The works in Gary Cook's upcoming High Ground exhibition capture the soft Dorset light and its magical effects on the slopes of Hambledon Hill. He weaves an ecological theme into this haunting collection, recording the names of the hill's precious fauna within his ink, watercolour and charcoal paintings, while also incorporating a timeline of our powerful connection to the site. "The hill is intriguing, from the first flint and antler-dug earthwork markings 5,700 years ago, a millennium before Stonehenge, to the present day. I've been including sketches of found lithics and timelines in the watercolours. For example the mind-blowing thought that when the first mounds were built here the world population was just 7m. There are now 7,710m of us. Yet somehow the hill still feels remote and potent, and you can easily understand why our ancestors were drawn to this magical spot."
Trees also feature in the mainly monochrome works. "There are incredible, wildly different woodlands on the slopes of Hambledon. A yew wood, thought to be 700 years old, has an amazingly moody atmosphere. Soil samples suggest much of the hill would have been covered in yew 5,000 years ago. Yews 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."
Based in Dorset, Gary Cook explores our complicated relationship with and often detrimental impact on nature. The combination of naturalistic painting and narrative script that characterise his watercolours are a direct result of his background in the newspaper industry where he was the senior artist and associate editor for The Sunday Times for 26 years. He has exhibited with the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colour (RI), the RWA, the RBA, The Arborealists and is a member of the Society of Graphic Fine Arts. He is also The Ecologist's Arts Editor.