This is, in my view, one of my best and most sophisticated paintings. So, when its turn came to drop off the end of The Gallery, I have immediately restored it at the top end where it should continue to be exhibited for a couple of months or so.
‘On Overton Down’ is one of the largest canvases I have painted – in fact it is a triptych, consisting of three canvases each 1 m wide and 50 cms high, painted so that they form one image when placed long side against long side; though each canvas separately presents quite an interesting, if unintended, solo image. Indeed two of them are hanging singly at the moment. It is difficult to find a sufficiently spacious domestic wall to hang the whole, and unfortunately I do not possess my own art gallery in a physical sense. This painting, itself an attempt to make a big painting literally more manageable in practice i.e. so that it could go in the back of a car, is one of the main reasons why I thereafter painted smaller works.
The full title of this painting is ‘On being on Overton Down 3’. It is my third attempt to paint not Overton Down itself but to convey visually a sense of what it is like to be there. The first one was sold; the second I destroyed. Overton Down itself lies high on the western edge of the Marlborough Downs on Upper Chalk; it is part of the Fyfield Down National Nature Reserve and is now also within the Avebury part of the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site, Wiltshire. It is for me a rather special place where, over the last 55 years, I have enjoyed some of my best archaeological moments.
This image tries to convey personal impressions of the place – its often big blue, windy skies full of big white, hastening clouds, its wide open spaces of grass downland occasionally punctuated by neat tree-clumps, and the whole superficially marked by traces of human activity such as low banks and ditches, stone rows and fences, and sinuous, interlacing tracks. Contemporary use is visible in the form of straight lengths of race-horse training gallops, the idea of which I have used to link the three canvases together. Over the millennia, much has gone on here; the landscape is artificial, not a wilderness. Yet it is now a lonely and silent place apart from skylarks and sometimes sheep, and I don’t think I have succeeded in conveying that; but I nevertheless like the colours and shapes. The green and white respectively echo, fairly obviously, the colours of the ubiquitous grass and the chalk beneath; but, less obviously, the blue represents not the sky but the seas which once occupied this area and laid down the materials which eventually became chalk. The thought that I’m walking on a sea-bed is, for me, very much part of being on Overton Down.
Somewhat ironically, months after writing that paean I made my latest visit there (August 2015) to record material for several guided trails over the downs. It absolutely bucketed with rain all day and we were, literally, soaked to the skin despite having all the proper gear (including a Toyata 4WD vehicle). And furthermore, not only did the rain and low cloud preclude the Down from the sort of inspiration underpinning my painting, but a recent change of ownership seems to have led to a questionable level of bovine overstocking in what is, after all, a National Nature Reserve containing an internationally-recognised cultural landscape.