This month, for Oxfordshire Artweeks hundreds of artists and designers open their studios and host pop-up exhibitions to showcase their talents.

What makes this annual event such a treat is that we not only get to enjoy the art where it was created, but are invited to share in the artistic process (often with a cup of tea or a glass of wine), discover the artist in person and hear the inspiration behind their pieces.

And prepare to be surprised; often the stories you hear are as fascinating as the art itself.

In Wolvercote, for example, artist Tom Croft’s exhibition includes a striking painting of Tia, who looks an unusual choice for a traditional portrait painter.

“Last year, during last year’s Artweeks funnily enough, this lady and her partner visited my studio,” says Tom. “She had an incredible presence and charisma. She was very tall with striking intense eyes and a bleached undercut against her black hair.

“As a portrait painter, I was totally struck by her and – something I never do – I accidentally blurted out ‘Can I paint you?’

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Tom Croft

“She was visiting Oxford from Australia and agreed to sit for me before she flew back ‘Down Under’. Then, when she arrived, as she took off her jumper, she asked me how I felt about tattoos. She was covered in this wonderful artwork on her arms and back and wrapped around her neck.

“They were fascinating and exciting to paint. I had never painted tattoos before so it was quite a technical challenge. You’d expect to paint the skin first and then add the body art but actually I ended up drawing the outline of the tattoo first and filling in the segments of the skin more like a mosaic, making sure the light falling on the skin was consistent across the whole shoulder.”

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Tom’s work features in this the first week of Artweeks, which, from Saturday to Sunday, May 12, features Oxford city. It will be followed over the next two weeks by events in the south, and then north and west of the county.

Head into town where in Jericho, Uniz Chuey is both an artist and a tattooist and sees the two skills as intricately linked. Trained in Fine Arts, Chuey enjoys the process of creation in many media from drawing and painting to 3D work and sees the human skin as another, albeit remarkable, medium to work on.

“It’s the most exotic, breathing, living, moving canvas,” she explains. “Yet one which carries a heavy sense of responsibility.”

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Uniz Chuey

During Artweeks Uniz is exhibiting as part of a large group exhibition in the heart of Jericho, showcasing art influenced by her culturally-mixed childhood in Singapore, where East meets West and traditional ways are fused with modern influences.

Other pieces reflect current social issues, inspired by events that touched her, or those around her, and visitors can enjoy a new series of screen prints that celebrate the role of insects in the circle of life.

“Bugs are an essential element of the ecosystem and the current decimating trend of insects threaten the collapse of nature,” she says.

“As a huge attractant to insects of the blood sucking kind, my first experiences with them was an itchy one. Yet in my earliest memories, their iridescent sheen, transparent wings and science fiction appearance captivated my imagination.”

This imagination comes into play in her tattoos as the interpreter of the ideas of the person having the tattoo. “My style involves tattooing in black and grey shades with hints of bright colours, toying with the illusion of space and setting depths in an otherwise 2D surface.”

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Pam Foley

It’s the very shape of the human form however that inspires two sculptors who both live in Jericho and produce figurative pieces in very different styles.

Sculptor Pam Foley, on Albert Street, presents the balance, poise, line and energy of the human body in abstracted figures, each a narrative in a physical form. Harking back to a pre-historical era, and influenced by traditional representations of the human form and archaeological finds, whether they be big hips that signify fertility or stances that reflect moods or emotions, her organic bronze and marble resin figures could almost have been made in another time, although some are inspired by contemporary events such as more recent human migrations.

In contrast, contemporary artist Rachel Ducker creates incredible wire sculptures inspired by the shape and dynamics of the human form, some with bronze or other materials.

“Her vibrant and emotive wire sculptures capture movement, human nature and something ephemeral, fairy-tale even. There’s a sense of life and character in each, whether they are small winged ‘Tinkerbell’ pieces or full-size sculptures emerging from the earth or expressively bounding into the space ahead of them.

“I am inspired by dancing figures because of the energy and expression in the movement which I try and capture in my sculpture so the viewer can feel that energy and joy too when they look at the piece,” she says.

“I am also intrigued by darker, more macabre things in life: for example my ‘tree people’ were inspired by the idea of the tree people in Dante’s Inferno: people metamorphosing from human to trees. They were based on my drawings of the incredible ancient oaks at Blenheim. Trees have characters and stories to tell, just like people.

“This year I am also making a sculpture of a figure wearing a ‘mad skull’ dress, inspired by the exploitation rife in the fashion industry and the damage it does to the planet.”

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Rachel Ducker

Rachel’s sculptures have no facial features, leaving the posture of the body to express the feeling provoked by each.

“I love people watching,” says Rachel, who has always had a keen interest in psychology. “If you take a moment, you see how much is actually communicated through body language. People express themselves very physically.”

  • For more information on these artists and the dozens of venues local to you, visit artweeks.org
  • See another side of Oxford's Artweeks spectacular in our picture spread in tomorrow's Oxford Mail