Cave art

I’ve just returned from time travelling again – I’ve been drawing in many of the painted caves and stone shelters of the Dordogne. It’s been an amazing experience. Some caves are very deep but have been made easy to visit – Rouffignac is an example. It’s easier because there is a small electric train that takes you several kilometres in and stops to let you look carefully at the images on the walls (mostly mammouths there). Others are more difficult because the floors are often uneven and you have to be very careful not to touch the walls because of the danger of damage. Many of the caves have very limited opening times now and will only allow small numbers of people in – often five or six at a time – because of the danger of changing the atmosphere and causing the images to deteriorate. None of them allow light to be on for very long or to be bright, so you have to move around in the dark most of the time – not ideal if you’re trying to make drawings as you go! The most difficult to visit was Bernifal – it’s not often open and it has no electricity – the current ‘owner’ is in his eighties and brings a car battery in a bag, with a small light attached. The very small group allowed in follow him into the dark and have to dodge stalactites and stalacmites! Some of the caves are very wet too – you sometimes have to kneel down to see images, so it’s a completely embodied experience and not only a visual one.

I made quite a lot of small drawings, usually in the dark, so I was often surprised when I came out and saw what I’d done. Some are of the journey into the caves – curving cave walls and constantly changing directions:

Here are a few of the drawings I made of the images I saw:

In Rouffignac there was an amazing slightly domed roof that was covered with drawings of animals that seemed to tumble in all directions:

There is also a stone-age joke – a horse’s head seeming to be hiding and watching three rhinocerous go by:

I’ve now got so much work to do from these, trying to catch something of the experience of visiting our past!


About vivmartin1

Viv is an artist and educator based on the south coast of England.
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