The Oxford Art Book Launch

 In Indie Oxford Interviews

This week, we chat to Emma Bennett the editor of The Oxford Art Book, which launches tomorrow at Blackwell’s Bookshop. The book features art work from a whole host of amazing local artists, capturing the city in their own unique style.

Tell me about yourself.

I am a mixed-media artist with a studio in central Cambridge.  I specialise in vibrant hand-cut collage using only papers recycled from magazines and intricate hand-drawn illustrations.  I took the decision to try to make it as a full time artist about six years, having had a varied career as a teacher, including a couple of years working in China, over ten years working in exhibition design for museums and galleries including The National Science Museum and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The Oxford Art Book

How did The Oxford Art Book come about?

In 2016 I had the idea for The Cambridge Art Book, which shows the city through the eyes of over 50 local artists who the city inspires.  It was a desire to promote the work of artists but also to show people how different artists interpret places in different ways that was the starting point.  The book was a great success and so well received that the publishers (UIT) and I thought it would be great to do another one.  It was whilst canoeing around the Oxford canals one day, reminiscing about all the times I spent here as a child (and now with good friends living here) that I realised that Oxford just had to be the next book in the City Art Book Series.

How did you start the process of finding local artists for the book?

It takes a couple of months of (very fun) research to come up with a list of artists to contact. We have a website for each book so that artists have all of the information they need, and local press is great for getting the word out there. Artists are very supportive of each other and so spread the word amongst their arty friends, which means we get a lot of people contacting us that way. Artists then have a couple of months in which to submit images free for consideration, with a panel of experts choosing a final selection.

Kelly Stewart St Michael's Hill Oxford
St Michael's Street by Kelly Stewart

What do you hope the book will achieve?

I hope that the book will make people smile, encourage people to walk around Oxford to see not only the beautiful city, but also how the talented artists have interpreted and represented it in a wide variety of styles and media. As one of my hero’s Emma Bridgewater who wrote the foreword to the book put it ‘don’t take a picture on your phone but instead stand still, look around and feast your eyes’.

For the artists I hope it will give them a new platform and audience for their work and if like the Cambridge artists, new exhibition and work opportunities.   I know that schools and elderly care homes have used the Cambridge book to inspire creativity so it would be wonderful if The Oxford Art Book were to do the same.

Louise Hall The Covered Market, Oxford
The Covered Market, Oxford by Louise Hall

How did you curate the final pieces for the book?

Art is very subjective and to choose 120 pages for a book out of over 500 images submitted is a challenge.  Luckily a wonderful panel of local art and city experts spent a morning with me, where we went through every image to choose a final selection.  Images are chosen not only on their own merit, but obviously they have to tell a geographical story and represent a mix of styles and media.

Susan Brown Radcliffe Camera Oxford
Radcliffe Camera by Susan Brown

What is the toughest part about putting the Art Books together?

The toughest part of the Art Book creation is having to choose the final artists for the book.  For Oxford we had almost 100 artists submit images for consideration but it would be impossible to co-ordinate the work of so many artists.  The panel and I go through all of the images and it is always hard to know that an artist, however good their work may be hasn’t been selected.

Browns Cafe The Covered Market Oxford by Tim Kirtley
Browns Cafe The Covered Market Oxford by Tim Kirtley

Which cities are next on your Art Book list and how do artists apply to be involved?

I am just finishing The Edinburgh Art Book which will be launched mid next year.  In September I will start on The Liverpool Art Book, another city I love.  I realise how incredibly lucky I am to work in these fabulous cities and to see first hand the range of art that these cities inspire.  There are so many talented artists working in the UK.

What are your favourite parts of Oxford, and are there any indies you love to visit in the city?

It was early visits to The Pitt Rivers Museum that years later inspired a degree in archaeology, I love the way everything is crammed in!  I enjoy the canoes and the river and just wondering around the cobbled streets. You can’t beat strolling around the covered market and visiting all of the independent shops and the great cafes in there. I am a bit of a coffee snob and so I often head to The Handlebar Cafe or for lunch at The Jam Factory. It is great to see such a thriving independent scene in the city and The Independent Oxford Directory is a great way to explore the city. Maybe people could use The Independent Oxford Directory and The Oxford Art Book together to have an amazing tour of the city.

The Handle Bar Cafe Oxford

The Oxford Art Book is a testament to the breadth of talented artists we have across the county, that capture some of our cities most iconic landmarks in a unique and illuminating light. I was delighted to be on the selection panel for the book, discovering new artists and being part of a project to showcase creatives in Oxfordshire.

The book launches on 13th September, and will be available from Blackwells and The Oxford Art Book website.

Love, Rosie xxx

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