A few of my paintings with be showing at the #BrynmillCoffeeHouse over the festive period. The people at the Coffee House have weathered a bit of misfortune recently, their very large beautiful plate window at the front was broken by a thief who made off with two small charity boxes. They stayed open and cheerful throughout the disruption and a new window is in place. You will notice from the photos that I was able to return and add a third painting in (hence the change of clothes).
Wednesday morning with was bright and crisp. I decided to the cold blue sky and bright autumn sunlight was similar to the conditions in which the original series of the “Hollowed Community” paintings were created. I want to compare the empty almost desolate streets of August with the very crowded ones of early November.
The children are back at school and students have returned in even greater numbers than ever. The number have supposedly increased by 20% and there certainly seems to be more noise at night times and cars in the day time.
In 2015/2016 there were approximately 21,800 at Swansea University and Trinity St David’s Swansea Campus, including 18,340 full time students. When many HMO (Houses of Multiple Occupation) houses have up to 6 students living in them (some of the very big HMOs on Bryn Road have 12 residents) and some streets have over 70% HMO housing, the streets get VERY crowded. Students are supposedly discouraged from bringing their cars to Swansea but about 25% don’t live in the city and drive in from the surrounding areas. There are now two campuses for Swansea University, one on our doorstep in Singleton and the other new campus, the Bay Campus is five miles to the east of the city in in an area that used to be known as Crymlyn Burrows (Burrows means “Dunes”). So students live in Brynmill and Uplands for the social scene and drive to the Bay Campus.
Many of the long standing residents of Brynmill report that they have “never known the parking situation to be as bad as it is now”. Its not just the student but also lecturers and research staff looking for free parking on the residential streets. The University has only a limited number of parking spaces on campus that fill very quickly in the morning. There is parking on “The Rec” on Oystermouth Road but that has recently put up its parking fees so you find students and staff will jammed their cars onto the corners of narrow streets rather than pay the fee. All this is compounded by the loss of paper parking permits so that residents do not know whose cars are entitled to park in residents bays.
My photographic project is called “Crowded Community” to contrast it with the summer paintings. I take my tour and find cars where I didn’t realise they would be, down the back lanes.
Parking on the pavement was a surprisingly common too.
Or on double yellow lines
On some roads I found it difficult to find a space to take a photograph from.
Its not total “carmageddon” as such, has in other places there are spaces in the residents parking zones or on the forbidden zones like double yellow lines and bus stops.
Bus Stop (back of Brynmill Launderette)
And finally, a shot with no cars just a woman with a pram – but it is double yellow lines along here.
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.
Cardiff is a city that embraces change and it embraces art. Everywhere you go massive murals are tucked into corners, whether in the city centre or in the terraces of Roath. It gives the city a great feeling of vibrancy.
Not all of the street art was official. Back lanes off City Road were also full of graffiti, which was apparently “tolerated” by the local police (according to a rather shy and sweet graffiti artist who was in the midst of creating a wonderful 6 foot blue skull).
Cutting through a tiny urban park and play area we come across the Plasnewydd Community Garden, which is located on poetic-sounding Shakespeare Street. As you can see from the photos, the sun was out. Which was particularly pleasant as we are in the misdt of a lot of grey and damp autumnal weather in Wales at the moment. There we paused to look in on Tessa Waite and her “Tea Encounter”. We had not arranged for an actual “encounter” but we visited her gazebo. The atmosphere inside was wonderfully calm. Tessa, from Brecon, is a Budhist and she radiated a lot of calm herself. We stood for quite a while listening to the sounds of the breeze and the shouts of the children playing outside.
Then we finally made it to Inkspot Centre for the official opening. There had been a children’s parade through Roath with a whole lot of colourful flags designed by local schools and community groups. This flags had been printed by James Cook who was valiantly hanging them across the hall, with children thundering around at the foot of his stepladder! A massive indoor picnic was taking place with music and singing (and a harpist). We spent a good hour or so downstairs chatting with the friendly ceramic students who demonstrating their clay working techniques.
The festival ends this Sunday and its well worth a visit.
On Saturday we traveled to Cardiff on the train carrying several large bags of carefully wrapped paintings. I had been feeling tired and anxious about driving there so we decided to go by train instead. Over a decade ago I started having panic attacks on the motorway and despite hypnosis and therapy, I still cannot face the thought of driving on motorways. Or even the thought of accidentally ending up on an motorway, which is what happened when I had my first panic attack in Port Talbot. It’s worse when I am tired. So Seamas (my husband and fellow artist) and I, traveled by public transport.
Seamas arranged the paintings across the 3 windows and they looked even brighter than usual in the slight gloom of the hall. My paintings shared the upstairs hall with Charlotte Formosa’s “Fluro” exhibition. Her duo of very large paintings and decorated objects were a riot of luminous colours, textures and materials.
Poet Lucy Corbett had an exhibition called “poetry in a Bottle”. Her poems were bitter-sweet and thought provoking. She explained to me that she wanted to make poetry as ubiquitous as the advertising slogans we are bombarded with everyday. The idea being that people would take away the poems (not the bottles) and pass them on to others. I liked the ideas of the poems in bottles, as they reminded me of messages or distress calls launched by strangers from afar.
Three Cardiff ceramics students were also exhibiting their works upstairs in in the hall and in the stairwell. Their works were very distinctive and rather beautiful.
Downstairs was the intricate and fascinating work of Sheila Vyas. I could have looked at her mixed media work for hours. It was very powerful and emotional work. She also had the most gorgeous little dog with her that I wanted to take home with me!
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.
We took the train down to Cardiff on Friday to look at the venue for my “Gafnu Cymuned: Hollowed Community” exhibition in the
madeinroath 2017 festival. It was great to visit Cardiff again. I used did my degree and PhD in Cardiff in the 1990s and I used to know the areas close to the university, Roath and Cathays, very well.
The city has changed massively in the last 20 or so years. It has become more European, in its feel. The centre is full of massive shops and eateries. Around the edges of the main shopping district was full of building work, where lots of purpose-built student accommodation was being put up.
My exhibition will be in the Inkspot Art Centre, off Newport Road. I have the wall by the windows on the right hand side and a hall with a beautiful Victorian wooden ceiling. The Festival runs from Sunday 15th to 22nd October 2017.
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.
In my last post I decribed visiting the abandoned fishing village of An Port tucked away in a remote corner of the Donegal shoreline (read it here). We were inspired to seek out this very remote spot by American artist Rockwell Kent, who visited and painted the area in the 1920s. I was waiting for […]
An Port has loomed large in my imagination for a long time. It’s very remote and quite difficult to get to. To reach it, you have to drive down a very, very long single track road (it’s about three miles but it feels longer) on the way to Glencolmcille. There are plenty of sheep and […]
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.