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Culture, Art

Meet the Artist: Sculptor Johannes von Stumm at Oxford Festival of the Arts

Grace   Johannes von Stumm   photo credit Erica Longfellow id3n00

Photo credit Erica Longfellow

It is the spiritual energy of a piece of art which counts, and nothing else. Johannes von Stumm

This summer, Oxford Festival of the Arts is presenting a stunning exhibition, Lightshadow, at New College, with sculpture by Johannes von Stumm comprised of abstract glass, stone and metal compositions. Esther Lafferty, Director of Oxfordshire Artweeks, finds out more about both this artist and the other events taking place during this Oxford festival.

Von Stumm grew up in Munich making 3D objects in the cellar of his parents’ house during the long winters and it was on a school trip to Paris as a teenager that he first really encountered sculpture, and was transfixed. At college, however, his life drawing tutor dissuaded him from planning a career as a sculptor, warning him of the grim realities of being an artist: no money, a disillusioned family and a rusty old car. Von Stumm took this advice and went to university to read law and politics, the ‘sensible choice’, but explains that the lure of being a creative was too great – deep inside he knew that he wished to live as a sculptor.

And so, undeterred by the advice of art professionals who warned him against his chosen route, von Stumm followed his instincts, “And then even when I was studying fine art, the Professor told me that granite and glass were an impossible alliance which would never work. However, I had grown up in the Alps where water, stone and wood are seen together in beautiful natural combinations so this was an irresistible challenge for me. I was also intrigued by how age-old materials speak to the soul and wanted to capture that in my sculpture. I persevered and experimented, and after several years and a lot of broken glass I finally developed a way of joining the opposing forces of the different materials in an inseparable and interdependent form as a carpenter might join two pieces of wood.”

In the combination of very different and apparently contradictory materials, each of Johannes’ sculpture represents both the fragility and strength of life, the solid and the liquid, the dark and the transparent, all meshed together perfectly to form harmonious static entities with a fluidity and dynamism. From the first, von Stumm’s extraordinary combinations of iron, granite and glass attracted public and critical acclaim: he has exhibited across Europe, Asia and America and was, for several years, President of the Royal British Society of Sculptors. He is also a founding member of Sculpture Network (Europe).

More recently, the human figure, Grace, in bronze and glass led to Johannes to develop a series of Immaterial Figures in which he replaces glass – a technically-limiting material – with space, filling his new figures with sun and stars, rain, hail and snow.

Michelle Castelletti, Director of Oxford Festival of the Arts comments: “In forty years of combining metal with glass and stone, Johannes von Stumm has fused the light and the dark, the solid and the liquid, the opaque and the transparent, our strength and our fragility into incantations of a delicate balance. His ‘Immaterial Figures¹ are filled with light and darkness once again – the emptiness of the human form allowing it to be permeated by the whole universe around it. Emptiness becomes Fullness”.

She adds, “Six years ago, I encountered Johannes’ work for the first time at an Oxfordshire Artweeks talk in St Barnabus’ Church in Jericho. Seeing his work for real, I fell in love with the interplay of light and glass, and the combination of material, and I knew then I had to exhibit his sculpture as part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts”.

Eighteen months ago, Michelle went to speak to Revd Dr Erica Longfellow, the Dean of Divinity at New College Oxford. “There was nowhere else I could envisage this glorious interlacing of stone and glass and metal and space. Conversations of absence and presence between site and sculpture, between stone and light and space – the im/materiality of light.”

“t would not work in quite the same way anywhere else. The light through the cloisters and its playfulness with the glass, the colour of the stone, the spirituality and spatiality of the place, the timelessness, the textures – all working harmoniously with the glass, the granite, the limestone, the steel… the then and the now. As Director of Oxford Festival of the Arts and as a proud alumna of New College, I could not be more delighted, or more thankful. I hope that all our visitors will feel the beauty of this coalescence as it comes together in New College…Even the shape of the sculptures sometimes mirror that of the ancient archways in unexpected ways. It’s really rather magical. I cannot thank Oxfordshire Artweeks enough for introducing me to Johannes and his work in the first place.”

Lightshadow: Johannes von Stumm

Runs until 27 August | 10am – 5pm, every day [last entry 4.30pm] *

The Cloisters, New College, Holywell St, Oxford OX1 3BN

*Public Opening times

Free to Oxford residents, children under 7 years of age, and old College members. Free to anyone going in to a service.

Wednesday 10 July: A free open day for the general public

Oxford Festival of Arts

This year the strong visual arts element in the festival line-up also includes an exciting opportunity to see the work of renowned British surrealist painter and war artist Paul Nash in Land Sea and Sky: Paul Nash in Oxford in collaboration with Pembroke College JCR Art Collection, and a team of curators, writers, researchers and art historians from across the country.  This exhibition draws on the holdings of the Ashmolean Museum, the Tate archives, a number of Oxford Colleges and private collectors and sheds light on both the Oxfordshire locations that inspired his work and the Oxonian women who supported him. (Runs until 9 June).

Then, from 28 June, in The Kendrew Barn, St John’s College, The Muse, inspired by the Oxford Festival of the Arts manifesto inspired by the Muses on top of Oxford’s iconic Clarendon Building (currently being removed for restoration) promises to be a fascinating exhibition for which Ancient Sounds – Song for Euterpe’ a new weavescape by Artweeks textile artist Julia Englehardt will be unveiled. This exhibition brings together photography on the Modern Muse by Arpita Shah (in collaboration with Photo Oxford) and nine works in series Reframing the Muse curated by Ruth Millington, author of the book Muse: Uncovering the Hidden Figures Behind Art History's Masterpieces. These re-imaginings of the nine muses offer an interesting contemporary take on the idea of the muse. Restoring the original power to the term muse, the exhibition will invite audiences to understand the real role of the muse as an agent of change and great source of creative inspiration, as once recognised in Ancient Greece. The collaboration with Photo Oxford draws and subverts the conventions of the Mughal and Indian miniature paintings from ancient to precolonial times. Arpita’s modern muses explore the ever-shifting identities and representations of South Asian women in contemporary Britain and challenges the lack of visibility of women of colour in Western art history.

In addition to a broad consideration of the Muse through the visual arts, Oxford Festival of the Arts embraces music, dance, politics and this year, with a Bacchanalian twist (wine, too). There’s even a Festival Cèilidh.

Other highlights include

  • English National Opera with Tenor Joseph Calleja (Oxford Town Hall, 27 June)
  • Why are all the Muses mute? A celebration of the music of Henry Purcell (Magdalen College Chapel, 4 July)
  • Chotto Desh: an innovative family dance show from Akran Khan Company (Oxford Playhouse, 6 July)
  • Nine Jazz Muses: Steve Kershaw Trio and artist Victoria Topping (OFA Festival Hall, 9 July)
  • The Complete Bach Cello Suites (Divinity School, Bodleian Library 10 July)
  • Festival weekend at The Ashmolean (13-14 July)

For more information on these and dozens of other events, discussions and festival activities visit


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