Book review - Tracks: Walking the Ancient Landscapes of Britain


09 September 2019
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A review of Philip Hughes' new book exploring Britain's ancient landscapes, from Scotland to the South Downs Way.

A review of Philip Hughes' new book exploring Britain's ancient landscapes, from Scotland to the South Downs Way.

Tracks: Walking the Ancient Landscapes of Britain by Philip Hughes presents a collection of his work produced whilst walking the landscapes of ancient Britain, exploring Neolithic monuments, age-old walkways and prehistoric stone circles in all weathers and at different times of the day and year. Artist Philip Hughes has a special interest in landscape, particularly when combined with archaeology and remote sites. He has staged more than forty art exhibitions, including the recent Land and Sea at Charleston’s Spotlight Gallery.

Tracks is a fascinating collection of works of art created as drawings in situ and then embellished with colour later. Drawings and notes from the field are presented alongside the paintings, allowing us to understand the artist’s thoughts on contemplating each scene and to appreciate the artistic decisions that he made for each work.

This is the first comprehensive overview of Philip’s drawings and paintings of Britain, mostly from the past twenty years. We journey from north to south, starting at Orkney (Maes Howe to Skara Brae), moving on to Assynt and Rannoch Moor then leaving at Islay before the artist moves on to Hadrian’s Wall and so south to England, finishing at the South Downs Way, appropriately enough the first landscapes that Philip painted.

A journey around Scotland

One of the book’s key strengths is the fact that Philip Hughes approaches each of the landscape from the point of view of a person approaching that place on foot. In this way, he is able to work his experience of approaching the landscape gradually, with different features revealing themselves or disappearing, depending on the particular perspective. The weather, time of day and the changing seasons might play their part, but in these paintings, the setting within the landscape is key.

I particularly enjoyed seeing how both-man made monuments and natural geographical features are placed within the landscape, and looking at the vivid details such as quartz veins on Islay coastal rocks. The author’s accounts of his adventures make it clear that he truly immersed himself in his surroundings; he camped overnight on Rannoch Moor, trekked many miles of track to Suliven mountain and donned crampons to climb Meall nan Tarmachan.

As a person who works largely with words on a daily basis, I found the approach of exploring places via paintings and drawings refreshing and illuminating.

Rachel Bellerby, Editor, History Scotland

Publication details

Tracks: Walking the Ancient Landscapes of Britain

by Philip Hughes

ISBN 9780500295366

£24.95

Thames & Hudson