Oxoniana

For various reasons, I’d spent too long indoors this year, so it came as a relief to go out to North Oxfordshire, starting with church of St Mary at Bloxham. The sun was out and the churchyard was carpeted with buttercups, which made it a good day to go up the tower and watch its shadow stretch out across the surrounding land like a sundial gnomon. The interior of the church ranges from baroque monuments, Norman doorheads to medieval panel frescos and Burne Jones stained glass. The next church I visit is St Peter at South Newington, with its medieval fresco of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, the Virgin Mary and St Margaret, before finishing the day at Aynho and the Georgian church of St James. Much of the interior is rather drab (including a seventies style office ceiling) but it does have some rather good Kempe stained glass windows.

Given the Sutherland exhibition I’d previously attended in Oxford, I decided the following weekened to visit the Tate’s exhibition on the influence of Picasso on various British artists, Sutherland included. In some senses, the idea of the exhibition represnts a contradiction in terms; even where there are stylistic affinities evinced by the likes of Sutherland and Bacon, both of them have an distinct of concrete themes that is largely absent in Picasso’s work. The parallels between Picasso’s cubism and that of Duncan Grant and Ben Nicholson are a lot clearer while Henry Moore emerges somewhat diminished by the exhibition, given the parallels between his work and that of Picasso’s classical period. The closest parallel demonstrated by the exhibition is Hockney, whose protean artistic experimentation essentially matches Picasso’s while having the least obvious influence.

The following week sees me travelling up to the Midlands and stopping off at Dorchester for their exhibition of John Piper’s work. Some of his drawings for stained glass I’ve seen in Lichfield and Farnborough are hung on the walls of the Abbey, along with various tapestries, vestements and paintings. The affinities with Romanesque design is clear in a lot of his work, with the tendency to step back to that period being analogous to TS Eliot’s rejection of modern poetry. Back in the Midlands, I visit Rock in Worcestershire and Leominster in Herefordshire; the former a somewhat cavernous affair in a rather remote windswept position with elaborate Romanesque carvings of centaurs and sheela-na-gigs on its arches, while the former intricate carvings of birds and serpents, as well as Kempe stained glass. I also visit Dale Abbey, one of the smallest churches in the country, with a single medieval fresco and Georgian painted box pews.

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