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  • Writer's picturejulie leach

Exhibition ‘A Place to Breathe’ - Irving Gallery, Oxford

Updated: May 13, 2020

29 February – 23 May 2020

Art offers a reflective space both in its making and its viewing, a time and place to explore our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. At this challenging time of the Covid-19 lock down, when art could be a support and solace, it is ironic that we are unable to visit our galleries even the small independents. But behind many of those closed doors are little havens that, thanks to the owners and curators, we are able to access online. The Irving Gallery’s current exhibition is one such space and well worth a virtual visit now and a real one when allowed.

“People comment on the serenity of my little gallery space, and goodness knows we need beauty and serenity right now. This is, after all, 'A Place to Breathe'.”
Vanessa Lacey – Curator, Irving Gallery

Based in East Oxford, the Irving Gallery has a physical home in the vibrant and creative Magdalen Road quarter. It is located within the family home of its owner Vanessa Lacey and work is shown in the modest, domestic setting of a Victorian mid-terraced house. But don’t let the small scale and unpretentious character deter you because in fact these are its very strengths. Here is excellent contemporary artwork of highly respected, recognised artists, selected with discernment and restraint, accessible in a small home setting. Despite the limited size of the space (just two small rooms and the hallway) the viewing is uncluttered, unintimidating and inspiring. It offers a unique and nourishing viewing experience and an insight into how our own homes could be.

‘A Place To Breathe’ is only the Irving’s second exhibition but shows great confidence in the selection and curation of work. I’m thrilled to have my own work showing again alongside fellow MA Print graduate Maxine Foster with her subtle explorations of zoomed in urban decay and the wonderful, bold paintings of Kate Shooter. There’s also lovely work by Gina Parr, Megan Chapman and Helen Booth and a glorious selection of ceramics by Leighan Thomas and jewellery by Lizzie Weir (Anatole Design). The work of fellow printmakers Dorothy Hanna and Sarah Duncan can also be found in the browsers. It is so refreshing to find a gallery that is prepared to commit to credible and authentic abstract work so whole heartedly.

Amongst the pieces that Vanessa has selected from my current portfolio for this show are these two drawings that show a new approach to including more negative space in my work and this small screen print (image 25 cm square, frame 41 cm square) which is now sold but is part of the ‘Unseen’ series, more of which are available through the gallery. There’s also a small selection of strikingly marked ‘Wind Trace’ etchings.

Despite the scale of the rooms Vanessa has hung two of my large ‘Wind Dance’ screen prints (‘Wind Dance I’ which is the final print available in this small edition and ‘Wind Dance Storm Ophelia’) at right angles to one another in the same room. They have great presence but, counter to what many people might think about hanging large work in small spaces, they look wonderful and bring a cohesion and calm to the room.

“I’m taking solace in the beautiful work on the walls here, including Julie Leach's wonderful screen print 'Wind Dance Storm Ophelia', a reminder should we need it of the pure energy and forces of nature. Life might never be quite the same again after the shock of this pandemic, but the wind will keep on blowing, the sun will keep on shining, and here in Oxford the red kites will continue to whirl around high above the gardens.”
Vanessa Lacey – Curator, Irving Gallery

Irving Gallery,

28 Essex Street,



+44(0) 7969 673349

Since the gallery is currently closed to visitors due to the Coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, the exhibition is now available to view online, and if the situation changes, it will be re-open by appointment.

All images of art works on the gallery website link through to the artist’s page, where you will find further information about the artist, a listing of all their work available through the gallery, and links either to enquire by email about buying the works, or to buy them directly via the online shop. The gallery is happy to send additional photographs and information about any work(s) of interest.

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