Tuesday, 29 October 2013

More Welsh Artists: my final selection.

The map of Welsh Artists won't be going ahead, for the moment at least, due to other work pressures and lack of time to go round selling it. But I thought I'd put a couple more up here for folk who might not have heard of the artists...

Peter Prendergast

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.

William Selwyn
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"

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Lowry: Lost in Salford

"The Lowry"
I was looking forward to visiting Salford Quays. Much has been trumpeted by Salford City Council about it being a landmark redevelopment, a Canary Wharf style project where more people now work than at the peak of the area's importance as a port. There's the Lowry Centre, too. A major collection of the artist's works, gathered together in Salford.

Lowry's work strikes a chord with me...having lived in the North West during the nineteen sixties, I saw, at first hand, the last throes of the landscape that provided a vehicle for his art. In my teens, I was fortunate enough to meet the man. The sight of a huge Rossetti hanging in the dark hall of his terraced house made a big impression upon me, and the half-finished harbour painting sitting on an easel. He seemed a mischievious character. When I told him I wanted to take up a career in art, he advised me to "go and have a lie down and see if the idea would pass", as it was "not up to much, art".

The tram ride to the Quays was fascinating...Manchester's system is a fine asset, much used and appreciated by local people. The only trouble was that the tram stopped a fair way from the gallery. No matter, there would be the quays to explore. Except that there's nothing, really, to explore. I'll come right out and say it, the area is a waste land of aggressive, cheaply built modern architecture very obviously imposed upon the old docks.

"Viva Las Vegas!"
Perhaps it's just because I can remember the docks as they were, a bustling, grimy place, a transport treasury of fascinating relics. Now, it's as if some of the minor structures from Las Vegas have been dropped in alongside a few Lego structures, some trees planted, some faux-toytown houses built and hey presto, everyone stands around patting each other's backs.  We walked past some deserted offices with their "To Let" signs creaking in the wind that whistles up the Ship Canal, noted some "World Class Sports Facilities" (closed) until we finally came to the "Lowry Outlet Mall".  I think Lowry would be amused at how his name has been abstracted for a shopping mall...it seems to fit his cynical view of the world. I thought it was crass.

Distant view of the Beetham tower from the Quays. Something architecturally interesting and worthwhile.
"The Lowry" (left, distance) with Lego buildings in evidence.
There was nothing to hint at a collection of Lowry's work anywhere on the site. "The Lowry" itself is a strangely conceived building, half alien space ship, half kitchen utensil with a fake gasometer add-on. There are few clues from the exterior that it houses  a collection of art works. Of course, it is first and foremost a cinema and a theatre complex. Inside, we followed the signs for "Gallery". Not "Lowry Gallery", no fanfare saying "Hey, here's the Lowry stuff!". The gallery itself was interesting, although curated in a confusing way, a jumble of periods and styles which left many folk wondering what was going on...I overheard many confused comments. Note to curator...displaying the paintings on red walls doesn't help. There were, I must admit, several works that I hadn't seen, leaving me impressed by the man's hidden talents...all that supressed emotion and creativity. What a fascinating man.

Outside, we wandered round looking for somewhere to eat. I was impressed by the opportunities the Lowry building gave for some interesting vistas across the river. A building encased in mirrored, tinted glass was reflecting some interesting shapes...at last, something exciting. We crossed the lifting bridge to have a look, but the structure was just another Las Vegas style toy. Never mind, there had been a moment of inspiration, at least.

Boarding the tram back to the welcome colour and life of the City, a young mother was singing "Matchstick Men and Matchstick Cats and Dogs" to her young child. Perhaps Lowry hasn't been entirely forgotten in Greater Manchester.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

It all depends on your point of view...

Wendy Murphy, Croesor Evening.

 We had a look around the crop of new shows in our local galleries last week. It was the usual mixture of interesting stuff, mixed with enthusiastic work from local artists groups. It's great that so many folk paint and obviously love what they are doing...it seems to please the people who visit the galleries, too, from the comments in the visitor's books.

Oriel Ynys Mon had some fine paintings in the Kyffin Williams room, a cross-section of some exciting and inspiring work that echoed the man himself -except for one anomaly. In a corner of the show, there was a painting of the rebuilt Menai Bridge, Stephenson's masterpiece, by David Weston- a well-known, established illustrator and a very fine railway painter. I think he is also a member of the Guild of Railway artists,a body that does not readily espouse any kind of expression or freedom in the work of it's members. I know, because they constantly rejected my paintings as they didn't have the correct number of rivets on the rail chairs, or the clouds didn't look real enough. I guess I was a bad fit for them...I certainly am now.

David Weston, "Britannia Bridge"
I felt that David's work, fine as it was, stuck out like a sore thumb. It was a highly competent, literal painting of the bridge. An illustration, really, that would grace the pages of any book about engineering. Next to it was a semi abstract piece that, for me, said volumes more about the bridge, despite having no rivets or girders in it. But that's just my opinion, and remember, I'm a GRA reject. I may be bitter.

What happened next gave me pause, though. A group of folk about my own age, late fifties, gathered round David's painting. There was much "aaah"ing and approval. "Now, that's a proper painting" one man said, to the agreement of his friends. It emerged that they were outraged by some of the other works on show. One of the party announced his intention to seek out a print of David's painting and buy it. Another muttered "Genius". Yes, David is a superb painter, I'm not taking that away from him. I was just perplexed that, in a room full of paintings by folk who had done more than just slavishly copy something, we are back at the old "I know what I like, there's lots more work in that, it must have taken hours..." benchmark. Perhaps it's the recession, I don't know.

Wendy Murphy, "Passing by"
We went to Plas Glyn-y-Weddw next, to see the film of David Nash's boulder making it's way down the Afon Dwyryd to the sea. Inside the main house, there was a show by Wendy Murphy that just enchanted me. However, we seemed to be the only ones looking. Upstairs were some paintings of birds, very finely done, with a kind of surface decoration like wallpaper. Lots of detail and flat colours. I sat for a while, trying to like them, trying to open myself to them and find a point of contact. A man came and stood next to me and gratuitously announced: "Look at the sheer volume of work in this- now this is a proper painting, not like the other rubbish"...

I was beginning to feel depressed. Wendy's work had spoken to me immediately with it's magical use of shape and colour- was I wrong to like it? Of course not. You have to stick your colours to the mast and go with what you feel in the whacky world of art, where everyone is either an expert, or is frightened/intimidated by anything that doesn't look like a photograph. At any rate, several people had put their credit cards where their mouths were and bought some of Wendy's work, so I wasn't on my own in thinking that the paintings were wonderful. Here's a link to her page on the Plas Glyn-y-Weddw site, so that you can make your own mind up.

Which brings me to a new development. I have been harbouring a desire to get back to painting for some while, but my day job, modelmaking, has been consuming all my time. Hopefully, that will continue. And, to be honest, I thought my paintings weren't up to much, since anyone I have shown them to kind of goes "hmmm... very unusual..."

Then I thought, what the hell, I paint for myself. I don't try and translate my love of the Welsh mines and quarries for people looking for rivets or painstakingly rendered birds, or sunsets with pink clouds. I don't paint for anyone's approval, I paint because it's a way of getting it out of my system. So I'm just going to do it, and if, along the way, one person thinks that I have communicated something, then fine. The others can enjoy whatever they like. Because it all depends on your point of view, doesn't it?

"The adit of doom" by Iain Robinson
"De Winton" by Iain Robinson

Friday, 22 February 2013

Sid and the Cwmhendy Dog Show

I just had to post this...it's the latest book that my partner Petra has illustrated and I love it. By  Tanya L. James, it's a very enjoyable book, written in an engaging, easy style full of humour. Sid is a real dog, belonging to Tanya, and apparently is every bit as pesky as his literary counterpart. Having some experience of Jack Russell terriers myself, I think Petra has caught Sid perfectly, especially the painting of him howling because he can't find his ball in the back seat of the car...

The photo at the head (by Tanya) is of Sid's wife Nancy reading the book and thinking "I don't remember this..."

It's published by the Welsh publisher, Gomer Press under their Pont Children's books imprint and is available from booksellers or Amazon from February 28th.

Here's a  link to more of Petra's illustrations of Sid.

Saturday, 20 October 2012


A digital sketch of the Moelwyn Mountains from Diffwys floor six.

I've been inspired to take up painting on canvas, after a gap of a good few years. I'm normally to be found scribbling with a pen, or trying to make sentences hang together for a living, so I had wondered if I might have lost the touch for colour and paint.

Partly in the way of work, Petra and I have been visiting quite a few galleries lately. The high spot must be our foray to the magnificent Oriel Tegfryn at Menai Bridge, quite the best privately owned gallery I have ever visited. It was full of the very best contemporary and recent Welsh painters including  Peter Prendergast, Shani Rhys-James and Kyffin Williams. We both came out absolutely buzzing with inspiration. A pity they don't show Barbra Rae and Albert Irvin, but I might have died with happiness if they had.

Quite a contrast to the Oriel Mostyn, whose superb gallery space is covered mostly by mediocre photography and lame conceptual art...(the David Nash show was a dazzling exception) For fans of painterly painting, I am afraid I can only recommend it as somewhere to go for a pee if you are in Llandudno, as the loos are very fine. 

I've also discovered some fab artists through Tumblr...I must be the oldest person on there. While thus browsing the web, I came across several painters whose work immediately hit me between the eyes, notably one William Wray and a Scottish painter called Bridget Hunter. Her semi-abstract landscapes display such felicity of colour and form...they work so well and evoke the landscape in the way I would hope to do myself, if I could reach that high. So, no pressure, then!

I've done some rough digital sketches of themes based on the quarry landscapes here in Blaenau Ffestiniog; the top photograph is my latest. I'm in the process of translating this onto canvas. It'll be very frustrating and huge fun, by turns...I'll let you know how I get on!

Bridget Hunter's Paintings

William Wray

The Oriel Tegfryn Gallery

William Wray's "San Pedro"

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A few more Welsh artists

I'm still busy with the portraits of Welsh artists.
Here's one of Augustus John  (1878 -1961). I'm not sure why, but I can't warm to his work, although I'm very familiar with his "Blue Pool" and often admire it when I visit Aberdeen Art Gallery. I certainly prefer his landscape work done here in Wales while staying with Dickson-Innes near the Arenigs. Here's one of his paintings from that period below. Looking at it now, it could have been painted on an Apple tablet device, rather like Hockney!

 Here's an artist I really like- just as well, as he is a neighbour. David Nash is one of the world's foremost living sculptors, famous for his work with large blocks of wood and living sculptures. His "Ash Dome" is near to where we live and is a beautiful piece, growing amid the changing moods of an ancient wood. His "Wood Boulder" was a huge round boulder set free in the Afon Dwyryd, eventually making it's way to the sea after many years. It was last spotted in the Dwyryd estuary in a sandbank opposite Portmeirion.

Catrin Williams is an artist who uses the landscape like so many famous names before her; but she has kicked aside what was expected of her as a Welsh landscape painter,  to remake the genre for her own use. I love her work, but this one below, "At y Chwarel",  is a particular favourite..

Bedwyr Williams has been a favourite since I went to see a show of his at the Oriel Mostyn called "Walk a Mile in my Shoes". He's a performance artist who also makes gallery pieces and photographs - they are characterised by their wry humour, taking a sideways look at commonplace themes and the way we look at ourselves. The photo below is particularly apt, showing the slate tips of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

 Lastly, for now (!) here is an artist who isn't Welsh, nor who particularly worked in Wales. I just happen to admire his work and fancied doing a sketch of him. He's John Nash, (1893-1977) self-taught older brother of the more famous Paul Nash. He was a landscape painter, one who approached the subject with a great deal of love and craftsman-like devotion. I think his honesty shows through in the lack of pretence and dogged technical effort in paintings like this one, "Flooded Meadow":

I'm not quite done with the Welsh artists yet, I'm afraid. There's still Kyffin Williams, probably my all-time favourite, and Shani Rhys James. I really like Shani and her work, which is probably why her portrait is becoming a real struggle...as yet, I can't get it right!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Thought-Fox

With apologies to the late, much lamented Ted Hughes...I was thinking about his "Thought-Fox" poem while doodling this... which then took on a life of it's own.