Oxford’s secret garden

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Rebecca BuckTurrill GardenSummertownIt is a long bicycle ride from the town centre up to the Turrill Garden, behind the SummertownLibrary, but once you arrive, you do find yourself in a surprisingly pleasant and tranquil spot. The Turrill Garden is a well-designedgreen space for the public to use and enjoy, and is regularly used for exhibitions. Presently, the work of Rebecca Buck is being displayed, a sculptress born in the USA but educated in both Eengland and across the Atlantic. She has an impressive CV, with a long list of accomplishmentsin southern Italy and Malaysia aside from her work in and America, and now works out of her Osprey Studio in Wales.Her work is abstract and guided by music, using weatherproof clay to design a range of sculptures, many of which reflect her background in portrait and figure studies. Indeed, the work on display at the Turrill Garden seems to perfectly encapsulatethe broad range of themes she covers.Her sculptures of metaphorical objects, under the title of Life’s a Beach, are shaped with smooth contours that simultaneously mimic the rise and fall of waves, the curve of a sunbather’s hip, the crest of sand dunes. Similarly, the sculptures named Wind, Water, Fire, although solid and upright, skilfully capture an image of licking flames or cascadingwater with a look of fluidity that makes Buck’s sculpting seem effortless.Similar artistic skill is evident in her two depictions of Icarus who, accordingto the Greek myth, flew too close to the sun, and consequently melted his waxed wings, causing him to plummet to his death. The mythologicalcharacter is depicted in a pose of bold confidence with his arms flung back and his chest flaunted to the viewer, like a cocky bird pluminghis feathers. His danger-defying demeanour is powerfully expressed in the artist’s violent, vigorous style: slashes in the ceramic depict the wings’ feathers, sharp grooves give the bodies a slightly contorted shape, and the faces are moulded into an amorphous clump. The striking refusal to give the sculptures a face combined with her rough method gives us ancient mythological heroes but without the serenity that typicallygoes with a Classical style.The most striking works on displayare those called Figures From Yesterday’s News. They are images of despair: a pregnant woman protectivelyhugging her swollen belly; a desperate man, his knees drawn up with his face held in his hands. The lines of these sculptures are aggressive: they seem to have been created as a catharsis, jabbed as well as moulded, pained as well as calm. Ddepicting the human in varying states of aggression and retreat with such a natural, energetic style, the best work is fervent, violent and instilledwith the artist’s own passion.The diversity of Buck’s sculpture is extremely apparent, and perhaps some would say that this is evidence of her ability to look at the beauty and horror of this world. However this creates conflict within the exhibition as a whole: there are two distinct sets of art on display that represent completely different themes. Separately, they work well in the garden environment, but together, the themes seem to clash. More importantly, it is a small display that exists not to attract visitors but to provide a pleasant environment for users of the Summertown library to read in. If you do find yourself in Summertown and can afford the time, do call in to the gardens and sit and admire the diversity of the exhibition, but the bike ride up there specifically with sculpture in mind is not recommended.ARCHIVE: 5th week MT 2005

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