Art Insights

Following the sisters are doin’ it for themselves theme of my last post about Independent Oxford, I’m adopting a more serious tone for this post, as it’s serious stuff that I too feel passionately about – access for all, on every level, to contemporary art, that is.

It’s always struck me as a real shame that as we get older so many of us we amass inhibitions that we allow to colour our experience of contemporary art. Though this is understandable, as we’ve been taught to label and compartmentalise our encounters in order to make sense of them. We grapple to make sense of that which doesn’t label itself by imprinting our own experiences and thoughts on it. It’s always such a pleasure observing children in front of contemporary art, not yet having developed inhibitions, with no desire to compartmentalise, and little life experience they simply open their senses to a new experience and allow contemporary art to speak to them. Importantly, this unshackled approach, more often than not, enables a greater level of enjoyment and understanding of contemporary art.

So, as adults, how do we shake off these traits that we’ve subconsciously acquired, open our senses up and enjoy contemporary art to the same extent that children do? Well, the Oxfordshire based artist, critic and curator Clare Carswell has set up Art Insights to help people deepen their understanding of and approach to contemporary art, thus enabling this. Clare commented;

“I hope that the Art Insights talks will interest dedicated followers of modern art and also encourage some to look at art that they may find challenging, to step outside their art viewing ‘comfort zone’ and to consider why contemporary artists make what they do and why galleries and museums validate it by exhibiting it. The talks will explore some of the ideas preoccupying contemporary artists and help to make the experience of the art of today more accessible and enjoyable for the viewer.”

Clare produced a series of talks exploring the work of contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in response to his recent exhibition at Blenheim Palace.

The talks proved to be tremendously successful and very well received, as was the exhibition, the first major contemporary art exhibition of many that Blenheim have decided to mount, and just as the memory of the crabs live on so does the desire to better understand what was seen in the stately home. As such, Clare will be giving that talk once again at The Oxfordshire Museum  this Saturday 28 March.

Clare explains the impetus behind Art Insights;
“I started Art Insights because I realized that there was a keen audience in the region for talks on earlier periods of art such as Impressionism or the Renaissance, but that no-one was talking on contemporary art, tackling head on why it often seems harder to look at, or to enjoy, than art of the past. I am hoping to reach people who may feel baffled or irritated by contemporary art but who may feel inclined to look at it more seriously if given insights into the thinking and intention of contemporary artists and where their ideas come from.”

Clare endeavours to create a relaxed, comfortable style for her illustrated talks, which are often hosted by people in their homes providing the opportunity to discuss contemporary art in a small group over homely refreshments.

Passionate about sharing her passion and keen to reach as large an audience as possible in the country, whether the venue be in an art venue or in someone’s home, she remarked,
“It would be super to build a network of hosts in villages and towns who hold the events in their homes and so get the whole county talking about contemporary art!”

The illustrated talks are intended to enhance the viewing and enjoyment of contemporary art of all forms including conceptual, performance, video and installation art. The talks offer the insights of an experienced artist into the work of contemporary artists, the concepts that preoccupy them and the decisions that they make when producing their art. Clare examines the work of living artists and their voices at the same time contextualising their oeuvre by making reference to the art and ideas of earlier periods that underpin contemporary art making.

Art Insights talks relate to current and/or forthcoming exhibitions in galleries and museums in the region. Clare arranges trips to visit the exhibitions for further discussions. Her sessions last two hours and include a break for refreshments. Future talks are planned on Marlene Dumas and Sir Terry Frost. Contact Clare for more details or to host an event – – 


For more information about Clare and her own practice visit – she’s very talented and very nice!

Independent Oxford

It’s been a while since anything got my toes tingling in Oxford town, though Anna and Rosie have swept in with a flourish of creative energy and set up a website that brings together and shouts about all of the beautiful independent businesses in this glorious city of dreaming spires – nice one, Ladies! 

The website in question is…


And to launch it they’re having a bit of a shebang in the most excellent Annie Sloan “home to the best paint in the world” shop on the Cowley Road (The Plain end) this Thursday, and everyone’s invited!


The super cool thing about Thursday night is that it’s offering up a bit of a taster of its cyber-self. By that I mean that Anna and Rosie have picked a beautiful little bunch of independents and invited them to bring along five items from their shops that they feel best represent their shops. These items will be available to buy and will be brought to you by: Kinship of Oxford, Love Your Plane, Shop at the Old Fire Station, Amy Surman Bead Shop, Darn it and Stitch… And of course the mother of indie Oxford – the chalk-tastic Ms Annie Sloan.

What else of Thursday night… There’ll be fizzy booze for your throat and tum, and live music for your ears and toes – winner! Oh, and Anna and Rosie will be a-minglin’ with winning smiles and brimming with enthusiasm on the subject of their exciting new venture  that will be Oxford’s one-stop online guide to all things independent from bakeries to bike shops, galleries to gerkhin-picklers (maybe). Of the launch of Independent Oxford, Rosie and Anna commented (in unison), 

“Oxford has so much to offer in terms of independent businesses and we think that’s part of what makes Oxford the city it is. You can’t beat walking into an independent shop and the owner remembering you from last time or knowing that by shopping there you’re supporting the local economy. There are interesting stories behind each of the indies and so much love and passion behind why and how they do it; that is what we want to share.

What we’re launching on Thursday is just the start; we see this as the beginning of an exciting and boundless quest that has so much potential to not only promote but to create a network for indies to work together.”

If the new Westgate Centre is going to offer Oxford the mass-produced, large-scale, homogenised shopping that the city (apparently) needs, then is going to be doing its bit to make sure that Oxford stays unique – making Anna and Rosie the Musketeers of independent shopping in Oxford, I guess! I hope they’ll be wearing capes and feathers in their hats on Thursday – that’d be fun!

Almost forgot… They’re also on Facebook and tweeting away on Twitter @IndieOxford #independentoxford. Getting colourful on Instagram and Pinning on Pinterest

Angels of Tacloban

The contents of the wonderful Love Your Plane furniture shop and workshop on Oxford’s Iffley Road are great. Great furniture, really well designed, super cool patterns… Great cards, cushions, flower bombs, sketch books, note pads, prints, books, the list of greatness at great prices goes on, AND the guy that owns and runs the place is great too! All kinds of great… Including the great little gallery space, The Bus Stop Gallery, that he has out back.

Coinciding with Photography Oxford festival, The Bus Stop Gallery have adorned their walls with some fantastic photojournalism presented in a very liveablewithable way. Liveablewithable is a funny word to use in this context (not least because the word doesn’t exist), but because the subject of the show by Oxford-based photographer and psychiatrist Nick Rose, entitled Angels of Tacloban, is that of ‘getting by and getting on’ in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan, which hit the coastal town of Tacloban in November 2013.

It’s not a massive show, but a hard-hitting show… and I actually found really uplifting and inspirational. The images depict ordinary people finding a way through tough times. I particularly liked one image of a family sitting at the ‘foot’ of a massive ship that had by washed ashore. The owner of the gallery remarked how the scratched on the ship reminded him of the scars on a beached whale’s belly. I also especially enjoyed the images of girls in hot pink dresses having a dancing lesson underneath the roof of a sports hall that has been partially ripped to shreds by this aggressive cyclone that swept through it.

The images are beautifully shot by a man who can clearly communicate with others, both his ‘sitters’ and his viewers. Rose has captured so much understated strength and spirit in the face of adversity in these stunning images.

Adding integrity in integrity, all proceeds from the sale of works in this show (each piece is priced at £85) goes to the International Medical Corps.

Angels of Tacloban at The Bus Stop Gallery in Love Your Plane continues until 8 October 2014.





And the beat goes on…


The Journey

Oxford artist Diana Bell devised and presented a new piece of work at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2014 based around the simple symbol of a big question mark. The Journey takes viewers and participants on a physical and philosophical journey through a public participatory installation that asks the below listed questions and invites people to describe their journey in their own idiosyncratic ways.

1. Where do you come from?
2. Where are you going?
3. How will you know you’re there?


Listen to Diana talking about the work and watch people interacting with the work here (it’s beautifully simple, and really quite emotional)…

The Journey by Diana Bell

To find out more about Diana Bell’s work visit