Henry Moore once said that he found the principles of form and rhythm from the study of natural objects. Pebbles, rocks, twigs, landscapes even, showed him nature’s way of working stone and resulted in his remarkable array of beautiful sculptures. How one medium can captivate and behold so much vision for one artist is fascinating. Consider therefore, an exhibition in a garden and meadow, where the centrality of stone is in no doubt, with 40 artists exhibiting an impressive; 384 sculptures. That’s not just any exhibition, that’s Onform 2018….
Asthall Manor is once again host to the biennial Onform sculpture exhibition. Now in it’s 9th opening, this is one not to miss. Hundreds of sculptures, from British and international artists are beautifully placed around the garden, meadow and landscape transforming Asthall and it’s grounds into an extensive art gallery.
Owned and curated by the enigmatic Rosie Pearson, the exhibition is lovingly put together with the help of contemporary art consultant, Anna Greenacre. Onform is an exhibition of Rosie’s love of stone, form and texture. According to Rosie, stone is a medium, rich in genealogy that closely reflects its relationship to the landscape.
The idea for Onform originated from the two incredible sculptures on the Asthall gate posts, designed by Anthony Turner. These have always been a favourite of mine, almost Moore like in their bulbous generosity. Rosie explained that they are a semi-vegetables of sort, almost creature like. The initial reactions to the sculptures were apparently very negative, but that gradually that started to change to positive. That mental process intrigued Rosie, when one is quick to rush to a judgment, but then once you look more closely, things are seen differently. Very much the motto of the exhibition, which is in a way a voyage of mind, body and soul. Visitors are hence encouraged to reach out and touch the sculptures – a must do at Onform. As instructed, I thoroughly enjoyed myself patting, stroking, and getting up close and personal to the sculptures.
The exhibition stats are impressive. A total of 384 sculptures are on show by 40 artists from nine countries, displayed over 14 acres of garden and meadow. In this year’s exhibition, 11 artists are new to Onform, and 3 have been in all 9 exhibitions. You’ll certainly need a couple of hours to have a good look around.
Dating from the early 17th century, the Jacobean Asthall Manor sits at the edge of a Cotswolds village, looking on to a medieval church and down over meadows and willows of the Windrush Valley. The water meadows flow seamlessly to the garden and the house, choreographed to sit so naturally in the landscape. The Manor, famous for it’s literary occupants, was home to Lord Redesdale, father of the Mitford sisters. Nancy Mitford’s novel ‘The Pursuit of Love’ is based largely on Asthall, and is the backdrop to Jessica Mitford’s ‘Hons and Rebels’.
The gardens were designed by Julian and Isabelle Bannerman, known for their delicate, romantic English style. Roses dominate the garden, both horizontally as well as vertically. The house, gateways and archways are all smothered with ramblers and climbing roses, softening the architecture and providing both colour as well as intense perfume.
Intriguingly, they prune their roses at Asthall quite like one would prune shrubs and topiary, and continue to do so throughout the growing season. The result is not just a mass of constant blooms but also interest in winter months, where rose shrubs become almost living sculptures. Mark Edwards, the previous head gardener, developed the technique which is still very much part of gardening process at Asthall today. Jenny Barnes, the now Head Gardener, explains that the technique works best for roses that naturally send up lots of young, malleable shoots such as ramblers. Though, they prune other rose varieties successfully in this manner such as (amongst others); Rosa rubignosa, Rosa virginiana, Rosa x cantabrigiensis, Reine de violettes, and Dorothy Perkins. Just don’t try it on Rosa Guinee, or Mme. Gregoire Staechelin, as they don’t respond to it at all.
Onform runs from 10 June to 8 July 2018, open Wednesdays to Sundays from 11am to 6pm. Asthall Manor is located near Burford, in Oxfordshire. For more more details see the Onform website.