The River: Size matters – the importance of scale by Mark Charlton

This post is part of the River of Stones guest post series, our mindful writing challenge. Properly notice one thing each day, and write it down. Click here to find out more. 
Today we’re delighted to host Mark Charlton

Mark writes: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about scale. It began with a talk by the artist Julian Meredith. Julian makes life-size images, sometimes woodcuts, sometimes earthworks – of whales and dolphins and other huge animals. Reduced size images he said, are part of the reason we pay so little attention to images at all.


The works of Meredith are astonishing; an assault on the senses in every good sense of that term. And since his talk I’ve been looking again at the chalk horses that are a feature of the hills by my home. In all, there are nine such images scattered across the Wiltshire Downs – there’s seldom a week goes by when I don’t pass one, and it occurred to me that always my eyes look upward – always they demand more than a glimpse.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be given tickets to the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition in London. It’s been hailed as the greatest collection of his work ever curated. Da Vinci’s skill is undeniable, his vision and influence as important to painting as Shakespeare was to literature. And yet… and yet I couldn’t help but agree with Meredith’s assertions: the size of Da Vinci’s images was disappointing, it reduced the experience, it let me turn away more easily – ultimately, to pay less attention.

It was interesting that the images in the exhibition I enjoyed most were da Vinci’s drawings – most of these were so small that to view them properly my nose was touching the glass. And importantly, in requiring such close inspection they captured all my attention – it felt like peering through a microscope, and reminded me of the sense of wonder we have when objects of magnified.

I came home from the exhibition by train. The line passes to the north of the Ridgeway, and as it nears Swindon the image of running animal appears on a hill to the south. The Uffington Horse was carved 3000 years ago, one of the oldest public images in Britain – and increasingly I think, one of the best. It succeeds as work of art by displaying almost precisely the opposite of the qualities that, for me at least, were the reason Da Vinci paintings had failed – a combination of its dramatic position, its rejection of realism – and ultimately, its sheer unavoidable scale.

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Mark Charlton is a writer and painter, dividing his time between work, family, Wiltshire and Wales – his first book Counting Steps – journeys into fatherhood and landscape will be published in October 2012.
He blogs at Views from the Bike Shed.

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Image of Uffington White Horse © Copyright Dave Price under Creative Commons Licence

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