This October, the Oxford Art Society (OAS) present their annual ‘open exhibition’, into which both the 200-strong membership of the OAS and potential new members were able to submit their work for consideration. Each of the 240 pieces of art on show was chosen for its quality, interest, excitement and originality, by a five-strong panel, which included Oxford Art Society Chair Lucy Stopford and Oxfordshire Artweeks Chair Wendy Newhofer. The scope of this wonderful mixed exhibition encompasses both the passing of the seasons and the extraordinary circumstances in which many of the pictures were painted.
Oxfordshire landscapes in a multitude of styles capture the rich colourful abundance of summer gardens and wistful meadows in rich greens and reds – and a cheerful Covid Cowslip (by printmaker Susan Wheeler); the last days of September sunshine and the onset of autumn on the allotment. There are blackened sunflowers in organic hues, frosted browns and harvest purples by Jim Robinson, and looking at these you imagine your own dragon’s breath on a crisp morning, while Conkers in Oil by Mark Draisey is timelessly evocative. The Thames snakes cross canvas in Elena Henshaw’s vibrant palette, its backwaters depicted by Jane Duff in gentler organic hues, and in the greens, blues and purples of darkening days in the approach to winter, from the brush of William Rowsell punts bob by Magdalen Bridge.
Unsurprisingly for an Oxford based art society, the iconic Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera makes several appearances in collage, with the latest news, and in a delicate backlit papercut pair alongside a glitzy Blenheim Palace by David Rudge. Look out too for the stunningly-delicate papercuts by Botley’s Kate Hipkiss, of Tate Britain Atrium, depicted in layers of crisp white papercut with simple black flooring, and The Royal Albert Hall.
Also hanging teasingly on the walls are the places of which we have maybe only dreamt this year: there’s London’s Tower Bridge in a gently rainy dusk and Sea Mist in Dorset (by Francesca Shakespeare), an abstract Cornish Essence in joyous yellows and blues contrasting with the careful compositions of Angie Hunt. Further afield as Jane Strother explores the rockpools on the western coast of Ireland with two pieces from her series of The Atlantic Coast, there’s a warm rainbow of washing in the sultry North African climate in To the Heat of Morocco, and textured glacial fragments created with oils and cold wax record a trip to the Antarctic by Blewbury’s Helen Young.
For those visitors who we stayed at home this summer the largescale Yoga by Myrica Jones may remind many how they spent their spring and summer! Other paintings, like ‘The Blind Boy and the Arsonist’, a sweeping gold abstract by Anthony Hinchliffe, invite you to stand and stare, to wonder what story it tells.
There are portraiture too, from an almost ghostly charcoal Oxford scholar in Stopford’s ubiquitous style to a strikingly tattooed ‘Ian’ in oil on aluminium and Johannes von Stumm, former Chair of the Oxford Art Society, who appears on paper in charcoal, so real you expect him to step from the frame at a moment’s notice.
Portraits are a staple in any open exhibition like this, and yet it is in the portraits of the pandemic that the scars of the year are most clear. Whilst Mark Draisey’s Sinead Cusack and ‘Lilia’ look bright-eyed and alive as she peers from the canvas, the artist, Tom Croft who painted her also appears in the exhibition in a ‘battle-worn’ self-portrait rubbing exhausted eyes. Look out too for a record of the bus-drive keyworker (by Annette Bygott) whilst the ZOOM call painting will bring a smile to every visitors’ face, as will the droll still life of the empty loo roll holder (Essentials by Ruth Swain), an eternal reminder of the empty shops at the start of the spring.
And, beyond COVID, the exhibition highlights other global challenges that have been deeply felt in 2020 from #blacklivesmatter in acrylic and collage by Hazel Potier; The Black Dog, a haunting depiction that is surely a commentary on depression, and The Turn of the Screw by Amanda Curbishley reminds us of the climate emergency which has been, perhaps, eclipsed on the agenda in this extraordinary year.
Fourteen pieces of work by young artists ranging from 17-25 will be judged by author Philip Pullman and the winner awarded £500 from Jericho’s Lucy Foundation, and the exhibition also includes an abstract by novelist Mark Haddon, author of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
In addition to the paintings on show, see too a scattering of striking sculptures - a pair of fine bronze hares dash sleekly and low to the ground while the haughty feline Rademenes by Piotr Gargas is both modern yet age-old, a reminder that the world continues turning!