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Tale of two paintings: Reworking a Swansea painting

As a rule, I don’t rework my paintings. Either they work or they don’t. Here’s the exception. This is a large painting (80x100cm) that has hung in my hallway for the past five years. It was for sale on an online gallery a several years ago but for some reason, it was taken off. I am not sure why.

Painting of Swansea by Emma Cownie
Life in the Uplands (2015)

I didn’t really look at it until this summer when it got moved into our bedroom and I looked at it again. I was talking to my mother and sister on messenger/facetime and they saw it on the wall behind me – “Oh, that’s a nice painting” they both called out. “Oh, no that’s old,” I said as if it was a dress I had smuggled back from the shop. Why wasn’t I proud of it? I thought about it. It was an example of my early work when I was going through a phase of drawing lines around everything. I believed this was in the style of the fauvists like Derain and Matisse.

To be honest, it worked at the time but my painting has changed a lot since 2015 and I wasn’t comfortable with those lines. There was no light. I love painting shadows and light and yet there were none in this painting. Curiously, the omission of the skyline helped give a lightly claustrophobic sense of being in a crowded town. That was its real strength. It was a forerunner of my urban minimal series of paintings of Brynmill which culminated in my “Hollowed Community” Exhibition in Cardiff in 2017 (see examples of this series below)

Why had I painted this scene on an overcast day? Why had I cropped it in so tight so there was no sky? I really could not remember. I tried to find the view again. I spent some time hanging out of the windows at the back of our house trying to find the same angle. Eventually, I discovered something similar from the attic window.

View out of my Window
View from the attic

There were a lot more trees. These are the plane trees line that Bernard Street. This road runs from Brynmill uphill to Gower Road, in the Uplands. The trees branches are cut back to stumps every year to control their growth but they burst forth every summer again (See three of my urban minimal paintings below, which feature the trees of Bernard Street).

It wasn’t the only thing that had changed in the last 5 years. Many of the houses had been painted in a different colour. A tin roof towards to centre of the middle (on the right) was now orange with rust. The sunshine also created shadows and changed the colour of many of the roofs.

So I started painting and worked on this when I wasn’t working on commissions. I changed the colour of the chimney pots in the foreground of the painting.

Work in Progress (Summer 2020)

It took some time as I ended up pretty much repainting the whole canvas. The end result was painting with more depth and yet a “lighter” feel. There were still some of those lines but I had reduced them so they did not dominate the painting. I was much happier with this version of Brynmill/Uplands in the sunshine.

Painting of Uplands Swansea by Emma Cownie
Over to Bernard Street, Swansea (2020)

Here are the two paintings side by side so you can see the changes I made.

My next post will be about the paintings that I decided could not be reworked and what I did with them.

16 thoughts on “Tale of two paintings: Reworking a Swansea painting

  1. You’re right on with the reworked painting. I like every change—it’s much more approachable now. The previous version was a bit like untangling a maze. 😀

    1. Thank you Alli. It was very strange looking at the original and not really remembering what I was interested in, the composition, I suppose. Ys, the light and shadows make it a lot easier to interpret as a painting.

  2. So interesting to see the difference these changes make, Emma. I can see why you were intrigued with the chimneys and roofs in the foreground. There are some fantastic shapes and lines there.

    1. Thank you, Anne. I sometimes get asked to paint similar scenes as commissions, but I am no longer so interested in “piles” of houses quite like this. Maybe I have just got used to living with them in Swansea!

  3. I must say I like strong shadows in a painting too, especially in winter when they’re long. I prefer the reworked version

    1. Thank you David. I don’t usually bother reworking paintings but I couldn’t quite let this one go1

  4. I started to comment on your post last night but we had a thunderstorm and lost power. I had forgotten about it and then when started up this pc it popped up again. YAY! I like your new changes and additions most of all the greenery. I love the look of the more mature trees.

    1. Thank you. Yes, it looks a bit “hard” with out the lovely trees. Sorry to hear about the power cut last night.

      1. We live in the country and there have been a lot of thunderstorms so it happens.

      2. We have had quite a few lately too, on the other side of the Atlantic.

      3. Someone told me today that the farmer’s almanac is predicting a very cold winter. This after a very hot summer. Weird weather.

      4. It will feel all the colder because you are not in Florida! Climate change means that weather patterns get “stuck” and more extreme. It weather has cahnged noticeably in the last 20 years I have lived here.

      5. I do not like the cold winters I will survive it.

  5. They’re not the kind of scenes I like, Emma, but I can see that you’ve brought this one to life. 🙂 🙂

  6. It is interesting how much more depth there is in it. Brave you! I waffle about my older pieces as well.

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