Preparations are well underway for the upcoming on form unlocked exhibition at Asthall Manor, situated in the gardens of the Mitford sisters’ former home near Burford.
Last year the exhibition was forced online due to the pandemic, but with restrictions being lifted on form unlocked will once again exhibit its wonderful array of stone sculptures from around the country in the grounds.
From top names such as Emily Young and Peter Randall-Page to newcomer Marcia Bennett-Male, there is something for everyone amongst the 31 sculptors exhibiting.
“For us it’s about the experience of coming to Asthall Manor. It’s very important to see the works within this landscape and how they relate to each other”
Taking six weeks to install, all the works are for sale, with prices ranging from £1000 to over £100,000, and visitors flock from far and wide to pay homage to the immense skills and demonstrative powers of the art on display, alongside the more specific buyers.
To give you an idea of numbers, in 2018 the exhibition attracted 10,000 visitors, but due to social distancing, co-curators Rosie Pearson (who owns the house) and Anna Greenacre can only accommodate around 6,300 guests this year at this stunning Jacobean Cotswold home.
“on form took off with an incredible momentum,” Rosie says. “It’s really gratifying that people now book to see the work itself, because initially they came to see the grounds (designed by famous landscape gardeners Isabel and Julian Bannerman) and to connect with the Mitford sisters.
So what do they find so appealing? “The atmosphere is very welcoming but more than that, people who might find art rather terrifying really use their imagination here. The sculptures are so visceral and organic that people react to them in a really instinctive way.”
“while all the exhibits are stone sculptures, within that remit there is incredible diversity”
With 31 sculptors displaying their work in the grounds, and the infamous Potting Shed Cafe ready for business under the culinary eye of acclaimed local chef, Fiona Cullinane, (outdoors of course), Rosie and Anne can’t wait to open Asthall Manor’s infamous gates once more.
Which is where the whole event began – Rosie commissioned famous sculptor Anthony Turner (who is exhibiting this year too) to design new gateposts when she first moved in in 1998. The organic, plant-inspired entrance was the beginning of her love with stonework sculpture, as well as her relationship with Anthony.
So why stone specifically? “At the beginning we tried more of a mixed sculpture show but it wasn’t as effective or coherent,” Rosie explains.
“So while all the pieces in the exhibition are stone, within that remit there is incredible diversity. Stone also has so much inherited history that really speaks to people in terms of permanence, which is increasingly relevant,” Rosie says.
“For example Emma Elliot‘s work is all about endangered species and extinction and Tom Waugh is contributing a giant sized catering knife and fork in marble to demonstrate our waste culture and contrast the permanence of stone with the disposability of plastic.”
“For us it’s about the experience of coming here to Asthall Manor. It’s very important to see the works in the landscape and how they relate to each other within that context,” Rosie adds.
Supporting four local charities this year, £1 from every £10 entrance ticket will be distributed amongst Refugee Resource http://refugeeresource.org.uk, Oxfordshire Association for the Blind http://oxeyes.org.uk, AT The Bus http://atthebus.org.uk and Climate Outreach http://climateoutreach.org.
Rosie must be excited about opening up Asthall Manor for on form then? “I’m very proud of what on form has grown into, and while there is a pressure to keep the house and gardens in tiptop condition it does mean we keep evolving.
“Besides, it is a collaborative process and I have met so many amazing people along the way.”
And with that Rosie is off, back to preparing this sculptural feast at her family home, an event that has now become an annual art event of real calibre.
Better get in quick then as the online time slots must be booked in advance at https://www.onformsculpture.co.uk
Other sculptors include: Steve Atkinson, Aly Brown, Luke Dickinson, Kim Francis, Mel Fraser, Mark Frith, Marcus Harris, Rosie Jones, Benji Lowsley-Williams, Emma Maiden, Alyosha Moeran, Nicolas Moreton, Jason Mulligan, William Peers, Richard Perry, Jordi Raga Frances, Ben Russell, Will Spankie, Guy Stevens, Tom Stogdon, Almuth Tebbenhoff, Lucy Unwin, Paul Vanstone, and Alex Wenham.
on form unlocked will run from Sunday 2 May to Monday 31 May.