Inspiration In Absentia: an archaeological artist's memories of Sark
Even when closed off by the pandemic, Sark remains fresh in people’s imagination as a place to inspire art. Magical sea views and cliffscapes are obvious attractions for an artist, whether painting or drawing, on holiday or just a day-trip, but tucked away – or hidden from sight altogether – there’s painting inspiration waiting to be unearthed.
Simon Pressey is an excavator and archaeological illustrator with the Oxford-based team investigating Sark’s past, and recently he’s captured his Sark memories in vivid paintings. (Do click for a larger view.) Excavations are no painting holiday; it's mattocks, shovels and trowels, rather than paintbrushes or pencils, and it’s physically hard, as local volunteer diggers like me can attest; it takes a week's holiday to recover.
Even illustration is rigorous - not just artistic drawing but precise representation. Simon’s drawing renders emotive objects like the Beaker-Period archer’s wrist-guard, displayed in Sark’s Heritage Room, with 3D accuracy down to surface-texture and the tiny marks left by manufacture or use. The drawing stands in for the object in case it’s ever lost – the beautiful 18th century drawing of the Sark Hoard is a fabulous example, as the Roman-era hoard was lost. Art is all that’s left.
But with UK lockdown giving the retreat if not the freedom of a painting holiday, Simon has explored the archer’s grave in paint. Before and after excavation, not much of this evocative structure on Little Sark shows above ground, but in the paintings, a standing stone looms above the burial’s head-end, framed by large rocks.
Fluid and stylised, bursting with vibrant colour, Simon’s painting allows all the expression and expansive energy that technical drawing tightly controls. It’s archaeology reinterpreted, given life and movement; one painting captures the diggers mid-discovery, the line and shading of archaeologist and archaeology, rock and body, blended into one assemblage. The painting’s craggy angles are so reminiscent of the rugged landscape out on Little Sark.
Inspiration is an artist's best souvenir, particularly now that dreams of seaside easels en plain air are still a bit ‘some day’. But Sark will still be here, for that much-needed post-lockdown painting holiday, or even a longer spell of artistic work. Simon and the dig-team will hopefully be back in the near future.