Monday August 17 is going to be a big day for Lizzie Collins. Having always dreamt of opening her own gallery in Woodstock, her new Park Street premises is now ready and waiting to open its doors.
And Zuleika Gallery’s first exhibition boasts Rachel Gracey’s stunning prints and lithographs of her recent trip through California – The Pacific Coast.
The vibrant, inspiring, evocative, colourful series provides the perfect statement for what we can expect of Zuleika. Until now a pop up and gallery space in St James’s Piccadilly, this new permanent base in Woodstock will only enhance the town’s growing name on the art scene as a mecca for galleries, artists and art lovers.
The Pacific Coast exhibition represents two years work for Rachel
As for Rachel, she was made an RE by The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers last year, a huge honour, and features in collections all over the world including ones right here at The Ashmolean, that of Her Majesty the Queen and The British Museum.
So it’s a great coup for Zuleika to feature Rachel’s most recent works.
The timing is also perfect, because while Zuleika was opening up its first permanent base, Rachel was working fiendishly to capture the images and sights she’d just witnessed on holiday in California.
Taking a sabbatical with her husband and children, she was soon mesmerised by the pacific coast they drove through and began sketching and taking photographs to capture the beautiful scenery.
“My husband drove and I drew. I just loved the contrast,” she remembers.
It was only when she got home to Oxfordshire that Rachel realised she had something, enough indeed to create an entirely new series.
“It took a few months to get going, to take it all in, because California was so strong and dramatic in comparison with the English landscapes I was used to,” she says.
“But you can transmit a lot of feeling and emotion in relaying the landscapes back.”
Previously Rachel’s work had featured English countryside and seascapes, local parks, the Devon coastline and so on. But this was something different – wilder, more visceral, a new light and colour scape, and she set to work.
You can see the results for yourself when you venture into Zuleika Gallery in Woodstock and Rachel is delighted with both the invitation to stage her stunning prints there, and the development of her craft in so doing.
Originally intending to be a sculptor, Rachel was drawn to printmaking and lithographs as an art student, first at Bristol and then Wimbledon School of Art where her lithographs were awarded the Michael Putnam Prize.
Working extensively in London, belonging to the avant garden Artichoke Print Workshop, and becoming much acclaimed, she then put her career on hold to have a family, only resurrecting her earlier passion and gift when she bought a Mann Direct printing press. There are only three such presses left in the country and it is big enough to cope with Rachel’s larger pieces.
Set up in her shed at the end of her garden in Oxfordshire, Rachel began transposing the park scenes she’d enjoyed with her children into what are now her characteristic prints, and hasn’t looked back since.
Numerous exhibitions later, here we are in Woodstock where Lizzie and Rachel are chatting about the exhibition, obviously firm friends.
“I’ve always been encouraged by Lizzie, who has been so enthusiastic, especially when I’m experiencing any self doubt,” Rachel agrees.
So what is lithography then and why choose that as her medium? “It’s a greaseless metal plate that is grained, so roughened, on which you can lay down marks that can then be inked up. You roll the ink onto the plate and it stays on the grease, one colour at a time,” Rachel explains.
So it’s very laborious and methodical? “Yes but I like that about it, even though it’s also very hit and miss – a lot goes in the bin. So it’s a beautifully unpredictable process at the same time. I feel very connected when I’m working.”
And what is she likes about lithography itself? “It gives my work a texture, a looseness and movement which works well with the world I want to translate. It enables me to simplify everything right down, because you can only use a few colours in each one or it gets too messy.”
The Pacific Coast exhibition represents two years work for Rachel and she feels she’s really pushed herself and her practice in its completion.
“It’s been good to explore. It’s more about working with what I see rather than a view. The scenery in America was often so desolate and remote – not always the cliched Californian dream – and I tried to capture that, those contrasts,” she says.
A massive contrast again with the lockdown series Rachel embarked on more recently. She explains: “It’s weird what has come out of me during lockdown now that I look back. All my pictures are small and caged like boxes which is obviously how I felt at the time without realising it. So I shall call it my Covid Collection,” she laughs.
As for Lizzie, who also curates the art programme at Saïd Business School in Oxford, she is excited about the future and the upcoming opening: “It’s a big commitment to take on a permanent space like this but I’ve been collecting contacts and getting Zuleika’s name out there over the past few years and the time just felt right.”
“I think Zuleika will bring a unique voice to an already healthy art scene in Woodstock”
During lockdown, Lizzie also hosted a 100% non-profit charity exhibition online supporting NHS Oxfordshire and Oxfordshire artists. Titled ‘Art from the Heart’, the exhibition raised £7,650 for Oxfordshire hospitals, with the rest going directly to the artists. (READ ABOUT IT HERE: https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/famous-painter-jenny-saville-joins-130-local-artists-to-raise-money-for-nhs-with-online-charity-auction-art-from-the-heart-from-saturday/)
She has had to wait a few months for lockdown to ease before making these initial steps but is confident in her contribution to Woodstock and its suitability for her new business venture.
Specialising in contemporary, emerging and Modern British art Lizzie feels that “this gateway to the Cotswolds” is the perfect spot.
“I think Zuleika will bring a unique voice to an already healthy art scene in Woodstock, as well as the cultural landscape of Oxfordshire and the buyers – to show them that amazing art and artists can also be found in the countryside. Rachel is the perfect example of this.”
Sculptor Nigel Hall’s work can also be found at the gallery when it opens on August 17.
The gallery will open from Monday 17 August daily, observing current regulations around social distancing – viewings can be booked online though the gallery’s website.
Zuleika Gallery (Oxfordshire), 6 Park Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX20 1SP
Monday – Friday 10.30 am – 5.30 pm Saturday 11am – 5.30 pm
Sunday 12 pm – 4 pm