Art in Woodstock

Woodstock is fast gaining a reputation as an exciting hub for art, with new galleries joining the town’s established scene, and headline grabbing exhibitions next door at Blenheim Palace.  As well as galleries that attract customers from far afield, the town has a vibrant creative community of artists, crafters and photographers, inspired by Woodstock and its beautiful surroundings.

If you’re taking an artistic wander around Woodstock a good place to start is DARL-E & THE BEAR, situated opposite the Feathers Hotel.

Darl-e & The Bear isn’t just a gallery, it’s a beautiful space in which to spend time. Two buildings house 3 gallery areas which meet around a central courtyard, in which you can stop a while when the sun’s shining and enjoy some tranquillity. Owner Julie Wigg has created an atmospheric space which balances a more permanent front gallery (with a mix of art – mainly – plus ceramics, homewares and gifts) and a large separate gallery used for special exhibitions.

She curates a mix of national and local artists and has featured artists such as Phillipa Paterson and Steven Heffer. The next exhibition features Robyn Litchfield, who recently won The Jackson Painting Prize for landscape 2020, and the exhibition runs from 6th October until 3rd January 20/21.

Elsewhere in Darl-e & The Bear you’ll be able to enjoy works by emerging artists, who include: Joanna Whittle, winner of the prestigious New Light Valeria Sykes Award and also the Contemporary British Painting Competition in 2020; Lucy Brasher, textile artist who’s work has a touch of whimsy with a darker undertone; And Amy McMillan, one of the standout 2019 degree show artists, who’s terracotta and porcelain figures explore the role of the family and the discomfort around sexuality during adolescence.

Staying on the same side of the road and walking towards the Town Hall you’ll find DANTZIG GALLERY. Named after Passage Dantzig, a street in the district of Montparnasse in Paris famed for its artists, Dantzig Woodstock has built a reputation for bringing rock & roll art , rare prints by 20th century icons, and more mature contemporary artists such as Terry Frost and Sir Peter Blake to town.

A recent exhibition saw the first solo show for London based artist Tommy Fiendish, drawing attention for its dark subject matter and edgy vibe. Dave Davies, owner of Dantzig, was tipped off about Fiendish and wanted to give him a platform. Woodstock, with its traditional English beauty, struck an impressive contrast with the urban feel of Fiendish’s giant canvasses.

Another edgy addition, The Connor Brothers, describe themselves as “ fictional characters created by the artists known as the Connor Brothers” with an eyebrow raising back-story including being brought up within a secretive & highly controversial cult known as ‘The Family’ with River and Joaquin Phoenix. Whatever the reality, the art works are both challenging and witty, including ‘A Load of Fuss About F*** All’ as a nod to the Bard.

Next up, Dantzig will be featuring works from Adrian Pearsons, with his Penguin inspired (mashed up with rock icons) artworks  This artist/designer/sign maker says, “I’m super happy to have my paintings at Dantzig, in the insanely beautiful town of Woodstock.”

Carry on past the Town Hall and Zuleika Gallery sits in a fine Georgian building adjacent to the Oxfordshire Museum. This is Woodstock’s latest addition to the art gallery community and sits in a beautiful building flooded with natural light.

It opened in August, expanding on Zuleika Gallery’s permanent London space situated in St James’s, Piccadilly. Gallery owner Lizzie Collins also curates the art programme at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and has been waiting to find the perfect space in Oxfordshire. “We’re thrilled to be in Woodstock. As an Oxfordshire resident myself and knowing of the many art lovers who live here or visit the area for its rich cultural offering, it has always been an ambition to open a gallery here – it has just been a matter of finding the right space.”

Zuleika Gallery’s focus is on emerging and contemporary art, representing painters, printmakers, ceramicists and sculptors. Its launch exhibition featured contemporary artist and printmaker, Rachel Gracey R.E. and brought colour and energy aplenty.

Autumn brings contemporary photography in the form of the work of the Dutch photographic artist Femke Dekkers. ‘Open Space’ runs from 16th October to 16th November 2020 and reveals the unique practice of a multidisciplinary artist, who brings together photography, painting and sculpture.

Dekkers layers materials, from planks of wood, to shards of mirror, onto walls and floors , treating her studio as a stage set. Building up layers and shapes using paint, paper, wood and tape her work gradually materialises on the studio walls in a fluid process evolving without sketchbooks or planning. The result is striking and plays with the human eye’s powers of perception. Focusing on colour, form and scale Dekkers says, ‘I feel more like a painter or sculptor than a photographer.’

Moving on from Zuleika, pop across the road , passing the Town Hall and you’ll find IONA HOUSE GALLERY with its distinctive pink upper façade. Step inside and feast your eyes on an eclectic and diverse mix of original artworks from the UK and beyond.

Established for over 18 years, Iona House Gallery exhibits paintings, sculpture, ceramics, glass and jewellery across six rooms from renowned professional artists. The gallery champions a wide stable of artists from the uplifting bright palette of Jolomo originals to the muted, softer, feminine bronzes of Ana Duncan. If you are looking for a large statement piece for the wall, or painting for a small alcove, an unusual sculpture or bespoke ceramic, this is the place for you. Cabinets are filled with hand crafted jewellery adjacent to fine glass work. With over 300 items displayed at any one time, there is plenty to choose from whatever your budget.

Customers describe the gallery as ‘’inclusive, friendly, with unusual pieces.’’ One regular visitor, Jenny, comments ‘’I have always loved coming in, it is always accessible, with a wide selection for a wide variety of tastes’’. Another customer, Richard, says ‘”The gallery has a professional but relaxed atmosphere where you are left to gaze and wander, but professional help is always to hand. The gallery provides a variety of styles and forms with both established and new artists’ work being displayed – there is always something of interest to see’’.

Of-course it’s not just art galleries. Woodstock is home to some interesting crafters and creatives, such as Kercheung (featuring cool jewellery and pottery with potty mouthed slogans) and Jets Pottery for something less challenging.

Local artist Rod Craig specialises in watercolour and is inspired by the landscape and his surroundings. He is currently creating beautiful images of Woodstock’s Water Meadows and the town, as well as more abstract works. Woodstock’s ‘official photographer’ Jay Alice (Jay Alice Photographic) creates wall-worthy images of architecture. And we even have an artist working in the local Co-Op, Chris Davies who was a BBC Big Painting Challenge finalist.

No wander around the Woodstock art scene would be complete without visiting the latest exhibition at Blenheim Palace, of-course. Each Autumn, the Blenheim Art Foundation features a prominent artist and in recent years we’ve been wowed by Ai Weiwei , Jenny Holzer and last year’s headline grabber Maurizio Cattelan (please don’t ask to go to the golden loo if you visit Blenheim!).

2020 sees the best ever yet, with New York based Cecily Brown’s expansive exhibition, which for the first time features work created specifically for Blenheim Palace. Each artwork has been created in response to the Palace’s history as an English country estate and as the home to successive generations of the Spencer-Churchill family and their collection of paintings, tapestries and decorative arts.

Rendered in her emotive, frenetic brushstrokes, Brown’s new series visually references masterpieces by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Anthony Van Dyck on view at the Palace, in an entirely modern manner. The exhibition is edgy, exciting, and challenges the status quo, showing the bravery of the Blenheim Art Foundation. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2021!