern Brazil, perfect to show off a summer salad at its best; and excitingly there are wine bottle stoppers to match!

Oxfordshire’s Martin Damen, meanwhile, hand carves and decorates spoons and bowls from local woods, some based on very traditional designs. The unusual ‘Quaich’, for example, is a Scottish two-handled drinking cup or bowl, a shallow shape inspired, according to the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, by low silver bowls with two flat handles used as bleeding vessels in the Netherlands in the 17th century themselves depicted in still-lives of the time.

To see work and work in progress by these artists visit them during Artweeks.

Maureen Sparling in Charlbury (Venue 78) 2-10 May | Dianne Frank in North Oxford (Venue 277) 9-17 May | Neil Butterfield in Oxford (Venues 211 & 285) 9-17 May| Richard Shock in North Oxford (Venue 289) 9-17 May | Caroline Chappell in Oxford (Venues 195 & 257) 2-25 May | Marie Robinson in Charlbury(Venue 77) 2-10 May | Charlotte Storrs in Culham (Venue 33) 16-25 May | Martin Damen in Great Bourton (Venue 4) 2-10 May

Oxfordshire Artweeks runs from 2-25 May at venues across Oxfordshire, and is sponsored by Hamptons International where, in their Summertown office, Caroline Chappell’s recipe prints will be on show.

For more information on these, and the hundreds of other artists taking
part, visit www.artweeks.org

- Esther Lafferty


Top Image - Dianne Frank

Bottom Image - Caroline Chappell


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