Review: Wessex Places - Wiltshire Museum's exhibition brings new views of ancient sites in their modern landscapes

Written by Tony Millett on .


Silbury at Night - David InshawSilbury at Night - David InshawThe Wessex Places exhibition at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes is precisely the right space for new works by four artists David Inshaw, Ray Ward, Robert Pountney and David Gunning.  Many of the works are for sale - mostly as artist's prints.

They all bring into the museum archaeological survivors that will never find a place in a museum.  They are, of course, too big. But close by the gallery you can see artefects found in or near these larger sites - work of extreme delicacy to contrast with some of these massive avchievements.

They are also monuments from our distant past that need the context of their landscapes - ancient and modern.  And depiction of landscape has long been a cherished and characteristic feature of British art.

Central to these artists is the Wessex inheritance of megaliths: Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill and, last but by no means least, the Marlborough Mound which is now known to be 'Silbury's Little Sister.'

David Inshaw is the well local known artist who first came to the public's attention in 1973 with his painting The Badminton Game - now in The Tate Gallery.  He came to Devizes in 1971 and formed a group of artists which became known as The Brotherhood of Ruralists.  He left the Group in 1983 and after some years in the Welsh borders, he returned to Devizes in 1995.

He works mainly on large oils, etchings and drawings. In this exhibition David Inshaw is showing some startling views of Silbury.  

His etching Silbury Sunrise is a representation of the mound and a rising sun that verges on the abstract.  It is almost as though it comes from a field notebook - hurriedly capturing the essence of the view complete with a jotted tree framing the right side of the view.  Regrettably it is not for sale.

The etching Silbury at Night, which appears on the poster for the exhibition, is rich with atmosphere.  The semi-darkened moon looks as though Inshaw may have captured an eclipse in progress.  And the familiar Silbury outline contrasts dramatically with the natural shapes of nearby trees.

Ray Ward has lived in Wiltshire for thirty years.  He graduated in fine art from Trent Polytechnic in 1983 and has supported his artistic life with a series of jobs - including work as an art technician at Marlborough College.  And his work for this exhibition  gives us several new and often surprising glimpses of the Marlborough Mound - on College property and now known to be the same age as Silbury Hill.

Marlborough Mount - Ray WardMarlborough Mount - Ray WardRay Ward works in in a variety of disciplines including drawing, painting and performance: "Last year I was asked to do some drawings for a book about Silbury Hill and thereafter the hill and its counterpart in Marlborough have infiltrated my thinking and have become markers not merely in the landscape but also in my personal history."

"The feeling that that they've always been there while everything around them has changed gives these mysterious man-made structures an occasionally comic but always prescient mystique."

One of Ray Ward's computer drawings printed onto archival rice paper shows the Marlborough Mound standing alone with bits of the College's Norwood Hall and Chapel peeping in from the side - trying their best to impose something a bit more modern on the tree-covered mound.

His Silbury Hill 009 shows the ancient man-made mound in the foreground against a broad, even rolling, Wiltshire landscape.  It shows with great ease the extraordinary scale of this 'Hill'.

If you thought you had seen Silbury Hill from just about every angle, in every weather, under every possible sky, from both sides of the A4 and from Avebury itself, you will get a very pleasant surprise from Ward's Silbury Hill 160 (Behind the trees.)  A very different view - with gentle colours of nearby vegetation.

Robert Pountney concentrates on the landscapes of Dorset. But in this exhibition he has a wonderfully evocative charcoal drawing of Avebury.  It features one standing stone dwarfed by heavy, rolling clouds of the kind that might well have frightened or at the very least worried the men and women who built Avebury.

"The predominant use of chiaroscuro in my drawings is intended to help dramatise the relationship between past and present, the seen and the unseen in prehistoric landscapes..."

As if to prove his point we have his charcoal drawing of Rawlsbury Camp under a starlit sky.  The camp is on a promontory of Bulbarrow Hill just west of Blandford Forum.  Not much of the five acre Iron Age fort is left, but seeing its rounded remains under the same star light as its Iron Age defenders saw it, does bring out that relationship between past and present.

David Gunning is represented by some of his depictions of Stonehenge and many other megaliths.  Throughout his life, Stonehenge, Avebury and other major Wiltshire sites, have captivated and fascinated him: "This new set of work reflects my continued passion and admiration for the megalithic builders who have left us such a magical heritage to reflect upon."

One of Gunning's really eye-catching works is Many Megaliths an imposing  assemblage of sixty small etchings lined up on a giclee print in four ranks showing megaliths from all over the British Isles.  They come in so many different shapes and landscapes that you begin to wonder how the ancients' skills were spread around.

Another of his works is a small etching Silbury Hill, Avebury - dated June 2015.  This is a narrow picture putting Silbury into its present day agricultural landscape with a post and wire fence in front of the ancient structure.

Wessex Places:  the exhibition is open until 2 January 2016.  The Museum is open: Monday - Saturday 10-5, Sundays and Bank Holidays 12-4. But it will close for Christmas from December 20-28.

Top row:  Left - David Inshaw with the curator and his Silbury Sunrise. Right - Ray Ward with one of his views of the Marlborough Mound.  Bottom row: Left - David Gunning. Right - Robert Pountney with his charcoal drawing of Avebury. [Photo courtesy Wiltshire Museum]Top row: Left - David Inshaw with the curator and his Silbury Sunrise. Right - Ray Ward with one of his views of the Marlborough Mound. Bottom row: Left - David Gunning. Right - Robert Pountney with his charcoal drawing of Avebury. [Photo courtesy Wiltshire Museum]