For over 20 years since its inaugural show, on form has captured the imaginations of visiting collectors, professional artists and local naturalists.
Asthall Manor’s owner Rosie Pearson started something incredible in 2000, which has grown into the extraordinary exhibition we see today. It is more than just an outdoor gallery. It is a series of installations that speak to us without words, connecting people to their surroundings and allowing them to experience the captivating tension between garden and stone.
Every other year, sculptures have adorned the gardens at Asthall Manor for on form since the turn of the century. In 2016, the exhibition expanded into the river meadow for the first time, cutting meandering paths through the wild grassland and giving visitors surprising long-distance views of the sculpture. It was also in the same year the ballroom and indoor spaces were furnished in collaboration with Lorfords Antiques for the first time.
Since 2006, on form has been curated by Anna Greenacre. We caught up with Anna as she prepares for the 2022 exhibition which opens on 12 June and ends on 10 July.
Anna, you have been curating on form since 2005. How do you create a new dynamic at each event?
“There are so many factors involved. Primarily, it is about creating a balance between new sculptors and previous exhibitors, and also finding new ways of showing the work within the landscape and the buildings. It is always one of my fears that we might not live up to the last exhibition, but somehow we do and I believe this year is no exception.
As a team we are always looking for fresh ideas and this year we are really excited to be showing 35 sculptors at Asthall, 6 of whom are coming from Europe.”
You have a reputation for thoughtful placement that is sensitive to the relationship between sculpture and landscape. How will you bring the landscape alive for this exhibition?
“Thank you! Creating a sense of fun and surprise for our visitors is one of my top priorities. I want to find spots which make the sculptures zing both in isolation and in relation to other exhibits and their surroundings.
The natural world of the garden both contrasts with and complements the carved stone. Sculptures bring contours, texture and intrigue whilst the garden’s plants and trees have a lovely way of softening and framing each piece. The combination will, I hope, provoke thought and conversation as well as simple aesthetic enjoyment.”
Alyosha Moeran, The Dreamer, Honister slate, 62 x 108 x 40cm
Peter Randall-Page, Envelope of pulsation 1-3 , Granite, sizes vary
Asthall Manor has been the permanent home of on form. The beautiful and intriguing house and gardens must feel very familiar to you now, you must know every nook and cranny?
“I really do! Once the process of creating a new exhibition begins, I start dreaming about the placements of sculpture, quite literally. We have giant maps of the garden, river meadow and churchyard, and of the interior spaces in the church, office and ballroom. These are a wonderful visual aid. And when I get stuck or overloaded with ideas I walk through the familiar but still magical landscape and imagine the sculptures in situ.
I try to be mindful of scale, stone colours, the play of light and shadow, and the relationship of the sculptures to the garden and Cotswold architecture.”
What can visitors expect from this year’s exhibition?
“350 stone sculptures to enjoy for a start! I don’t know of any other show which installs hundreds of stone sculptures for just a month. We have giant clouds, origami animals, a feast of vegetable-inspired sculptures and so much more, both figurative and abstract. We want to delight, surprise and engage our visitors and because of our “do touch” policy our visitors are encouraged to stroke, smell, and feel the ancient surface of each stone. This multi-sensory experience affects people in deep-rooted and unexpected ways which can be really quite emotional.
Alongside the exhibition itself, there will be Garden Talks as well as walks with sculptors, gardeners, the curator, and geologist Philip Powell plus painting workshops with Kieran Stiles. There’s lots going on."
Jordi Raga, Everything is going to be ok, Portuguese marble, 170 x 300 x 260cm
Tania Mosse, Tentacled Creature II, Hornton stone, 34 x 62 x 25cm
This year, you are creating the sense of a sculptor’s studio in the Ballroom which is an exciting addition to the exhibition. Will this be an interactive area?
“Yes, we are paying homage to the intensely physical and dusty life of the stone-carver. On my studio visits over the last 6 months, I have been collecting hammers, chisels, models, buckets, gloves, shells, seeds, postcards, and even a marvellous pair of size 12 boots to help create a sense of what it is like in a studio. There will also be the ubiquitous wood burner stove, chipped mugs and all-important tea and coffee!”
And finally, what are your top tips for choosing a sculpture for one’s own garden?
"First, ask yourself what you want the sculpture to do. Should it draw the eye down the garden, break up the space or simply be something to look out on?
Don’t assume it needs to go in the middle of your lawn or patio. Sculpture works well in flower beds, on a garden table or against a wall or hedge.
Scale is important, but small gardens don’t have to mean small sculptures. A large piece can add a sense of energy and fun to a space.
Think about light. This is especially important for wall reliefs. In the right place, the sun can act as a natural spotlight.
Enlist friends or family to help you work out the best spot. Think about views from a distance, but also about being up close. Stone is tactile, and sculpture is made to be touched; make sure it’s accessible."
Paul Vanstone, Circular Passion, Portuguese marble, 270 x 180 x 40
To visit on form, you can book tickets here. Ticket bookings are essential (unless you are a season ticket holder).
- on form 22 - Asthall Manor, Asthall, Burford, OX18 4HW, 12 June to 10 July
- Opening Times: 11am to 6pm Wednesday to Sunday (closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
- Ticket Price: £12.50 | Season Ticket £25 | Disabled & Students £6 | Free - Under 12s, Carers, over 90
A series of special events, from stone-carving workshops to dance, will enhance the on form experience. Please refer to the events page for updates on this programme.
An absolute must is the Potting Shed Café, in Asthall Manor’s walled garden, featuring food inspired by the vegetable garden. Adding another exciting element, there is also the Madhatter Bookshop in the swimming pool pavilion.