Landscape impression

3,000 years skywards, the arcing curves of Bronze age art

‘The White Horses and Hill figures are never quite on their own. Whatever the season someone in our landscape will be aware of one in the corner of their eye, perhaps in the far distance through the window of their cottage, above or below them when walking downland and upland, or looming over them from the other side of the valley. Like many, they first came into my own conscious when young, in Dorset, intermittently glimpsing the Fovant Badges or the Cerne Abbas Giant framed through the glass of the family car as we skimmed past the flickering hedgerows and trees, or suddenly ahead, after the curve in a road, in stark view.

Becoming familiar again with them through photography, their individualism within their own landscapes separates them clearly for me. Climbing up and leaning into their slopes each week, their positions showed me they were certainly chosen for their drama, the focus in the bowl of a hill range, the steepest convex of a hillside, or the crown facing skywards on open Downs. Stretching up, treading around closely, up and down their steep-terraced slopes, an appreciation is given of their physicality. It is like peering up close to a gallery painting, to study the artist’s brush strokes through the oil-thick paint, the texture of the underlying canvas board, the pin nails and joints of the surrounding wood frame. As with linocuts, engravings, woodcuts, charcoal drawings, and oils, the Hill figure artworks have variety in their media. Bright white chalk, tamped into grass turf trenches, or grey gravel, or smoothed concrete, or laid white tiles, and their wood plank battens staked in around them, holding back the earth to keep their edges sharp.

Treading up close to the figures they are curious in their giganticism. The turf cut and the earth dug, the shovelled tonnes of chalk, stone, or cement, their place set in the larger landscape and sky. They seem to me to express human labour, a communal agreement of effort over the centuries to create and maintain. Villagers and farmers, soldiers, housewives and children, academics and artists, friends. Recent archaeologists have found The White Horse of Uffington’s minimalist curves and trenches have been continually scoured and tended by communities across its whole 3000 years.’

Angus Haywood, from ‘Chalk Hills White Horses’ book

 

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