He's one of my favourite artists, probably because he lived within the subjects that were his world, notably the slate quarries and landscapes of North Wales, where I live. You can tell from the overwrought sculptural quality of the work that he really felt passionately about what he was painting. He is celebrated now as one of Wales's greatest artists; a major retrospective was held this year at the Martin Tinney Gallery and a book about his work published, written by art historian Peter Cork.
It wasn't always thus. He wasn't a promising student, failing his eleven plus, and if a teacher at the local secondary modern in Abertridwr hadn't encouraged his artistic talent, he would have spent much of his life underground like his father before him.
He won a place at Cardiff College of Art, going on to the Slade School, where he was taught by none other than Frank Auerbach.
Prendergast was the son of an Irish Catholic miner, an outsider, effectively - growing up in a predominantly "chapel" environment. As he graduated and tried to find work, the feeling of isolation continued, as his unfashionable, drawing-based style wasn't "in vogue" in the late sixties. A part-time teaching post at Liverpool was terminated after three years.
It wasn't until he moved with his young family to Bethesda in the early 70's, that he found the inspiration and path for the rest of his creative life. The quarries, especially the vast pit of Bethesda, inspired him and here, in the Nant Ffrancon valley, he produced the work that earned him international acclaim. Prizes at the National Eisteddfod in 1975 and 1977 and purchases by major galleries including the Tate sealed his reputation.. He died in 2007, while walking in a slate quarry with his wife. A sad, but fitting end to a life spent struggling (and succeeding, in my view) to depict the elemental drama of the North Wales landscape.
|Peter Prendergast, Bethesda Quarry|
|Peter Prendergast, Blaenau Ffestiniog.|
In many ways, comparison with Peter Prendergast would elicit a response like "chalk and cheese", yet Selwyn, too, has struggled with a vision of the landscape on his own terms. His work is fluid and expressive, with delicate yet expansive washes of watercolour like threads over the surface of the painting. His work has been rewarded by major success. In 1998 he won Singer & Friedlander / Sunday Times 11th Watercolour Competition and in 2001 Welsh Artist of the Year.
His works are in the collections of Gwynedd Council, Anglesey County Council, the University of Bangor, the Arts Council of Wales, the National Library of Wales and in many private collections in Britain and abroad.
Selwyn was born in Caernarfon in 1933 and still lives there today, retired after a career in teaching. I will leave the last word to none other than Kyffin Williams:
“I believe William Selwyn to be one of Wales’s finest Watercolourists. It is wonderful to see how his painting has just blossomed since he retired from teaching. It is atmospheric and highly accomplished work”.
|William Selwyn, "Britannia Bridge"|
|William Selwyn, "Llanberis Pass"|