Picture of the week: 19/10/20

THIS week’s picture takes us deep into Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire and a print with a distinctly autumnal feel by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, who with colleague Robin Wilson has a permanent base among these trees.

The pair are artists-in-residence at the University of Oxford, which has owned and maintained this ancient semi-natural woodland since 1942.

MYTHIC PAST: Red Woods, a reduction linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley

Says Rosie: “Wytham Woods is a singular place, not because there is anything exceptional about the woods themselves but because of the intensity of the attention they receive as Oxford University’s research woodland.”

Pioneers of ecology envisioned the woods as a living laboratory and the data collected here, running back to the 1950s, is invaluable to environmental disciplines that depend on long-term study.

Its 1,000 acres are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and rich in flora and fauna, with over 500 species of plants, a wealth of woodland habitats, and 800 species of butterflies and moths.

“Ornithologists, zoologists and plant scientists – so many of them have passed through Wytham or are familiar with its research and I’ve met people in all kinds of places, from Welsh hillsides to the Isles of Scilly, who have fond memories of these woods,” Rosie reveals.

“And yet it is an amazing piece of woodland because all woods are, and this one is a small realm of wildness in the very tame landscape of Oxfordshire.

“We have been working at Wytham now since 2012 and our studio is right in the middle of the woods. In the winter we get the sun setting through the bare trees, sliding between the icy banks of clouds, and in the summer late-night printing will mean disturbing hare, badger and deer on the journey home.

“There is a great stability, if you open up your idea of time, to landscape: the land just is and will continue, in whatever form, round and over the trinketry lives of man. It’s got infinitely more time than us. But landscape without man doesn’t have any thought – or at least, not one I can access – and I find it difficult to have interest without thought.

“It’s history and myth and legend that puts a whole load of mental life back into the landscape. Among other places, I’ve worked in Romania where landed peasants have a very active and practical relationship with the land, and undertake fieldwork in Lycia, Turkey, where time is kaleidoscoped up into nothing by the fallen amphitheatres and tombs that litter the mountainsides and all of this has helped develop my ideas about landscape. Then I print-make, write and draw, and my ideas come out in one of other of these mediums.

Red Woods is taken from a drawing I made through the trees on the main track up into the Woods, about ten minutes walk from our studio. During WW1 the woods were taken over as a training ground for the front, and in the print you can see the undulation of old trenches.

“It’s an autumn print, hence the colours, and the dry stems of the dead bluebells litter the ground. The little row of mushrooms along the front is for Tolkien, who has a similar line of mushrooms along the front of one of his pen and ink drawings of Milkwood.

“The mythic past that Tolkien invented has seeped its way into the landscape of Britain and Europe for me in the same way the classical world still inhabits the mountains of Lycia, or WW1 still dominates the landscape of the Somme. The past hasn’t gone anywhere and the landscape gives it back all the time.”

Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley runs The Wytham Studio with Dr Robin Wilson at Oxford University’s Wytham Woods. Among other things, they run printmaking workshops. Rosie can be contacted at rosie.fairfax-cholmeley@admin.ox.ac.uk. Follow the studio on Instagram.

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