Denis curry was born on the last day of the First World War and last November 11th celebrated his 101st birthday, during the Second World War he joined the Royal Engineers, and fought in North Africa and Monte Cassino. He is the only artist in Wales and the U.K. whose prolific artistic pursuit has centred on flight with a profound knowledge of natures engineering structures with a poetic vision. An exceptional draughtsman, painter and sculptor in bronze and stone he studied sculpture at TheSlade, Henry Moore was one of his tutors, he won many prizes for drawing and sculpture including a 4th Post Graduate year. His work is in many collections and has been exhibited in numerous galleries including, The Royal Academy, London , MOMA Wales, RCA, RWA, etc. He lives in rural Pembrokeshire in the foothills of Mynydd Preseli.
Elizabeth Haines went to Brighton College of Art and moved to Wales in 1968 where she graduated with a Phd at University of Wales, Lampeter, in 2001. She lives in the foothills of Mynydd Preseli near Clunderwen in Pembrokeshire. Her work has evolved over the years into a style that preoccupies the precarious hinterland between topography and abstraction often described obliquely as the landscape of France as well as Wales with a surreal and dreamlike quality.
Following on from my conversations with Kyffin Williams I visited Will Roberts for the first time in 1990. Will had been working with his partner Wilfred Kaltenbach in their grandfather clock and jewellery repair shop in Angel St, Neath. Will met Josef Herman outside the local cinema and became a friend and pupil the Polish artist who lived above the Penybont Inn in Ystradgynlais,.
It was Josef, Will said, ‘You are far too good an artist, give up mending clocks and just paint.’
Kyffin Williams wrote in Will Roberts book ‘Drawings’ published by the National Library of Wales on his the gift to the people of Wales of 600 drawings, sketch books and copies of his work in 2001 after his death in 2000 about how Will had been accused of painting in the style of Josef Herman.
‘The work of Will Roberts is often compared unfavourably with that of his friend Josef Herman, but this has always been a facile and insensitive appraisal, for even if there are technical similarities, the mood and message of the two artists are entirely different. Whereas Josef Herman dedicated himself to the painting of mankind in a powerful manner that owes much to the influence of Constant Permeke, the work of Will Roberts is more specific and shows the individuality of human beings’.
Tony Curtis, professor of Poetry and writer on the Arts in Wales, wrote two books of interviews with artists, ‘Welsh Painters Talking’ and ‘Welsh Artists Talking’ for each book I travelled separately to photograph the artists. The books were launched at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff with an exhibition of the Portraits and work of the artists, in the first volume was the interview with Will. I decided to ask each of the artists to sign my book underneath their portrait, the only artist missing on the evening was Will. So I telephoned him to ask if I could call in for the signature. Reluctantly his wife said that they were going to be celebrating their golden wedding with a family party at their daughters house in Cardiff. Undeterred I travelled from Oswestry where we lived to Cardiff, only to glad to be away from the gathering, Will said, ‘Come in the backroom, I’ll sign your book.’ I took the family golden wedding picture, Will, Phyllis and daughter Sian. In return I received in the post a chalk drawing of Miners cottages in Onllwyn in the Dulais Valley
I photographed Will again 1998, back home in Billton Road, he had been in hospital after having had a stroke, while there he drew the nurses and back at home was drawing self portraits repeating them over and over, may be an attempt to get back to painting fitness.
Sian wrote in the book of Drawings, some lovely words that echoed my memories of Will.
Will Roberts – quiet, unassuming, a true gentleman- was nonetheless, a man of great Charisma, possessing that extraordinary ability that some people have for making the individual feel completely at ease in his company and that they were at once important and special to him.
Sir Kyffin Williams
Kyffin Williams or how he became Sir Kyffin, was a friend and supporter of my idea to photograph the Artists and Writers of Wales, what has become now the Welsh Arts Archive. On our first meeting at his cottage at Pwllanogl near Llanfair P.G. he gave me a list of who I should see and photograph an idea that I still use today. As I have said before Will Roberts of Neath was the Best Painter in South Wales! Outside and around the back of the cottage was a brick shed, his studio, no picture on the easel, he told me the story of when his best friend Ivor Roberts Jones visited the studio, he would look at the work in progress on the easel and say ‘what is that’? Rummage through the stacked canvasses, pick one out and say, now that’s what you should be doing. Only Ivor could get away with that.
Opposite the studio was a small harbour with a building that what was once where school slates were made, hence the beach in front of the house made of shards of slate.
In the house, his writing desk had a bust of himself sent recently by Ivor Roberts Jones’s widow. It is said that Kyffin may have had a hand in Ivor getting the commission of Winston Churchills statue out side the Houses of Parliament, being President of the Royal Academy at the time.
It amused me that the illuminated Certificate hung in a golden frame in the loo.
He was such a generous man, gave me prints, and once showing me a Gregynog Press book of Agnes Miller Parker wood engraving with six slipped in prints, said ‘pick one’ but that will spoil your set,’ take it’ He said!
We exchanged Christmas cards and Kyffin often wrote in them, once having been asked by R.S. Thomas’s second wife to paint his portrait, something R.S. was never keen to do, but could not turn Kyffin or his wife down.’ How shall I do it’ Kyffin wrote, my answer was ‘Draw him quickly’, He invited me to photograph some paintings, I knew that was not true, as he would not ask me to do that. So on arrival he put three pencil drawings on the floor, two with a colour wash and one just a plain pencil head, and that is what hung at his retrospective at the National Library in Aberystwyth.
‘Have you done an oil’ . Yes in the studio still on the easel, was a wispy white haired R.S. painted with a pallet knife with battle ship grey hair. What could I say? ‘Has his wife seen it’?, Yes was his reply ‘she couldn’t stop laughing’ There are so many stories, I followed him, to the National Library, The Royal Cambrian Academy, and to his opening at the Albany Gallery timed for 7pm, and a queue. Martin Tinney had planned Peter Prendergast’s opening at 6.30pm. So there first and by the time that I got to the Albany all the pictures were sold except for one very large landscape in oil.
I stayed with Peter Prendergast over night, we had been taking photographs on the windswept cliff tops in driving wind. I told Peter that I was going to visit Kyffin in the morning, Kyffin was not a well man, and I knew that this was the last time we would meet, Peter said, ‘Can I come? I think that they had been having a difference over artistic style, but I took their photograph together, the two Great Welsh Landscape painters. As we drove off up the unmade lane I looked in the mirror and there was Kyffin two arms in the air waving his last goodbye. The picture that I could not take! It was not long before I met Peter again at his exhibition at the Ceri Richards Gallery in Swansea before he to passed away.
So many stories, so many great artists, so many true friends, that make me feel that what I am doing is so important.
Geoff Yeomans (Geoff the Rust)
Geoff Yeomans was born in Birkenhead in 1934, studied at the Laird School of Art, and teacher training in Liverpool, he spent many years teaching ending up before retiring as head of Fine Nuneaton College of Art. He is well known for his beautifully painted pictures of rusting hulks of boats near his home in Pembrokeshire. He is photographed here at his exhibition at MOMA Wales, Machynlleth, with one of his rust paintings behind him. ‘Geoff the Rust’ was the title of the exhibition of his work held at the Oriel Q Gallery in Narberth, Pembs.