Inspiration: Divine and Devilish

PUBLISHED: 13:27 18 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:59 20 February 2013

Inspiration: Divine and Devilish

Inspiration: Divine and Devilish

Richard Pikesley embarks on a journey from Somerset to Dorset, inspired by Christian and pagan landscapes

The idea for my artistic journey started in the Mendip Hills. Id heard the story of Augustus Montague Toplady, who was inspired to write the words to the hymn Rock of Ages while sheltering under a rock in Burrington Combe. When I went there to paint I found goats scrambling up and down the cliffs and spent a day clambering around the gorge with my paints. The scene reminded me of Holman Hunts picture The Scapegoat and it got me thinking.

So Ive taken a two-year-long journey from the top of the Mendips broadly south through Wells, Glastonbury and the Levels, on to Sherborne and the ring of Iron Age hillforts of West Dorset, and on down to my home patch of the Dorset coast. People have probably always interpreted the landscape in ways that make sense of their beliefs and West Country folklore is full of stories which reimagine the craggy bones of the hills and coast with a divine or devilish origin. Some of the places Ive drawn and painted have a direct link to an ancient and continuing Christian tradition, while others have more pagan connections, but each of them has a particular sense of place.
Many of these special places gained their association with God or the devil because they are visually extraordinary, often thrilling places. Of course, I work with a painters eye and at each of the sites Ive visited Ive made drawings, watercolours and oil paintings. From all of this material an exhibition has gradually emerged.
February: February fill dyke is the title of a much-maligned painting by Benjamin William Leader, but standing here with wet feet, the country rhyme that gave him his title is rather appropriate. Ive spent all day sploshing around the Levels west of Glastonbury, but before I go, one more painting to take me into the dark. Over my shoulder Glastonbury Tor sits on the horizon surrounded by the lights of the town and I will head off there soon in search of chips and hot coffee.

July: Painting and drawing around Ham Hill today; with so much of the palette of this part of the world being coloured by its stone, the hill itself has to be a major part of the landscape, but from where Im standing its curiously retiring, a sleeping giant just beyond the wheatfields. Later now, Ive come up to the hilltop, much more massive now Im up here. Ill paint through into the dark, the suns getting low behind me and the light is just clipping the backs of some of the sheep and lighting up the land beyond the growing shadow of the hill. As the sun drops below the horizon everything suddenly changes, so its time to pack everything away and head back to the car park while theres still a glimmer of light.
August: Ive often passed Cadbury Castle as I drive up the A303, but this time I stop and take the path through the woods up onto the open hill. Theres a long view way across to Glastonbury on the horizon. I stop and paint here through a gap in the trees, but the lights a bit flat so I do enough to keep as a reminder and move on, walking a circuit of the hilltop, around the ramparts of the hillfort. Returning to a point close to where I started, I catch sight of the view down through a field of cows criss-crossed with shadows as the sun drops. Beyond the cattle, the spire of Compton Pauncefoot church is backed by trees and a long view across cornfields to a high horizon. A quick sketchbook drawing tells me I can make this work as a vertical slice through the landscape, so its time to get painting.

Ive spent all day sploshing around the Levels west of Glastonbury, but before I go, one more painting to take me into the dark

September: Wherever I go painting on the flat land of the Levels, there always seems to be a church tower on the horizon. In this marshy country, settlements grew on islands that were a few feet above the surrounding land. Ive spent the morning drawing the extraordinary flying angels of Martock church roof, so now its out onto the Levels to blow the cobwebs away.
By the time I reach my chosen spot on the Muchelney road, the wind is driving stinging rain showers, but by setting up my easel in the lee of the Landrover I can just about manage to paint. The clouds are stacked up in great layers and their shadows race across the fields in front of me. Ill have to work fast as the light changes so quickly and an hour goes by as I attempt to keep up with the rapidly changing view. Bands of the landscape are picked out in strong light, then darken again, and the tower of Long Sutton church flashes on and off like a lighthouse.

The exhibition runs from 1-17 November, Monday to Saturday 9.30am-5pm, at the Jerram Gallery, Half Moon Street, Sherborne, DT9 3LN. 01935 815261 or visit
To read about Richards Dorset journey and to see his paintings there, go to

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