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Simon Roberts: Field Notes
[ Artist Interview )
At the beginning of 2019, we commissioned artist-photographer Simon Roberts to create a series of landscape studies. He journeyed on foot through the heathland and woodland near Petworth, tracing the routes that Ivon Hitchens tramped with his paints and sketchbooks.
On these expeditions, Roberts took photographs and audio recordings, seeking to capture the essence of these places and reflect on how they have changed over time. Here he shares his field notes from his walks along with just some of the audio and video recordings he captured along the way.
For this new series of photographs I was interested in immersing myself in the particular landscapes around West Sussex where much of Ivon Hitchens’ abstraction was rooted – a region of scrubby hedgerows and thickets, open fields, lowland heath and chalk escarpments.
I wanted to move beyond just looking at the fabric of the landscape, and explore ideas of the ‘modest beauty’ of these hinterland spaces. For the first time, people are absent from my landscapes, but nature’s myriad of details are revealed through a process of slow looking.
The exhibition is called Inscapes, a word coined by the Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, which describes the ‘outward reflection of the inner nature of a thing’. My hope is that the photographs capture some of the individual essence and romanticism of nature that so inspired Hitchens.
Thursday 21 March 2019
I made my first official walk today, a short meander around Lavington Common, one of the locations closest to Hitchens’ home of Greenleaves. I am immediately reminded of a quote from W.G. Hoskins’ book The Making of the English Landscape (1955), ‘Not much of England, even in its more withdrawn, inhuman places, has escaped being altered by man in some subtle way or other, however untouched we fancy it is at first sight.’
The distinct geology of the heaths at Lavington signpost to their historic human importance, dating back from as early as Neolithic and Stone Age times when the landscape provided building materials and fuel for warmth. My walk takes me from the open heath through ordered conifer plantations and mixed woodland, now part of a managed landscape.
Tuesday 26 March 2019
I’ve decided to make a series of audio recordings on my walks. The very act of carrying a microphone heightens my awareness of sound, a sense that I am not usually so attuned to when out photographing and the sounds are quite deafening! Walking across Pound Common, a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’, towards Easebourne I can hear a variety of common insects, a woodcock giving off croaks followed by high pitch squeaks; the pheasant I disturb scatters out of the wood with a fright; there’s distant thud of gunfire (a pheasant shoot perhaps?); gardeners with their mowers and the ever-present hum of tyres on tarmac.
Monday 22 April 2019
I return to Sussex after a few weeks working abroad and am immediately struck by the change in colours and sudden growth-spurt across the landscape. Spring is offering up wood anemones, violets and primroses before the woodland canopy becomes too dense.
Tuesday 23 April 2019
It’s St. George’s Day. I spend the morning walking across Iping and Stedham Commons Nature Reserve. The footpaths are much drier after the hot Easter weekend, whilst the heath and bracken are scorched dry. The Commons are a rare survivor of an open landscape that once stretched across the Weald of Sussex.
Later I head to Saint Mary’s Iping and, sat in the graveyard, I overhear a charming conversation in a neighbouring garden about the state of their allotment. The day ends in Didling where the fields bear witness to lambing season.
Listen to the sounds of Iping Common.
Friday 26 April 2019
One of my last days in West Sussex starts at the horticultural haven of Woolbeding Gardens, a Georgian estate that was given to the National Trust in 1957. You could say it’s an icon of Englishness with its picturesque, managed views.
Unfortunately the ‘Bridge over the River Rother’ that Hitchens painted is no longer there. In the afternoon I walk through some of the meadows used for pasture along the River Rother and end up at Terwick Mill, the scene of several paintings by Hitchens. I spot my first swan.
Listen to the sounds of the River Rother.
This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Pallant House Gallery Magazine No. 48.