Anne James reflects on the work of nine Oxford and Grenoble artists

Part of the celebration of 25 years of Oxford and Grenoble’s town twinning is an outstanding exhibition by six artists from Grenoble and three from Oxford. This year’s exhibition takes place in two quintessentially English venues: Oxford Town Hall and Hemingway Art, Cassington, the latter being the country home of Sue and John Hemingway. They have turned their downstairs rooms into a highly successful exhibition space that provides an intimate setting in which to explore and enjoy works of art.

The Oxford artists are only showing at the Town Hall and three of the Grenoble artists only at Hemingway Art. So to exp-erience the body of work in its entirety a visit to both venues is recommended.

The Grenoble artists showing at both venues include sculptor Virginia Alfonso. She is inspired by the Alps that surround Grenoble. Originally from the Argentin-ean pampas, she glories in the way their vastness dominates the land and the sky, creating unique horizons. She has used found pictures dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries to make collages that deconstruct the landscape and then reconstruct it, but upside down, finally adding to them portraits, in oil, of fiction-al mountains. The results, as illustrated in Alps, are dominant turbulent pieces with the power, vastness and complexity of the topography, captured perfectly.

Also showing at both venues is AGNE (Jean-Luc Aufradet). He explores each of his subjects again and again until he feels he has captured the fullness of each. He has created series of images of high altitude alpine forests half shrouded by mist and cloud. Each piece transcends the realities of the scene, creating an otherworldliness where reality disperses into a miasma of form and shape.

Markus Nine, also showing at both venues, is both a painter and a sculptor. He uses his work to explore how individuals create and direct their energies, and the resultant clear expression this gives to identity and personality. The results are strong figures with exaggerated gargoyle-like attributes. For his sculptures he has deliberately chosen to work in uncompromising materials: wire netting and resins coloured only with natural pigments. In his diminutive sculpture Gargouille Debout, the impossibly elongated figure appears to positively howl at a wider uncomp-rehending world, the pent tension and emotion clearly visible in the taut torso and straining shoulders.

Only at Hemingway Art is Sonia Serrano’s latest work Windows, who says the inspiration for her work is highly personal. She adopts the effect created by mashrabiyas: Arabic screens. She uses lace as a stencil to build up depth and rhythmic geometric patterns, through which only fragments of the images behind them can be seen.

Jean-Pierre Malandrino explores the concept of the Fifth Dimension by juxtaposing sheets of coloured perspex to create a seemingly infinite journey through different colours and forms that invite each person to make their own journey through his pieces.

Martine Chaperon uses the human body as a starting point for her paintings, which she then deconstructs to the point of abstraction with painful fractured resonances that speak of an uncomfort-able inner self riven by strong emotions.

One of the pieces showing at the Town Hall is Kate Hammersley’s three dimen-sional Horizon. This she created as a result of spend-ing time both in the Alps and in the Bodleian’s historic Mountaineering Library with its literary and map collection. Her work captures the crisp angles of the uncompromising mountains in slate greys and chalky whites that accentuate their gigantic angular nature. The piece deliberately blurs two and three dimensions in ways that comment on the relationship between assumed permanence and the actual transience of so much of what we experience as human beings.

Madi Achayra-Baskerville also poses questions about the transience of present identity, the certainty of past loss and of future uncertainties. Working in three dimensions, she builds her pieces from discarded, rejected and found materials.

The final Oxford artist showing is Diana Bell, whose piece Confluence brings together a visual representation of two great rivers: the Thames and the Isere, providing a metaphor for the actual confluence of the artists and peoples of Oxford and Grenoble. Bell joins together the sinuous flow of each river to create a series of strong enjoined shapes that boldly cross the mirror behind them: a mirror that plays back to the viewer their own reflection.

Alps and Spires
Oxford Town Hall Gallery, Monday to Saturday, until May 24
Hemingway Art, Cassington, Friday to Sunday, until May 31