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The Sight, Smells and Sound of Art

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Abertawe 2021 Bloc (Outside Swansea Train station)

Back to Cardiff again to see some more art and collect my paintings from the madeinroath festival.

The madeinroath 2017 festival has Art has installations/happenings across almost 80 different locations across the suburb of Roath, Cardiff.  The wonderful thing is that it’s all free to visit. The weather was grey with a cold biting wind. The day before Storm Brian had lashed the streets with rain and all the outdoor events had been cancelled. Seamas and I meandered down the streets of Roath to the “Old Laundry” which was in a ramshackle  courtyard tucked away at the end of of a dead end street.

The first installation was that of Tanya Dower called “Thrill Seeking, Dirty”. The photo only captures a tenth was it was like. The installation filled two small rooms. The air of neglect was palpable. Firstly there was this thumbing, squealing, soundscape which reminded me of  a playful crazy version of BBC Radiophonic Workshop  noise.  There were a series of black and white photos of an industrial landscape and fragments of charred rubbish laid out on the floor but most importantly was the stink. Oh the smell. It repelled some people at the door. I initially thought it was incense being burnt to cover the smell of damp. Tanya and the festival volunteer with her spoke to us enthusiastically about the installation. It turned out that Tanya had “designed” this smell to comprise wood smoke, coal and urine. The whole installation had been inspired by her youth spent playing in the ruins of abandoned pithead building in Merthyr Tydfil.

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Me trying to work out what the smell is!

Upstairs there were several rooms with exhibitions/installations. Seamas found Lynette Margerison’s huge charcoal drawings  very moving.

I was fascinated by Ian Watson’s sound installation  “A Complex and Increasingly Important Announcement from an Extremely Limited Vocabulary”. The row of mini  solar panels drew their energy from the sun (what there was of it that afternoon) and produced a layers of clicks, drones and tones that oscillated and wavered. Ian generous spent time explaining to me and Seamas me how the solar panels generated the sound and how he adjusted the layers of noise.

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Inkspot Centre.

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Flags and my exhibition upstairs in the Inkspot

I finally found out the names of the third year ceramics students we had chatted to last Sunday evening (Morgan Dowdell, Lucy Fielden, Marek Liska and Magda Strydon). They had also added to their work on display in the hall.  Just to warn you that Morgan’s work (at the bottom of these photos) (which is excellent) is also very explicit so look away now if you are of a sensitive nature!

 

I really enjoyed being part of this arts festival and I wish I could have seen more of the art across Roath.  I think you would have to stay in Cardiff for the whole week to explore and to get a good sense of the breadth of what was going on here. There’s always next year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cardiff Festival launch

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.

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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.

 

 

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English Corner

English Corner
English Corner

I love Victorian tin chapels. Maybe it’s because a playgroup I went to as a child in Hereford was held in one. I think that one was painted dark green. It was near the racecourse.

This tin building is at the crest of the hill, on Rhyddings Park Road. The corrugated iron is painted cream. It is jammed in by the side of the much larger and grander Argyle and Rhyddings Park Presbyterian Church.

The tin chapel is a friendly and welcoming building. The painted blue door always seems to be open. Playgroups meet here. I often see people with small infants coming and going.

There is a banner hanging above the door advertising “English Corner” for visitors to come and practice their English. This Welsh church has clearly gone out of their way to welcome international students and immigrants. I knew nothing about this community until I looked at their website and discovered that the church has been led by two energetic and thoughtful overseas mission workers, Charles and Molly Chua ,from Singapore for the past 11 years.

English Corner was set up by Charles and Molly after they found two lost Chinese students wondering the streets of Swansea. Charles and Molly took the two students to a Chinese shop and then drove them home. Over a cup of tea, the students pleaded: ‘we need someone to help us with our English!’ So they did something. The church set up weekly English classes on Friday evenings, and “English Corner’ grew rapidly, from 9 to 29 Chinese students in 3 weeks. Now 50-60 students regularly attend. It has since grown to become an international community linked with the Universities and Language Schools in Swansea. This proactive and positive work has had many benefits for the local community, students and new residents as well for the church which has a diverse congregation of Welsh and Chinese, Asians, Europeans and Africans worshipers.

So this unassuming little tin building holds a strong and vibrant community.  I like that.

Find out more about Argyle and Rhyddlings Park Church

 

 

 

 

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The Former Grocers

People remember Edward VII. He is in History books and TV programmes. In Brynmill there is a road named after him.  Kings Edward’s Road was once part of Gorse Lane, the narrow road that runs along side Patti Pavillion and St Helen’s Rugby and Cricket Ground that has been there since the 1870s. The street had its name changed in 1904, in honour of the new-ish king Edward VII, known to his family as Bertie.

On 20th July 1904, Bertie came to visit Swansea. He arrived in the royal yacht “The Victoria and Albert” and “cut the first sod” of the new King’s Dock named in his honour. Thousands turned out to see Bertie and his Danish wife, Alexandra, drive through the streets of Swansea in an open-topped carriage. They also traveled up and down on the Mumbles railway in a specially decorated carriage.

Ordinary people liked Bertie. He had the common touch. He had been Prince of Wales for many, many years before his mother, Queen Victoria, died in 1901. He had spent many of these years drinking, gambling and womanising, but when he became king, he proved to be a popular king.

When I first moved to Swansea in 1998 to do my teacher training course, I used to walk around the area, exploring. My friend bought a house at the top of Rhyddings Park Road. She later moved to Sketty and now rents the house out to a PhD student and his family. Rhyddings Park Road had very few student houses in 1998 many three or four. It’s all changed now.  There are 40 students on Rhyddings Park Road.

King Edwards’s Road is over 52% students houses (that’s about 90 of them). It feels like more. Its a rather soulless street now. The large pub on the corner is closed. The grocers on the opposite side of the road is gone.  The house in the painting isn’t very pretty. Covered in ugly pebble-dashing.  I can’t remember if it had pebble-dash on it in 1998.

I remember going into the shop and admiring its wooden floors. It was light and airy. However, grief haunted that shop, like a heavy pall. I never forgot it. The old grocer sat, silently next to his till, starring into to space. There were not many vegetables in the shop but there were some green apples. On a piece of folded paper on the counter there was a colour photograph of a cheerful old lady wearing glasses. In wobbly old fashioned hand writing, next to the photograph was the statement “SMOKING KILLED MY LOVELY WIFE”.

It was heart-breaking. I didn’t know what to say to the grocer. So I just asked for a few apples. He put them in a brown paper bag and I paid for them.  Later I saw that the notice had been placed in the window. Then the shop closed. I suppose the grocer died or went into a home. He didn’t look like he’d go into a home. Now, it is a characterless house. The shop front was changed, the windows were made smaller. Maybe, the pinkish pebble-dash was added to the house then.  It’s a personal history lost.

I suppose that’s one of the distressing aspects of this transient community, no-one remembers. We are just here for a year. Passing Through. No point investing time or energy here. All is forgotten and something very important is lost. I don’t know what the grocer’s name was, but I still remember him.

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Former Grocers, King Edward’s Road, Brynmill, Swansea.

 

 

 

 

 

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And the winner is…..

DSC_1103The staff at Brynmill Coffee House have been working really hard at selling tickets for the draw to raise money for Tender Heart Foundation. They sold £38 pounds worth of tickets for the NGO charity which works the poor, mostly Dalit people (untouchable caste) in  Goa and Kanateka in India.

Rhia, who took a break from serving bacon bagels for 5 minutes, to help me tear all the raffle tickets from the book. First we jammed them in a cup but that didn’t seem right. There wasn’t enough room to rummaged around properly. So then Rhia got a large mixing bowl from the kitchen so the tickets had more room to move around in. So after mixing up the ticket I pulled out one that belong to Matthew Rees. So well, done Matthew!

 

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“Cymricana” – Sunshine and Puddles

 

Sizzlers
Sizzlers

This painting of a burger van I spotted in Wickes’s (DIY Store) carpark in Swansea is part of my “urban minimal” series. I have been influenced by the treatment of light and colour by American realist painters such as Edward Hopper, Jim Holland, John Register, Frank Hobbs as well as by Contemporary minimalists such as Christopher Benson, Leah Giberson, Tom McKinley, Jessica Brilli and Emmett Kerrigan. I aim to bring an American sensibility to a Welsh urban landscape – I half-jokingly call this sensibility “Cymricana” – like Americana only Welsh. Instead of sunshine in a NY diner, its sunshine on burger van surrounded by puddles in a Wickes’ carpark.

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The Rhyddings, Brynmill, Swansea.

 

 

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“The Rhyddings” 33x 41 cm

 

The magnificent red brick building at the end of our road used to be called the Rhyddings Hotel but in recent years has recently rebranded itself as “The Rhyddings at Swansea”. I have always admired it’s generously arched windows which look out north and west from the bar and the lounge bar.

Local legend has it that it used to be a coaching house. Presumably, the current building was constructed in the late Victorian period, as it is built from similar red brick to that of the Brynmill Junior School which was built in 1986.

Writer Kingsley Amis (of “Lucky Jim” fame as and father of Martin Amis)  later drank here in the late 1940s when it was run by ex-professional footballer Jack Fowler. I was would amazed if Dylan Thomas hadn’t drunk here too but I have yet to come across a reference to him doing so. He is known to have been keen on the Uplands Tavern and the pubs in Mumbles.

For some reason, locals use an Anglicised pronunciation of the name “Rhyddings” (with a hard “d” sound instead of the soft “f” sound that would be used in Welsh pronunciation. Perhaps this is simply a sign that Swansea is a very Anglicised town and sadly, Welsh is not often heard here. Medieval Swansea had an English community and much later the English from Devon and Cornwall came here in the 18th and 19th centuries came to work in the copper and tinplate industries.

The white building on the opposite corner to the Rhyddings is the Park Fish Bar which claims to be the oldest fish and chip shop in Swansea (running since 1974 since you ask). It is unusual to see the road outside The Rhyddings pub empty. There are usually cars parked there. The absence of cars illustrates how the community of Brynmill has been hollowed out by an imbalance of student houses. In many streets in this area, 80%-90% of houses are empty in the summer.  It makes for an eerily quiet summer. It’s like a ghost town. It’s very sad.

The imbalance also affects local businesses. Not only because the area is very empty in the summer months but even when they are here students tend not to drink in the local pub or eat chips from the chip shop. They drink at home and order their food from Adsa & Tescos or have takeaways delivered by some poor Deliveroo rider who struggled up the steep Swansea hills to deliver their food. Some do, of course, but Jeff, who used to run the Park Fish Bar, used to tell me tales of the days before the student houses swamped the area when families regularly bought fish, chips, and pizzas from his shop and the queue reached out the door and around the corner.  This is a shame as students undoubtedly bring youth and energy to the area but when there is such an imbalance it no longer feels like a healthy and varied community but instead some sort of annexe to the University Campus.

Note: Not to be confused with Rhyddings House, which is at the corner of Bernard Street and St Albans Road. I’ll be coming to that ghost of a house next.

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Bernard Street, Brynmill

“Urban minimal” paintings of Swansea 

 

Bernard Street
Bernard Street

 

Swansea is full of hills. It’s why there are so many great views in this town. It helps keep you fit. We live on top of a hill that -gave its name to the area – Brynmill (Lit. “Mill Hill” in Welsh).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernard Street is a long tree-lined avenue that “hangs” between two hills. It leads from the uplands of busy Gower Road down a long slope past a small parade of shops and then uphill again to St Albans Road, which runs parallel to the north side of the ridge of Brynmill.  This land was once part of the grounds of a country mansion called “Pantygwdyr”  (Lit. “Stream of Glass” in Welsh) that longer exists, that was once owned by a John Richardson, a ship owner.

Bernard was, apparently, a family name that was given to this street that was built around the turn of the 19th century. The north end of Bernard Street is lined with elegant large Edwardian red brick houses.  It is one of the red-brick houses I have painted. I love the fiery colour of the hard brick. Not at all like modern bricks. These are smooth edged and a reddish orange.

I also love the trees on this road. They are periodically pruned so that the branches are reduced to stumps but they always burst forth with verdant abundance in the spring. It hard to be minimal with such lush greenery! It is usually rare to find parking spaces at this end of the street. The summer and the absent students have left gaps. The shadow of the house opposite, encroaches into the sunny scene, possibly a hint of something ominous.

More on Brynmill

© Emma Cownie 2017

 

 

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Worms Head Gower

Oil painting Worms Head Gower
Kitchen Corner Boat House, Rhossili, Gower (SOLD)

We have lived on the doorstep of the Gower Peninsula for almost 18 years now. It’s small enough (19 miles in length) to make day trips from Swansea possible. As a landscape artist, it has given me inspiration for many Gower landscape and seascape paintings over the years. Yet, there is always some part I come across that I don’t remember having seen before.  It is 70 square miles in area, so that’s a lot of coastline, hills, valleys, woodlands, streams and fields to explore. I have always wanted to walk along the entire length of the coastal path, to see all the “linking sections” that we miss on the day trips. Perhaps, I will do it this summer.

Rhossili is always popular with visitors. It has an incredible view of the 3-mile beach of Rhossili Bay that arcs northward. In the other direction is Worms Head. This curious dragon-like, tidal island snakes off into the sea. I have seen seals on the leeward side of the island. At low-tide, the causeway can be crossed to the island. When we visited the tide was dropping and the causeway was revealing itself minute, by minute. Yet, the surprise for me was the Old Boathouse at Kitchen Corner. Kitchen Corner is a small bay to the right of the path that leads down to the Worm’s Head causeway. The boathouse was built in the 1920s and was up for sale in 2013. Looking at the real estate details, it doesn’t look like the new owners (if it was sold then) have painted the boathouse since! At low tide, the rocks below are exposed. I painted it when the green heaving sea was still at its feet.  I love to capture the deep green that you only see with a summer sky. It’s a distinct colour that is often found off the coast of West Wales, in Pembrokeshire in particular. I use a lot of turquoise and royal blue to try and recreate the tone in my oil painting. There were also fishermen on the ledges opposite the boathouse.

Buy limited edition prints here 

 

 

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Troublemakers’ Festival Swansea 2017

 

 

I wish it could go on for another day…..

We visited the #Troublemakers’ Festival at High Street Swansea yesterday afternoon. The unrelenting drizzle did not damped the smiles and the good humour of the volunteers.  Indoors at Volcano there was plenty of protest-poster making, poetry, song and cake. Upstairs at the Elysium Galleries local artists gave tours of their work places. We marvelled at the order of Eifion Sven-Mayer’s space (as well as his talent as an artist) and he was very generous with his time, as was Tansy Rees and Konstantinos Grigoriades. There are many, many very talented people in Swansea.

 

Sunday, it was a lot drier, thankfully. I spent the morning volunteering at the “Unfair Funfair” – a Swansea Oxfam initiative to highlight the benefits of Fair Trade. I loved the way how the children pitched right in and played, despite the fact that they realised quite soon on that all the games were fixed and they could not “win” any of them!!! Happily there were no complaints and some chocolate and stickers distributed. I enjoyed the festival as a visitor yesterday, but it was much more fun as a volunteer, as I got to interact with so many more people; the toddlers who keen to try to knock over the cans on “Tin Can’t Alley”, the teenagers who had come to use the skate board ramps and the adults, some passing on their way to train station, others who had come for the art and theatre.  Mark Stephenson’s #Tag my ride was another popular attraction. Looking forward to #TroubleMakers’ 2018!