Nicholas Hamilton

When Adrian invited me to join this project, the opportunity to develop a piece based on Wittenham Clumps and its surrounding area. This seemed to link with my previous practice of semi abstract landscapes inspired by long distance walks. Of particular interest for me was the relationship between the site as a ‘natural’ landscape and the traces and forms left by human presence which have shaped and formed this landscape over thousands of years.

I trained as a three dimensional designer at Kingston University in the 1970’s, my main interest was in set design. During the 1990’s I worked for Wedmore Opera designing sets for Aida and La Traviata. Since retiring from teaching over two years ago I have been able to develop my own practice full-time. My work ranges from multimedia two dimensional work to sculptural pieces. I like to use unusual combinations of material in one piece, these include: monoprint, acrylic, household paint, oils charcoal, plaster and cyanotype. Finding rhythm and pattern important aspects my work, I try to capture these in lines, and shapes seen in my work, hinting that all landscapes are in a constant state of flux.

Loss and Recovery, by Nicholas Hamilton

The Highway Act in 1835, covering most routes including paths, was the start of a long struggle to establish freedom for people to access the countryside. The many gaps, gates and stiles which mark existing or former field boundaries are the responsibility of the landowner to honour the right of way. With the exception of the designed wooden gates marking the boundary of the Wittenham clumps, many of the old stiles and more recent wooden gates have been replaced with metal gates. The incentive comes from Oxfordshire County Council’s advice to landowners to ensure they conform to regulations. The OCC guidance document Gaps Gates and Stiles states that one of their aims is to provide easier access to the countryside for people with disabilities.

The uniformity of the design and longer lasting material of galvanised steel create a very different aesthetic to the former wooden stiles and gates. Over the many years I have run these routes these subtle changes in the rural landscape are barely noticed. Noting this ubiquitous piece of furniture on many of my running routes, I decided to record each gate with a pencil sketch, based on the OS map of the area covered by the ‘Henge’ project. I selected the site of the ‘viewpoint’ marked on the OS map on Wittenham Clumps as my end point, with this in mind I planned four walks re-tracing my running routes. I started north from Cliffton Hampden, east from Shillingford, west from Didcot and south from where Sires Hill joins the A4130.

Back in my studio, reflecting on the four walks I became aware of the extent to which our access to this space is controlled by the gates and increasing demarcation of the paths between the gates. This led me to consider how our freedom to wander and explore is gradually becoming more confined. This control of movement increasingly is defined by barbed wire and electric fences. For myself moving through this landscape the impression was one of a prescribed rural corridor.

My piece takes the metal gate out of its singular context by overlaying several gates on tracing paper. I hope these layers might find resonance in archaeological traces whereby objects are rarely found whole but have to be assembled from fragmentary pieces to create the whole. Around the gate, providing a point of access to what lies beyond, I sought to hint at the hedge or fence demarking the many field boundaries which need to be crossed to arrive at my destination.

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