on form

When one is in the sphere of the beautiful, no explanations are needed – Constantin Brancusi

on form was born in 2000, when Rosie Pearson commissioned Anthony Turner to make two pumpkin-like finials for the Asthall Manor gateposts. She wanted something with character, something mysterious but welcoming, with a promise of the unexpected. The stir that was created by the installation of these two curvaceous organic forms led Rosie and Anthony to wonder what would happen if the lovely garden at Asthall was filled with other surprising shapes in stone. More than a decade on, on form has spiralled and grown and taken on a life of its own – rather like the original sculptures. More than a gallery, it is a place for art which speaks to us without words, connecting people to their surroundings and allowing them to feel.

From 2006 until 2022, on form  was curated by Anna Greenacre, although Rosie still played an active part as creative director. We haven’t tried to grow bigger, but each year we’ve had new ideas we couldn’t resist. The Potting Shed cafe, in Asthall Manor’s walled garden, has been part of on form since 2012, and features food inspired by the vegetable garden and created by Fiona Cullinane.  Since 2014, we’ve hosted Madhatter Bookshop in our swimming pool pavilion, giving the organisers and the sculptors a chance to suggest books on art, ecology, philosophy and gardening that distil our thoughts and our ethos. In 2016, we expanded the exhibition into the river meadow for the first time, cutting paths through sculpture and giving visitors surprising long-distance views. This was also the first year that we furnished our ballroom and indoor spaces, in collaboration with Lorford’s Antiques, in order to manifest the creative potential of living with sculpture.

The garden, designed and planted by Isabel and Julian Bannerman in 1998, forms an essential backdrop to on form. And it flows naturally into the Windrush valley landscape, with the languid meander of its river, its pollarded willows shooting up from their stumps like green fireworks, its soggy water meadows and its elegant swans. The work on show is at ease with the landscape partly because, as Peter Randall-Page has said about the process of carving, “when you’re moving across the surface of a stone, it’s like a landscape; it’s like walking – your body is kept busy in quite a rhythmic way.” More information about Asthall and its garden can be found on the Asthall Manor website.

Some of the things that people have said about us:

"I don’t know of any other way that people sell art that is so pleasurable."    A participating artist

"The most amazing and rewarding sculpture exhibition I have ever seen. The quality catalogue alone is worth the very reasonable entry price. The food in the Potting Shed cafe is wonderful."    

"An absolutely marvellous exhibition in a very very beautiful setting. We loved it and it has gone on reverberating in us since our visit. Totally on impulse we bought a sculpture because we loved it so much we couldn’t - metaphorically, at least - leave it behind!"    

"It might have rained, but I’ve been smiling all day."    

"My first ever visit and I’m smitten."    

"What strikes visitors to the garden at Asthall is how much it is loved."    Mary Keen, House & Garden, 2005

"a beguiling mix of traditional and contemporary"    Good Gardens Guide 2007.

"Anyone with any doubts about modern abstract sculpture should visit [on form] to experience the amazing mutual flattery of stone and flowers."    The Historic Gardens of England