The Watlington Mark
By James Kelso 102 x 61cm 40” x 24”
Oil on gessoed panel
The White Mark on Watlington Hill is said to have been the idea of a local squire, Edward Horne. From his home - which was over Cuxham way I believe - he could see the flat topped tower of St Leonard’s parish church. This was back in 1764. He felt the tower would be more impressive if it appeared to have a spire. He therefore vandalised a perfectly innocent distant Chiltern and had the mark cut into the chalk. The cut is 36 feet (11 m) wide at its base and 270 feet (82 m) long. Sometime later - almost three centuries later - while walking one day on the hill I watched a red kite in the distance. It was carrying something which it then dropped. I’m not sure what the object was, but for some reason I thought it might have been a been a face mask. A crow then picked up whatever it was and took off with it. I can’t say for sure I witnessed this scene, or whether I part imagined it. But it suggested a coincidence of words, corvid - Latin for crow - and covid for the mask virus. A tenuous and rather pretentious connection but that is what led to the picture. I entered the painting for the RA 2021 Summer Exhibition, entry fee £37. The jury rejected it.
Author, author, I hear you cry. Well, here goes. I come from haunts of coot and hern, I make a sudden sally… Hang on that’s not me, that’s Tennyson. Oops! Wrong copy, sorree. I’m James Kelso – and, actually, do you know what, I feel a tad awkward writing this sort of self-puffery. So, if it’s okay with you, can we leave it there? Thank you. I knew you’d understand. Browse on, McDuff.