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.
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)
Top of Rhyddings Park
In light and Dark
Rhyddings House Swansea
Brynmill Primary School
Former Cricketers, Swansea
Former Grocers, King Edward’s Road, Brynmill, Swansea.
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.
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).
Bernard Street, in the Summer, Swansea
Bus Stop (back of Brynmill Launderette)
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.
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.
Here are the two paintings side by side so you can see the changes I made.
Life in the Uplands (2015)
Over to Bernard Street, Swansea
My next post will be about the paintings that I decided could not be reworked and what I did with them.
This post has been prompted by the response & comments I got on Instagram when I posted a photo of a painting I had reworked.
I came across this early painting when I was sorting through my crowded attic studio. I had forgotten I had it. It took a while to work out how long ago I painted it. It was 4 years ago! It was part of a series of night-time paintings of Brynmill, Swansea, I did in the course of winter of 2015-6. I later went on to develop a series of daytime paintings in the summer of 2017, which formed by the “Hollowed Community” exhibition as part of the Made in Roath, Cardiff, Arts Festival of that year.
I looked at my painting with my 2019 eyes. Sometimes a period of separation enables you to see the painting the way others do. Often this is a happy experience. Not in this case. I liked the light and the shadows but I thought it was a little untamed. The red brick pub opposite the chip shop, The Ryddings pretty much worked. The sky, however, was a bit too messy for me. I don’t usually rework my paintings but this one was bugging me. I nearly worked beautifully, but it didn’t. So I set about to repainting parts of it. Some window sills also needed straightening. The double yellow lines at the bottom of the painting certainly did. The sky then needed “flattening” to create a calmer and tighter painting. After I had done this, I felt a lot happier with the painting. It still has some of the exuberance of the original but it was more disciplined. It has more presence.
This chip shop has a long history; much longer than I realised. The Park Fish Bar used to have a sign out the front that says it’s Wales’s oldest chip shop (I’ll have to check it see if it’s still there the next time I pass it). It think it said “Since 1977” When I posted a photo of the reworked painting on Instagram Matt (@seamatt79) wrote that it had been a fishmonger or fish shop called “Park View Fisheries” since 1918. Apparently, they sold fish during the day and cooked the fish with chips in the evening. That’s a century of fish and chips in Brynmill. I don’t think there was a centenary celebration last year, which is a shame.
Matt said that he was there in the 1990s the Waterloo Place-side window was replaced (window on the far left of the white building in the painting). An old man who lived in Trafalgar Place came by and told the story of how he helped put the window in as a young boy when during World War Two a German bomb “landed on the corner of Marlborough Road and blew out all the glass”. The corner of Malborough Road is just to the left of the painting. A lot has happened since I painted the original in 2015. Jeff who ran the chip ship since the 1980s had retired and the shop has had two different managers since then.
I was also asked on Instagram by James Potter, another Swansea artist, what the original painting looked like. There are some things you just can’t explain properly on Instagram, so here it is on my WordPress blog!
Happy Christmas to all my fellow bloggers, followers, and readers alike!
Last night I received a lovely present from one of the pupils of Brynmill school who was inspired, after my talk with her class, to paint one of my paintings. I was absolutely charmed and delighted by this gift.
Nia told me in her accompanying note that “instead of paint, I used Sharpie (felt tip pen)”. What really tickled me is that she then added “when you came to my school your advice when doing art was to sketch it first and then continue”. She had followed this advice brilliantly. She’d had sketched the figures in pencil and then added colour in Sharpie pen.
I was really impressed that she had caught the shadows on the men’s jacket & coats. I liked her use of flat colour and the relationship between the figures. There was something “Hockneyesque” about her work! I hope she keeps on creating. An excellent painting from a budding young artist. Great to see!!
I was invited to visit my local junior school as part of their St David’s Day week celebrations. I was representing Welsh Art, as I have lived and painted in Wales most of my adult life. Although I had been a Secondary school teacher for 17 years, I was surprised at how nervous I felt beforehand, although I clearly had absolutely nothing to fear from a bunch of 9 and 10 year-olds. I think it was my body getting ready for a “performance” after two years away from the classroom.
I live opposite this large red-brick school. I hear and see the very little children playing the yard several times a day. Sometimes, they call out to us, asking us to fetch a stray ball for them. I had not been inside this school since 1998, when I had done a week’s observation before I did my Secondary school teacher training. I wasn’t sure how visitors got in these days. I eventually figured out that the school reception was on the opposite side to where I lived. I passed several gates with big padlocks and even the one that opened into the school-yard had a massive unlocked padlock on. Security is a big thing in schools these days and I spent a couple of minutes tapping my details into a screen, having my photo taken and being given a pass with my photo on and barcode to wear around my neck.
I was taken upstairs to a lovely airy hall with a polished parquet floor. I passed tiny children wearing daffodils and wearing tops, one was dressed as a dragon (with a tail an everything). The school building was similar to the Edwardian Primary school I had been to as a child. I think Britain is dotted with variations of these school schools. They have high ceilings and long windows, that let in lots of light but they are so high up so you can’t actually see out the window.
A group of 30-40 Year 5 pupils (9 and 10 year-olds) were brought in quietly and they all sat crossed-legged on the floor. They waited quietly, looking at me with great interest. Their teacher introduced me, one class had been studying my work (I felt humbled by that information) and they had lots of questions.
Then the floor was mine.
Ah, that second before you speak. It may only be time to draw breath, but it can feel like it goes on for ages. I had not prepared what I was going to say, as such. I had some slides on a powerpoint but I only had some vague points that I thought I might make. So in time honored teacher-style I asked them a question.
“Does anyone know what a professional artist is?” A few hands go up, I ask the girl sitting to the side of the class. “It’s an artist who is very, very good and has been painting for a long time”. “That’s a good description, but it’s also someone who makes a living as an artist. They make money at it. It’s their job.”
I then showed them my series of slides with a small selection of my paintings.
I talked about how I liked to paint what I could see on my doorstep. So that meant places on the Gower Peninsula like Three Cliffs Bay and Swansea Bay.
Then I showed them a few of paintings I’d done of the streets surrounding their school in Brynmill. There was some excitement and laughter when one boy excitedly exclaimed, “That’s my house!” (forth one along)
My final slide was meant to introduce the other side of an artist’s work. That of promotion. I explained that I spent a lot of my time on social media, online galleries and blogging so that people might see my work.
So this is where question time slot opened up. Lots of hands go up. I was very impressed with their excellent manners (absolutely no calling out) and very thoughtful questions they had. It was a bit like being one of those pop-stars being interviewed by children on Saturday morning telly in the 1980s & 1990s. I will list as many as I can remember. I will give a shortened version of my answers. I did go off on many tangents.
“Do you ever get bored of painting?” – no. I run out of inspiration, however, at times. I don’t like that. I have to wait for my next idea to come along.
“What is your favourite place to paint?” – Gower and more recently, Donegal, Ireland.
“Do you ever make up what you paint?” – no. All my painting are real places.
“Why did you change from being a teacher to being an artist?” – I have them the super simplified version. Being a teacher made me ill so I became an artist.
“What is your favourite painting?” – I have two, one of a Gower pony, and another of the cat that used to live in the DIY shop in Brynmill. They are both in my bedroom.
“How much do your paintings sell for?” – It depends. Anything from £1700 to £20.
“What were the most ever paintings you have sold in a day?” – 8 (it might have been 6 actually).
“What is your favourite colour for painting?” – purple – I use it for shadows. There was quite a discussion on colour here. One of their teachers had pointed out to them that shadows were not black or brown. I talked about looking and seeing colours. I also pointed out that few things in real life are really black, if you really look at them. I used the example of a boy’s black trousers – I said the light makes it look, yellow and grey, maybe very dark brown and dark blue but very little black
“What advice would you give young artists?” – paint as much as you can, every day if possible. The more you practice the better you get. That’s true with any skill. Footballing or painting. One boy perked up here. He was clearly a keen footballer. “Footballers make a lot of money”. “Some footballers make a lot of money, lots don’t” I said. His teacher repeated the point (probably not for the first time). I went on to say, “Some artists make a lot of money, look at Damien Hirst, but most don’t”.
“What did you want to be when you were younger?” – ballerina and then a famous writer! That puzzled them.
“How many days of the week do you paint?” – 6 sometimes 7.
“What was your favorite sport?” – rugby. The football fan’s friend punched the air at this point, this had clearly been a hotly debated point of discussion between them.
“What sort of dogs do you like painting?” – Jack Russells
“Have you I ever painted your own house?” – Yes.
“Have you painted the inside of your house?” – Yes.
Then suddenly the questions dried up and the pupils, whose attention had been faultless until now, started to fidget. I recognized this. “Is it break soon?” I asked one of the teachers. Yes. it was. I was then thanked by a teacher and presented with a box of chocolates! I wasn’t expecting that.
A small group of girls approached me and asked for more advice on painting. They were clearly keen practitioners. So I repeated, my point about painting frequently. I explained there will be many failures on the way (hide them under the bed) but they would need to find their own way of drawing and painting.
Two girls had been appointed to guide me back to reception (I needed their help as I shot off in the wrong direction at one point). I then had to return my ID badge and the computer said “good-bye” as I opened the door. “That’s a creepy portent of the future”, I remarked to the friendly human receptionist, and stepped out into the sunshine as the bell for midday break rang.
But there’s more to tell – click here for the footnote
International Women’s Day is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality. Its roots can be traced to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours. The first time there was an a “Women’s Day” it was a year later, on February 28, 1909 in New York. March 8 was suggested by the 1910 International Woman’s Conference (attended by more than 100 women from 17 countries) to become an “International Woman’s Day.” In 1911, it was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19. In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on that day ever since.
After women gained the vote in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. It was also celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and after founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Mao Zedong declared that ‘women hold up half the sky’ and March 8 was made an official holiday and women were given a half-day off. One can help but wonder that if it had been a international Men’s Day they’d have been given a whole day off! IWD was finally adopted by the United Nations in 1975.
The original aim – to achieve full gender equality for women the world – has still not been realised. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is still worse than that of men.
In Swansea there will be an exhibition of Swansea-based female artists’ work at Cinema & Co. It is meant to show case the work of female artists, myself included. My painting “Former Cricketers” (above) is included. It is from my “Hollowed Community” project which focused on theme of declining community and the lack of sustainability (that means families with children) in areas such as Brynmill in Swansea due to (pretty much) unchecked studentification. The exhibitions will run from March 8th to 20th. There is an opening event on Thursday March 8th 6 pm to 8.30 pm. There will be performances, paintings, films and some “extra surprises”.
If you want to read more about the “Hollowed Community” project click here.
I woke up a bit earlier than I usually do this morning. It was just before dawn. The night was no longer inky black but had a bluish tinge to it. The light has been changing ever since. Now it is mauve. It will lighten until the light is pinkish, then finally white. Throughout the course of the winter I have been used to waking in the dark and waiting for the sun to rise. No so much recently. The days are lengthening noticeably. Instead of night arriving unexpected at 4 o’clock it now holds off about tea time. This gradual lengthening of the day has a natural rhythm and logic.
The sudden arrival of British Summer Time (BST) or Daylight Saving Time (DST) when the clocks are turned forward an hour in late March does not. It feels like we are catapulted into the summer with more light than we know what to do with. I find it odd that I am sad at the arrival of BST because all that extra daylight means I can paint for longer. I should be happy. I am happy but the abrupt lengthening of the day feels wrong. The “loss” of an hour is also tiring. It’s much worse in the autumn. Instead of easing into winter we are hurled into the darkness. Others feel this way too.
The EU is debating this right now. There have been calls for the European Commission to launch a “full evaluation” of the current system and come up with new plans, if necessary. In Europe, currently, EU law sets a common date in spring and autumn on which clocks must be put forward and back by one hour in all 28 member states. Supporters of the DST say it saves energy and reduces traffic accidents but critics argue it can cause long-term health problems and studies have generally failed to show significant energy savings associated with the shift.
They hate it in Finland. More than 70,000 Fins (out of 5.5 million) signed a petition asking the state to give up the practice. French MEP Karima Delli argued that moving clocks forward to summer time left people tired and led to increased accidents”Studies that show an increase in road accidents or sleep trouble during the time change must be taken seriously”, the French MEP said, adding that estimated energy savings were “not conclusive”. Belgian lawmaker Hilde Vautmans, however, said that changing daylight saving could mean either losing an hour of daylight every day for seven months in summer or sending children to school in the dark for five months over winter.
I was surprised that the USA also uses DST. I assumed that with so many time zones, nine, that they would not have wanted the added complication of DST. It was introduced during the Second World War and most mainland states areas still have DST except Arizona (although the Navajo have DST on tribal lands). Many studies have been done in the US that show the negative effects of the biannual shift to DST. Losing that hour’s sleep in spring affects health; strokes and heart attacks are more likely, there are more traffic accidents and it affects relationships, tiredness causes more arguments.
Interestingly, one big country has tried life without DST. In 2011 Russia (who have on less than 11 time zones in their massive country) first tried clocks on year-round summer time but that proved unpopular then in 2014 switched to permanent winter time or “standard time”. Russian MPs said permanent summer time had created stress and health problems, especially in northern Russia where mornings would remain darker for longer during the harsh winter months. However, I have yet to discover whether the return to permanent “winter time” is popular with the Russian people.
So if I want to avoid this biannual lurch forward and back in the day, I can move to Russia, Arizona or one of the other 70 countries that don’t bother with it including Japan, India, and China.
Twilight is one of those words that sounds like a contraction of two longer words – like fortnight used to be “fourteen nights” or Goodbye used to be “God be with you”. The word has Dutch and Germanic origins. It was first used in England in the 14th century and probably is a contraction of “Tween” and “Light”- meaning light between, or half light. In Welsh, “cyfnos” means dusk, twilight but “gwyll” also refers to dusk, gloom, twilight. There is a very good Welsh language crime drama (Welsh Noir as they call it) called “Y Gwyll” (Dusk). There is an English language version (same actors, and storries but dialogue in English) but they changed the title to “Hinterland“. I much prefer the Welsh language version (click on the link to watch a clip here with English subtitles). Dusk suits the brooding nature of the landscape and the story lines much better, I think.
Dusk is a strange part of the day. It does not last long. It happens in the morning as well as the evening but it’s twilight in the evening I particularly love, especially in winter. The sky rapidly slips from light blue to a wonderful mauve before becoming darkest blue of night. The strange soft mauve glowing light is caused by the sun even after it has dipped below the horizon, as the sun’s rays are reflected from the atmosphere. A few minutes pass and lights are switched on indoors against the fading light but curtains have not yet been universally against the cold winter night. Just like Dylan Thomas’s “starless and bible-black” night in Under Milk Wood.
I am preparing a follow up photographic project on the “Hollowed Community” scenes but first I wanted to explain what the original project was about. So I have reproduced the the introduction to my exhibition catalogue for the madeinroath festival here:-
My project explores the theme that the community of Brynmill in Swansea has become “hollowed” out by the proliferation of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs), which house an ever burgeoning population of students attending Swansea University. HMOs in many streets constitute in excess of 50% of the houses. This ever increasing transient population has had a devastating effect on the sense of community in Brynmill.
Families and children living in the area has have dropped markedly since the increasing number of HMOs started to swamp Brynmill. This has had knock on effects for sustainability as families normally sustain communities with services and business catering for these families.
My project looks at the visible signs of this “hollowing of community” by looking at the time when students are not here, such as in the summer months. It is in this absence of students that I have attempted to catch this ghostly silence, this funereal quiet.
In streets suddenly empty, devoid of cars, elderly people suddenly appear on the streets, as if from hibernation and, most tellingly, the sparse number of children start to play in the streets and parks but so much fewer than before. It is as if the community is in a temporary mourning in this sudden quiet and the area looks more spacious, as it breathes out in the summer sun. This is I have painted, and documented, this lull before the next wave of erosion.
In this space I am reminded of those American realist painters who paint the quiet, the spacious and the still and revere a certain treatment of light and colour such as Edward Hopper, Jim Holland, John Register, Frank Hobbs as well as by Contemporary Minimalists such as Christopher Benson, Leah Giberson, Tom McKinley, Micthell, Johnson, Jessica Brilli and Emmett Kerrigan. I aim to bring an American sensibility to a Welsh urban landscape in my “urban minimal”* paintings, to contrast their sunny optimism with our cold reality.
I wanted to capture this temporary calm of summer in paint. So I started to take lots of photos of the local area with an eye to using them for the basis of paintings.
My “rules” for composition and painting
Bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.
Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I wanted to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows. Simplified blocks of colour.
The distinctive pitched roofs of the red brick Brynmill School dominate the area. Sitting on the crest of a hill they can be seen from miles around. From the seafront and beach to the south as well as from Uplands and Mount Pleasant to the north. It is one of two local primary schools. It is a handsome building. Bold red brick. Confident and happy looking. The other is the Welsh-medium school Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Bryn-y-mor, which had previously been Brynmill Infant’s school.
Brynmill School was opened on 31st August 1896 and was big enough to accommodate over a thousand pupils. In its early days, boys and girls were taught in separate classes. The girls were taught in classrooms on the ground floor and the boys on the first floor.
During the Second World War many buildings in Brynmill were damaged. On 21st February 1941, the girls’ school was hit and the school had to close for a fortnight. Rhyddings House was also badly damaged by a bomb and it became known as “the bombed house” and a place where the local children would play.*
The school undergone quite a few changes. The many tall chimneys and the tower on highest part of the roof are gone. Extensions have been added at the front and back of the school. There are relatively few school-aged children that live in the heart of Brynmill, those that attend the school most seem to walk from Uplands or are driven in from other areas of Swansea. Schools are at the heart of sustainability. Many rural communities have lost their post office, pubs and schools and then cease to fully function as communities. Brynmill School, however, has clearly worked hard to keep their numbers up and continue as a beating heart of the community.
*Information about Brynmill School came from an article by Juliette James “Life in the district of Brynmill in the early 20th century” published in “Minerva: Swansea History Journal, Vol 24, 2016-7.
This library was a “cwtch”. That’s a Welsh word that is widely used by all who live in Wales, both Welsh-speakers, and non-Welsh speakers. It has a dual meaning. It can mean a hug/cuddle or it can be used to describe a small safe place, like a cubby hole. The two meanings are intertwined and often indistinguishable. This place was both.
I loved visiting this tiny library. It stood on Bernard Street – the artery that runs through the heart of Brynmill. It should have been too small, but it wasn’t. It was just the right size. It was about the size of someone’s living room. It felt like someone’s front room. The walls were filled with books and talking books. There was a computer with a printer which I used to use before we had the internet (back in the time of dinosaurs). There was a children’s books’ stand and a notice board full of community notices. It was a nice place to hang out. The librarian was a lovely, peaceful lady who has a welcoming air about her.
The tiny library had been there since 1952. Once upon a time it had been an ice-cream shop. It was run my Irene Mann’s grandfather. Irene is a local councillor. The library was closed in 2010. Austerity killed it. The council had starved it of funds and then said it was tatty and should go. Everyone was against the closure. There was talk of a twice fortnightly mobile library that would visit the Uplands half a mile away. I never saw it. I am not sure it ever came.
Now there is a “community library” in the Community Centre that is run by volunteers for three short sessions a week. The only mobile “library” I have seen in the area is the Dylan’s Mobile Bookstore, a large van that visits the Uplands Market once a month. But that’s not a library. I still occasionally see the librarian out walking her dogs.
The library was eventually replaced by a photography studio run by two friends, Geraint and Gary. It’s called Safelight Images. It’s great to have a local business here. They do a lot of weddings. There also large imposing photos of dogs and babies are displayed in the window. I am sure that it’s just the right size for a photography studio.
Rossbeg (sometimes spelt Rosbeg) is a tiny townland on the west coast of Donegal, just south of Portnua and Nairn. There is a pier and a scattering of houses, some are modern, but many are old cottages, probably used as holiday lets. The day we visited the weather was calm and sunny. It was just perfect.
Oiláan Na Marbh is a poignant island on the edge of the land in Donegal. It is inaccessible at high tide. Both beautiful and very sad. For it was on this island that over 500 stillborn and unbaptised babies were burried between the time of the Great Famine in the 1840s, and 1912.