Saturday August 1st was the last day of the William Brown Exhibition at Studio 18, Oxford Street, Pontycymer. The invitation was from Carys, William’s widow, who was brought up in the village, for afternoon tea/coffee and Welsh cakes, it was so good to see William’s work hanging in Kevin Sinnott’s new Gallery. On sale was the book by Carys and David Greenslade of tributes from fellow artists and writers from Wales and abroad, particularly the Czech Republic, where I went with the group who met at the Westbourne Hotel in Swansea, every Tuesday. William was a Scots, Canadian, Welshman and friend and an irreplaceable member of our band, along with Tony Goble, Gareth Davies, and Malcolm Parr, who have also recently died, we only meet at Christmas now.
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.
‘Your no stranger here,’ I was told the very day that I arrived. A day later I was addressed as Joe and now I am nick-named Joe- bach.’’ These are Josef’s own words taken from his diary.
The people of Ystradgynlais had given this Polish Refugee Artist a home and a welcome that would stay with him for the rest of his life. He came for two weeks and stayed for eleven years, and produced in this time his iconic, bold and sculptural images of the miner.
My first encounter with Osi Rhys Osmond was at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, the Art Historian Paul Joyner who had been involved in the Libraries acquisition of a major collection of Josef Herman’s drawings, was addressing a seminar on the Polish refugee artist who had settled in Ystradgynlais in the Swansea valley, after escaping from the German pogrom. Osi stood up at the end of the session and produced the most provocative and challenging statement, the audience sat in stunned silence and I think the speaker wished he could melt away. At the lunch break, I asked Osi if I could visit him, I was curious, who was this man? What makes him speak with such passion.
After working as a newspaper photographer for some thirty years and returning to live in Wales I started again photographing, with the support of The National Library of Wales, the Artists and Writers of Wales. Sir Kyffin Williams was first. I asked him for a list of six people that I should record for posterity, top of his list was Will Roberts of Neath, ‘ THE BEST PAINTER IN SOUTH WALES, ‘ he said. Top of Will’s list was John Petts, ‘SEE HIM SOON,’ was his reply. I photographed Petts in 1997 pictured here working on a stained glass window for a church in his studio in The Old Workhouse in Abergavenny.
My first words to Peter Prendergast were ‘’Your from Mutton Tump’’ my wife in her childhood lived with her mother at the Windsor Hotel in High Street Abertridwr, only a local would know it was called that. Peters’ father an Irish Catholic had moved from County Wexford to work in the mines of the Aber Valley, he married a Welsh girl and settled in Abertridwr, where Peter and his twin brother were born. Being a catholic and Irish was no way to be a child in South Wales, I can remember my own days at school when the Catholic boys had to stand in the washrooms during assembly.
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,.
John Selway was born in Askern in Yorkshire in 1938, and moved to his mothers family home in Ash Tree Terrace, in Six Bells near Abertillery where his grandmother had a small holding and John attended the local Junior school, near the house, where he was already drawing on slates or in his exercise book. During the Summer months he spent time with his grandmother and step grandfather on their farm on the Herefordshire/Welsh Border.
I photographed John in the studio at his home in Abertillery, which he had built himself out of various pieces of wood, and board, well lit and with a large window over looking the Ebbw Bach valley, the river Tyleri and the wooded hillside. Heated by a wood burning stove it was big enough to take six-foot canvas and had all the comforts of home.
John was one of the talented valley artists who traveled by bus and train to art college, as did Burton, Sinnott and Zobole. In his case it was Newport College of Art, and on to the Royal College of Art in London, with a break for National Service and returning to Newport College of Art to become a Senior Lecturer for the next twenty five years. At the RCA a fellow student, was David Hockney and Mark Rothko was a tutor, but John returned to his home town, Abertillery. Although he left behind the hi-life and International fame, he travelled the world, but always returned to his roots in the valleys.
We sat and talked in his modest home about Dylan Thomas and the Poem that he was working on at the time ‘Fernhill’ before I left he let me have a fine pen drawing with a delicate red water colour wash, a page of his sketch book. The working drawing had a naked girl standing and a boy sitting in a tin bath, chickens being killed and plucked, boxes of eggs and oil lamps. This was not the Fern Hill of Dylan’s poem, but John’s own memory of childhood at Ash Tree Terrace, Six Bells, up the valley from Abertillery or on his maternal grand mothers farm in the Golden Valley on the Herefordshire/Wales border which he visited in the Summer.
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
The poem had become a surreal memory of his childhood , a dream like fantasy.
John had drawn the circus at school, but later as an adult his love of the circus and a Welsh Arts Council grant took him to Spain to paint the traveling circus.
He visited Auschwitz, and here his sensual dreams turn into a nightmare in his series of paintings of the Holocaust and return again in the series of fifteen paintings, ‘ The Stations of the Cross’ in St Michael’s the Archangel, Abertillery, It is not just the story of the journey to the crucifixion but one that takes the journey from the German pogrom to the current events in the middle east and America.
Bernard Mitchell 2020
The H’mm Foundation in collaboration with Three Imposters published: Vigilant Imagination – Encounters with John Selway – Written by Jon Gower. ISBN 978-1-9999522-0-4.
Kevin Sinnott’s father like Peter Prendergast’s had moved to the South Wales valleys from Co. Wexford, Ireland, and married a local girl. Kevin was born in 1947, the sixteenth child, and by the time he had reached St.Robert’s RC Elementary School, Aberkenfig, was already drawing the clouds through the classroom window. Through secondary school he studied books on art borrowed from the local library and one day he caught the coach to Cardiff and discovered three Cezanne paintings in the National Museum. ‘’The thrill of this discovery made him realise that the paintings were not only about the birth of Modernism, but that the world began on his door- step’’.
In 1967, he arrived at Cardiff College of Art on the one year Foundation Course, he then went to the Cheltenham Art School (Gloucestershire College of Art and Design) for a three years degree. In 1971 before leaving he married Susan a girl from back home having won a Post Graduate place at the Royal College of Art in London, after which he taught part time at StMartin’s and Canterbury College of Art.
At this time, his career as an artist started to take off, Work was accepted for The John Moore’s competition at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, and exhibitions in Leeds, Birmingham and the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, led to his first five year contact in 1982 with Blond Fine Art, in Sackville Street. By 1985 things had began to cool and a further exhibition for 1986 was in the balance, ‘’So with a few improvisations in a carrier bag’’, he headed for Cork Street and the Bernard Jacobson Gallery having his first Cork Street Exhibition in January 1986 and on St.Patrick’s Day his first exhibition on 57th Street, New York. In 1991 With the advent of the recession, he changed gallery to London Fields Gallery, Flowers East, after having two exhibitions, and the Sale of their house, ‘’with three children and four cats we headed out of London to a rented house in the village of Llety Brongu near Maesteg in the ‘Old Parish of Llangynwyd.’
Walking over the hills from the Llynfi to the Garw Valleys, and two years after leaving London they had moved into two caravans next to an old abandoned Church of England in Wales church, in the village of Pont-y-Rhyl in the Garw Valley. By 1996 a full restoration had taken place with the help of Susan’s brother and father, with a full length first floor housing an atrium gallery and thirty foot studio space behind, Susan had took on the task of landscaping the hillside, their home was named Ty’r Santes Fair, StMary’s House.
It was at St.Mary’s that I photographed Kevin for the first time, it was one of those typical valley days, with mist and heavy rain which makes the slate roofs Shine. A couple of outside pictures but the main picture was upstairs in the magnificent studio, Where he was working on two large canvases, one with a dog, feet in the air being wheel- barrowed through a woods. At this time it was for me a seminal experience when all these elements that had been evolving in his work had come together in the painting, ‘Running Away with the Hairdresser’, now in the National Museum. A drive up the Llynfi Valley to Caerau, gave him that unforgettable backdrop, the movement of the young couple so intent on escaping to the hills and a title that askes so many questions, brilliant! Kevin Sinnott had come home, he had found his hiraeth amongst people who would love and understand his work. These often narrative paintings were about desire, passion and the simple feeling of love and the desire of belonging. Kevin continues to use the Flowers Gallery in London and New York and the Martin Tinney Gallery in Wales (Cardiff.)
Kevin and Susan had four children but sadly Susan passed away in December 2017.
Studio 18, Oxford Street, Pontycymer, was Kevin Sinnott,s next ambitious project for here at the top of a South Wales mining Valley, he built a Galley that is as good as any in Cork Street, London. A completely gutted shop open to first flour height it can accommodate the largest of works, with a gallery around the first floor, for smaller works. Studio 18 opened in 2016, with an exhibition titled Historic Paintings, and around the upper gallery to my surprise was an exhibition of black and white portraits of Welsh Artists by myself. I recently visited Studio 18 again on the 1st of August for the last day of an exhibition by William Brown lovely large cavasses of the valley and all the usual William Brown pictures that we all know. The exhibition was put on by William’s widow Carys, who had been brought up in Pontycymer. Also hung the full height of the main area was the largest Kevin Sinnott I had ever seen.
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 Gertrude Hermes 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 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.