High Ground at The Art Stable

IF you stand in the doorway of The Art Stable gallery in Child Okeford and look across the Gold Hill Organic Farm yard, you see Hambledon Hill, with its massive earthworks which date back to Neolithic times.

The gallery reopens on Saturday 20th June with an exhibition of paintings by the Dorset-based artist Gary Cook, celebrating the beauty, drama, mysticism and power of this ancient place.

High Ground, on view at the gallery until 18th July, is a series of works in pencil and paint exploring this prehistoric monument. Gary Cook says: “We have been drawn to this magical spot for 5,700 years – that’s a full 1,000 years before Stonehenge was established – when our ancestors dug out the first earthworks here, using flint and antlers.”

The new pictures show not only the dramatic shapes of the earthworks, ditches and ramparts, but the remarkable diversity of the woodlands on the slopes of Hambledon Hill. They include a yew wood, thought to be about 700 years old. Soil samples suggest much of the hill would have been covered in yew 5,000 years ago.

Yews, some of the world’s oldest living things, are steeped in mythology, partly because on hot days, they emit a type of pollen that can bring on psychoactive hallucinations in humans.

In other areas ash trees form lovely overgrown glades that contrast beautifully with the open chalk fields. “It’s a privilege to spend time on the hill’s slopes, trying to capture the changing light of the different seasons.”

Gary Cook, who was the senior artist and associate editor for The Sunday Times for 26 years, explores our complicated relationship with and often detrimental impact on nature. He has exhibited with the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colour, the RWA, the RBA, The Arborealists and is a member of the Society of Graphic Fine Arts. He is also the arts editor of The Ecologist.

As well as the 22 paintings at The Art Stable, Gary has two watercolours with the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, work at Kevis House Gallery, Petworth, and John Davies Gallery in Moreton-in-Marsh, and watercolours in the Being With Trees online exhibition of the Arborealists group at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Rampart Roaming, watercolour and charcoal; Brume,
ink, watercolour and charcoal on paper.