Painting of a Shop to Let in Oxford by Cathy Read selected for SWA Exhibition

Empty Shop to Let

Old colours seeping from the woodwork, the type caused by age, composed of many subtle shades. Look closely at the Shop to Let, and you will find blue, purple, brown, green and red. The colours close together, so close that the brown becomes blue in a seamless join.

This empty Shop to Let is on Cornmarket in Oxford, and has been here a while. Hosting various occupants, over the years, Laura Ashley, a phone repair place, and countless others that may still leave traces of their presence.

The building, a typical Tudor construction, is thought to have been built in the 15th Century. It’s characteristic timber frame construction widening on upper layers, as taxes/ rates were fixed on ground floor area. These types of buildings were once ubiquitous, and they still remain, but are now preserved, and often painted black and white. A shame really when they could be a riot of colour like this.

Chiaroscuro in an Empty Shop to Let

Offering a contrast to the dazzling plastered panels, the top stories are bathed in sunlight, creating strong shadow areas. Decorative details, like the carved facia boards, create lace work outlines. Even the pigeon spikes seem to soften the edges and give this building a lived in look. A thriving Pret cafe stands in stark contrast to the empty shop next door. On the far left, we glimpse down Ship Street with a food courier heading away from us his black helmet shining with a glint of sunlight. In the distance, building work is evident with Exeter college dead ahead. A random bike leans on the scaffolding.

Although the building is the star, a few figures wearing masks grace the settings. A lone bare faced figure near the empty shop stands out, a factor which will date this image in years to come. Strange times but people are enjoying the chance to be out and about in the real world, post lockdown.

Above the Shop to Let is a tatty sign, fragments of a name and logo still exist. A tantalising glimpse of its former glory, but what does it say? Change, charge, changer, or something else?

Painting of a Shop to Let in Oxford by Cathy Read selected for SWA Exhibition

Shop to Let is one of a series of Oxford paintings. Find more art during Oxford Artweeks in May.

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