Oxford Today – University Magazine

by Jeannine Alton, 2002

Autumn scene – St Giles at Dusk
oil on panel, from 2002

Francis Hamel is a graduate of Magdalen and the Ruskin School of Fine Art, now a full-time painter. His current show at the Said Business School until June 18 has 30 paintings all done in the last three years. They are oils, all executed in situ, and relatively small-scale. This, and their glowing palette enlivened with touches of vermilion, madder and turquoise makes them accessible, friendly, very livable-with.

Francis gives us Oxford in rain and sun. His preferred time of day is dusk, evening, sunset, though last summer’s remarkable weather gives an almost Italianate ochre richness to Magpie Lane – two lovely glimpses of that, one looking north to High Street, one looking south to Corpus. He has his favourite sites – St Giles in all seasons and conditions; St John’s; Broad Street; Christ Church. Less expected, St Paul’s aka Freud’s in Walton Street, and the Covered Market.

Just going through that list makes me take issue with Francis’s claim to reject ‘picture ­ postcard’ Oxford. These are well-known and loved scenes, often enhanced by his skill. Rarely has the Taylorian looked so enticing, its windows glittering in late afternoon sun after rain, its doorway gleaming, drawing us in through his diagonal brushstrokes. True, it is today’s Oxford.

Cars throng the Broad. Buses and vans line up by the Lamb and Flag, or splash down a water-logged High — but their blue shadows light up the gold stone of timeless Oxford. Street furniture reveals the underlying geometry; the low viewpoint and central vanishing point being broken by a lamp standard or phone booth. Strangely, there are almost no bicycles outside the Taylor, St.John’s, Freud’s or Queen’s.
There’s a small, utterly delightful group of paintings of allotments at Aristotle Lane, in all their eccentric muddle of sheds, barrows and oil drums – here too that emphatic vertical of a tattered flag but positively no picture postcard views.

Francis’s show moves from June 29 to July 17 to the John Martin Gallery, Albemarle Street, in London I mention this because it will include lively pictures of Blenheim Forest oaks, some thronging with birds.
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