Art you’ll love in Oxford’s Town Hall
"Pam’s glass pieces are a celebration of liberty, life, love and joy."
Oxford’s Town Hall is instantly recognisable on the city’s main crossroads.
Step inside and take the grand staircase in front of you, and there you’ll find a wonderful ‘wedding cake’ main hall, with beautiful arches, pillars, and a vaulted ceiling all adorned with delicate plasterwork in green, gentle white and gold, which was repainted only recently. Each year this space and adjoining wooden panelled rooms across the hallway are filled with vibrant colour, energy and art enthusiasts here to see the art from around the world on show from 24th-26th February for the fourth Oxford International Art Fair.
Amidst this arty melee, look out for glass artist Pam Fyvie who specialises in kiln-formed glass: her personal story and the pieces she creates reflect a bursting forth of the fresh and contemporary from a formal, traditional place.
Pam had an unusual upbringing in the Midlands within the fearful environment of a repressive religious cult, from which her family was cast out after many years for minor transgressions of the strict rules. “It was a terrible time that affected the health of all of us,” remembers Pam, “as we had known nothing outside of this way of life and had lost everything.”
In response to the challenges of her restricted childhood, Pam’s glass pieces are a celebration of liberty, life, love and joy. “I was always passionate about colour,” she enthuses, “and I have been particularly captivated by glass. I love its hues and its potential: there’s so much freedom when you create with glass, and I enjoy the challenges of different techniques, including fusing and casting.”
For the Art Fair, Pam presents exuberant pieces inspired by natural phenomena from the inconsequential – the delicate eggs and perfect flowers you might find in an Oxfordshire garden – to the continental. “I’m fascinated by geodes and fossils, volcanos and earthquakes, everything from hurricanes and tsunami to the aurora borealis,” she smiles.
Each piece in Pam’s ‘Northern Lights’ series is clear, smooth, and tactile and each glistens internally with the ethereal colours of this phenomena as it is turned in the light: tiny wisps of dichromatic glass shimmer as in a clear sky.
“It was discouraged by the cult so I never considered going to university,” Pam continues, “but if I had been able to, I’d probably have opted for earth sciences. There’s such an amazing amount of colour under the ground, in rocks, in minerals and in ores so I incorporate bits of metal and dabble with chemistry to recreate this in my work.” Her jewellery for the art fair, for example, features a multi-layered alchemy series.
Pam also makes flowers for the house and garden, her lilies and large colourful blooms capturing for eternity the natural beauty she sees from the windows of her garden studio in Kidlington.
Pam also loves snorkelling and diving, peeking into a whole other world like Alice in Wonderland looking through the keyhole, and this is reflected at the show in a series of striking sand dollar bowls. ‘Sand dollar’ is a term used in America to describe a type of very flat sea urchin that lies on the sand, and looks like a calcium frisbee with the hand-designed imprint of a five-petalled flower at its centre. Pam’s bowls reproduce this organic freedom of form in strong combinations of opaque ‘mineral colours’, and the series together is like a coral reef.
Rising from the sea in neighbouring artist Pip Shuckburgh’s show, you’ll be surprised to find an oil rig from an artist who is known for specialising in painting grand English houses and stately homes! Pip has painted industrial images of power stations, oilrigs and other unusual buildings from Battersea Power station and the Elsmere Port oil refineries to Oxford’s own BMW Mini plant in Oxford, enjoying the dramatic forms and adding colour to create pictures which verge on the abstract. “When painting the industrial,” explains Pip, “I remove all forms of human activity and life to give the paintings a desolate feel, and it’s also then a break from all the little people in my other work!”
The paintings for which she is best known include Blenheim Palace with austere iron gates in wintry weather, showing the formal gardens in a brisk autumn glow and as summertime host to an archetypal game of cricket, a crowd of Lowry-esque figures enjoying the day.
Many of the scenes for Downton Abbey, one of the most successful TV drama of recent years, were filmed in Bampton, Pip’s home village, which boasts a remarkably unspoiled church square around St Mary’s that had long been one of the greatest hidden secrets of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. Now a destination for Downton enthusiasts, Pip was asked to paint the village scenes, and the buildings which had appeared on screen – the Dower House in the series (Surrey’s Byfleet Manor) and ‘Downton Abbey’ itself, the classic Georgian Highclere Castle near Newbury. Her Downton paintings will be on show during the Art Fair.
For scenes from further afield, Jenny Eadon spent time last year sketching in India and at the Art Fair her paintings reflect her travels in Kerala and Rajasthan. Take a moment to talk and she’ll describe to you this visual feast: seeing a Hindu festival with huge elephants standing motionless in a line amid the noise of drums, horns and fireworks, floating on the huge expanse of the Backwaters, watching the dipping Chinese fishing nets in Cochin, seeing the auction of giant fish filled baskets on the beach, and bouncing in the back of a bullock cart! Jenny’s larger abstract oil paintings, painted in her Great Bourton studio in Oxfordshire’s northernmost reaches, are a ‘mosaic’ of impressions and memories, the particular colours and shapes portraying the sensations of the experience.
And with very different artists from all around the globe converging on Oxford’s Town Hall, expect a sensational experience of your own!
For more information on the Oxford International Art Fair which is taking place from 24th-26th February visit oxfordinternationalartfair.com and for further information on the individual artists above search at artweeks.org.
Related Articles: Oxfordshire prepares to be the world’s biggest art gallery