WHILE the country has been in lockdown and horizons have narrowed to the house and garden, it is no surprise that Oxfordshire artists have been creating art that records their different experience in these unusual times, writes Esther Lafferty, Director of Oxfordshire Artweeks

Oxfordshire Artweeks, which has gone online for a virtual festival this month, presents work shaped by the our common experience of isolation, from the bleak images of dark skies and treacherous cliffs in Pip Shuckburgh’s art – painted while in lockdown in Bampton – to those that record the gentle hope and joy to  be found in these odd times.

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‘As I Stand Proud’ by Long Hanborough’s Maureen Gillespie records what has been a surreal time for her. “I have just finished a year of cancer treatment and was looking forward to celebrating with friends and family,” she says. “This painting represents how I felt as the lockdown was introduced: I had battled through one difficult year and would not be beaten by this new challenge.”

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Seventeen women, who attended the Oxford-based Motherhood Photography Workshops with Headington photographer Philippa James, have contributed a new on-line exhibition for Artweeks entitled Isolation, a series of photos captured during the lockdown offering an insight into everyday life.

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Pip Shuckburgh's Self-isolation

The series illustrates the laughter, tears and tantrums, social distancing and Thursday evening clapping, and a new love of rainbows.

“The act of photography has provided a window of sanity,” explains curator Philippa. “Creativity is so important, now more than ever and this intimate series of photographs touches all the emotions. There are so many touching stories which many of us can relate to right now, and it’s fascinating to see how other children and their families have been managing through lockdown; juggling work and home-schooling with elements of both joy and frustration.”

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JR nurse Rocio by Wheatley artist Becky Paton

Other Artweeks artists have been inspired by the #portraitsforNHSheroes initiative to record keyworkers on the frontline that are both documentary and emotional. These include a giant colourful mosaic of JR nurse Rocio by Wheatley artist Becky Paton.

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“This is my meagre offering of thanks to all of the people playing a part fighting the pandemic,” she says. “It’s called A Brighter New Tomorrow, as I wanted to mark the present but also look to the future.”

While most of the artists are recording the NHS heroes in their scrubs and masks, Becky presents Rocio’s flowing locks and red-lipped smile in a rim of azure blues, stylised purple flowers and green leaves.”

It is people’s increased appreciation of wildlife, and the ability of the natural world to lift the spirit in dark days that has inspired other Artweeks artists. With thoughts of people in lockdown and isolation, digital artist Anne Mills from Stanford-in-the-Vale was moved to start a new ‘meditation series’, scenes to help those who are trying to find tranquility through contemplation.

“I know many people find it difficult to visualise a peaceful or calming place to ‘be’ at the moment,” she explains, “and I wanted to create something to bring some rest and respite. In this rather frightening time, these new pictures are evocative of the sound of gentle waves lapping the shore, or the soothing fall of water in a quiet woods as you stroll between tall and strong trees.”

South Oxford printmaker Sophie Basilevitch’s latest picture is a solitary monochrome blackbird, inspired by both today’s unusual times and the parallels she saw in a poem, ‘Adelstrop’, by novelist and war poet Edward Thomas.

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Sophie Basilevitch’s Blackbird

It was written after a train journey in 1914 and describes an empty platform, resonating with an uncomfortable peace while the willow and the wild flowers bloom and into the quiet a blackbird sings an all-encompassing song.

Sophie says: “The mood of the poem mirrors the way we feel now; we’re so much closer to nature because we can hear the birdsong more.

“That is perhaps because we are quieter, or maybe nature has moved closer to us and become more emboldened now that we are not filling Oxford’s streets with people and traffic. I am left wondering if some of the deer I see close to Abingdon Road, make it up to the city centre and stroll around the colleges. That would be a fantastic picture!”

See them at artweeks.org until May 25