Part of the cover of 'The Oxford Art Book', showing part of the Radcliffe Camera, by the editor, Emma Bennett


Artist Emma Bennett explains why a new art book is creating waves

Published: 11 September 2018

Author: Emma Bennett


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QUAD: How did you come to be editing a book about Oxford when you’re a Cambridge-based commercial artist?

Emma: I’m a full-time artist working in Cambridge and in 2016 had the idea for The Cambridge Art Book, to show the city through the eyes of the artists it inspires. The book has been so well received by the art community and the public that everyone I met asked ‘what’s next?’ I grew up regularly visiting Oxford with my family (my Dad sang at Keble College a few times) and I had a reading card for the Bodleian whilst at university in Reading. Now two of my best friends live in Oxfordshire, so I still regularly visit with my family. It was whilst on a four-hour canoe on the Oxford Canal that I really looked at the city again and decided there and then that The Oxford Art Book had to be next.

The Cambridge Art Book shows the city through the eyes of 51 artists exhibiting a great mix of media and styles. Some of the artists are known and established, while others are students and urban sketchers. As well as wanting to bring the art of the city to a broader audience, which is sometimes hard for artists to do, I wanted to show how a city can inspire creativity and be seen in so many different ways. Both locals and visitors to the city seem to love the book as it is quirky and a bit different.

A painting of the Radcliffe Camera at night, with people silhouetted against it

1858 Evening, Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, by Susan Brown, one of the artists whose work is shared in The Oxford Art Book

Credit: Susan Brown (reproduced with kind permission and thanks)

What was different about doing the Oxford volume after Cambridge?

Artists are very supportive of each other so once the word got out about the call-out for artists’ submissions for The Oxford Art Book (and with the help of local press and art organisations) almost 100 artists submitted 500 images for consideration. A panel of local art and city experts helped select the final images for inclusion, which isn’t an easy job! I was really impressed by the images and range of media that were submitted by Oxford artists and their enthusiasm for the project. Celebrities connected to Oxford were quick to endorse the book, including Jeremy Paxman, Miriam Margolyes, John Simpson, Rick Stein and Helen Fielding. I was delighted that one of my favourite designers Emma Bridgewater, wrote the Foreword to the book.

The cover of 'The Oxford Art Book'

The book cover art work of the Radcliffe Camera is by the editor, Emma Bennett

Credit: Emma Bennett

How many artists make their living from depicting Cambridge, Oxford?

Cambridge and Oxford are very inspirational cities. I think when you live somewhere beautiful it inspires creativity. It can be hard and sometimes lonely to be a full-time artist, working away in your studio, but a great outcome of the art books is that they bring local artists together. The Cambridge volume led to lots of exhibition opportunities and connections, artists who now regularly meet for coffee and even work together. There are a huge number of artists making a living from depicting Oxford in their work, and The Oxford Art Book will hopefully have a similarly creative impact.

A painting of a door in Oxford Castle

Oxford Castle, by Caroline Ritson, also featured in The Oxford Art Book

Credit: Caroline Ritson

Are there any trends or themes? The cover shows a multi-colour Radcliffe Camera which is pretty snazzy.

It is a privilege that I get to design and create the covers for the art books (I have just done the Scott Monument for The Edinburgh Art Book which is in development). For Oxford, the advice from locals was to show the Radcliffe Camera and so I did so in my vibrant collage style using only cut or torn papers recycled from magazines. The styles and techniques in the book are hugely varied, from quirky and high tech modern to traditional sketching, wood cut, engraving and mixed media. It is incredible to me that the same building or space can be depicted in so many different ways and inspire such creativity.

Who is the book for?

The Oxford Art Book is for everyone; locals, visitors, children, the elderly and all in between, for those exploring the city on foot or bike or even canoe. The books size (21 x 17cm) was designed so that it could easily fit into bags and be carried, whilst the map within the book helps guide people around.

My hope is that people ditch their smart phones and really look at what has inspired the talented artists in the book.

The Oxford Art Book (ed. Emma Bennett, UIT Books, £14.99) is launched at Blackwells Book Shop on September 13th, 2018, at 7pm.