‘tracks, prints and paths’ ravilious
May 31, 2013
‘Tracks, prints and paths’ is a phrase used by Robert Macfarlane describing Eric Ravilious’ interaction with the South Downs in Macfarlane’s book ‘The Old Ways’ but James Russell is the recognised authoritative voice on Ravilious. Many images from Ravilious in Pictures published by The Mainstone Press are appearing on the web just now so I thought to put together my limited narrative of the Footsteps of Ravilious day exploring the South Downs landscape that inspired him. An event organised by the Towner, where many of his watercolour drawings are in the permanent collection.
Agricultural landscapes were his love . . . . . and appropriately we started our day at East Dean Farm sitting by the pond that he used as subject matter. This view sets the scene well although now quite gentrified (someone has ‘lined’ the pond) and the farm is now used as a wedding venue as well as a rare breeds sheep farm.
On to the chalk cliffs of Newhaven harbour and the west pier, where the tumps in the landscape (shown below) were made to house lunette batteries that protected the sea defences from invasion by Napoleon.
My view out to sea and, below ‘Newhaven Harbour’ a lithograph that Ravilious tagged as ‘Hommage to Seurat’.
. . and reach the view of Muggery Poke, now abandoned, but a landmark for those who wish to fly . . . and float. All the four legs remain oblivious.
Ravilious experienced a busier use of the agricultural landscape. Mount Caborn in the distance.
Looking down from Bedingham Hill, signs remain of the old chalk pits and Cement Works no 2 that closed in 1968. Barges travelled up and down the Ouse carrying cement. Eventually this became a landfill site – the black pipes that release the methane are still visible before the gorse and scrubby hawthorn reclaim the area. Ravilious made some studies of the pits, the workings and the railway.
The sinuous path of the Ouse is quite beautiful . . .
. . . as is the river Cuckmere in Cuckmere Haven – watercolour by Ravilious. We drop down passing Coombe Barn and The Lay turning up the track where the fever wagons were placed. And arrive at Furlongs, the home of Peggy Angus, but owned by a Mr Wilson who managed the cement works. Angus and Ravilious were great friends and she remains an important figure in circle of artists and craft makers here at this time. Furlongs was the gathering point.
Ravilious considered that what he discovered during spells at Furlongs was fundamental : “…altered my whole outlook and way of painting, I think because the colour of the landscape was so lovely and the design so beautifully obvious … that I simply had to abandon my tinted drawings”.
One water wheel is still in-situ by Little Dean . . .
. . on to Firle where the lilac blooms were just breaking forth. And into the walled garden where plastic sheeting has replaced the green house glass. Military canes at the ready to support tomatoes and the almost exact point from where Ravilious made his composition for ‘The Greenhouse: Cyclamen and Tomatoes’.
As the exploration came to an end, I thought about the changes in the landscape 80 years on since Ravilious had captured and executed his visions. A good deal of the South Downs is a National park and there are 37 Sites of Special Scientific Interest. This wikipedia link is helpful in understanding the changes in agricultural practice here. And to close, this front garden of one of the village cottages packed with aquilegia and bluebells retains a sense of the past – cottage gardens are back in fashion.
Now a little bit of nostalgia. Below is a water colour drawing by Edward Bawden of his friend ‘The Boy’, Eric Ravilious in his Studio at Radcliffe Road’. They became friends meeting at the Royal College. Bawden, John Nash and Philip Ardizzone taught me at Colchester School of Art. Edward and John Nash, both small in stature, were impeccably dressed in tweed suits with waistcoats and perfectly knotted ties. I’m afraid we students were not dressed in a similar manner, after all it was the late 60’s . . . flares and mini skirts. They would spend quite a while just giggling at private jokes – a sweet pair. I’m embarassed to say that we didn’t really know who these talented tutors were but we did respect and appreciate the knowledge that they imparted and their sense of civility. Bawden taught me to carve perfect circles with a lino cutter but mine were never up to his standard!
This post has connections with Ravilious too. And invaluable reading: ‘Eric Ravilious Memoir of an Artist’ – Helen Binyon and ‘Eric Ravilious Imagined Realities’ – Alan Powers.
A sulky lad scuffs idly through the scree
head down beneath a kite cart-wheeling sky.
Daedalus seals his art to set him free,
pinions fulmar feathers waxed and dry
onto the golden shoulders of his son.
‘Swoop down too low, the sea will drown your wings.
The great sun which fires my tears and stings
Your eyes’, Icarus stumble into flight,
Stretching his wings through a May soaring day,
Higher and higher from his father’s sight.
He reaches for heaven; suns flame his way.
Feathered keenings close a reckless flight.
A falling lullaby of dripping light. Pam Hughes Rite of Passage.