This series of oil pastels by local artist Nick Schlee captures the essence of the Ridgeway an historic trail that runs across southern central England.
His colourful and vibrant style describes the dramatic landscape with its swirling tractor tracks, lush green wheat and changing light that lies along what is Britain’s oldest road. The pastels are filled with a great power and energy, colour and rhythm that creates excitement to the eye.
Starting in the World Heritage site of Avebury the Ridgeway trail continues for 87 miles scattered with Iron Age forts, chalk hill figures, including the iconic Westbury White Horse and ancient burial mounds. The Ridgeway has been at the epicentre of English history and still tells tales of the past today as you explore its rich terrain. The route has been used since prehistoric times by travelers, herdsmen and soldiers, including King Alfred the Saxon King who led his army along the Ridgeway to victory against the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown in 871AD. Its broad track passes through the North Wessex Down with wide open views of rolling chalk downland and woodland, and the hills and valleys of the Chilterns, all nature reserves rich in wildlife.
‘The modern landscape seems devoid of human life but the trees themselves stand like expectant crowds‘
The drawings in this exhibition were made on the spot along the Ridgeway trail. Schlee says that before he pulls out any of his materials, before making any mark, he pauses to create a word description on a mental filing card of exactly what elements in the scene made him stop and choose the location. His subsequent drawing puts down on paper only what is on that mental filing card, anything that distracts from his first observation is left out. He works at speed as he tries to capture all the essential spirit of the scene, using strong energetic strokes and exploiting the dynamics of pure colour. As the work progresses Schlee is careful not to lose the raw impact of the initial inspiration conveying his visual excitement with colour and line created in the heat of the moment. It is with these two means, colour and linear rhythm, that Schlee hopes to pass on to the viewer the same feeling of excitement that he felt standing on that very spot.
‘One cannot afford to interrupt the flow of drawing for a moment’
Many of these locations are not far from Donnington Priory and we hope that this exhibition will encapsulate and highlight the richness of our local area. For many these studies will remind you of your own memories exploring the Ridgeway and the surrounding landscape, but for others we hope that they will encourage them to venture into the local landscape that, so rich in history and nature, that is right on our doorstep.