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Park Fish Bar: The Story of two Paintings

This post has been prompted by the response & comments I got on Instagram when I posted a photo of a painting I had reworked.

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Park Fish Bar 2015 version

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 workedThe 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. 

Swansea painting
Park Fish Bar 2019 Version

(SOLD)

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!

 

 

 

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Hollowed Community Project

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.

Emma Cownie

  • Urban Minimal

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

No cars

No People

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.

 

Urban Miminal Series.jpg

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We need more painted houses

Elm Street
Elm Street, Cardiff

I hate pebble dash. It is boring and beige. Wales has far too many pebble-dashed houses.  If are not familiar with the phenomenon its a “coarse plaster surface used on outside walls that consists of lime and sometimes cement mixed with sand, small gravel, and often pebbles”. Its a way of tarting up the outside of a house. I guess its cheaper than having the bricks re-pointed because it seems to stay that horrible porridge colour for ever. Welsh terraces in the towns and valleys are full of these dull fronted houses. I much prefer red brick. Or painted. Many of my houses for the “Hollowed Community” exhibition were red brick or painted interesting colours.

In Ireland it seems that all the Victorian terrace houses and cottages are painted in bright colours. (See photos of Cobh Harbour above )

Having a brightly painted house is a gift to the community. It does not matter if your house is a grand detached house with a sea view or a humble terrace, it is cheering to behold. When a whole street does it, it becomes a cause for celebration and art!

The Yellow House
The Yellow House (Swansea)

 

The Purple House
The Purple House (Cardiff)

 

 

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Setting up at Inkspot in Cardiff

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.

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Lucy Corbett’s Exhibition

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.

 

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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!

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Shiela Vyas (in red)  with her fab dog

 

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Detail from one of Shiela Vyas’s pieces

 

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Exhibition Catalogue

MiR2017-BrochureA5pgs-Final-web.pdf - Google Chrome 01102017 101302

I am offering a free PDF to download of my exhibition catalogue when you join my mailing list. The form pops up when you are on this blog page .

 

 

 

 

 

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Brynmill Primary School

Brynmill Primary School
Brynmill Junior School

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.

Pre 1920s Brynmill School
pre-1920 Brynmill School (from Graham William’s personal collection)

 

 

*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.

 

 

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Flat Capped Man – prints

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Flat Capped Man

Flat capped man is based on a old boy I saw in Carmarthen town last December. The long rays of the winter sunlight lit up his face and ears as he passed me in his good quality overcoat. He was on his own and has the look of a farmer.

This is now available as a limited edition mounted print.

The price includes free worldwide shipping.

 

i. Small (17 x 12 cm print only)  with mount 23 x 18 cm (mount 9 x 7 inches) Normal Price = £20

 

ii. Regular (29 x 20 cm print only) with mount 40 x 30 cm Normal Price = £30

 

Small Print £20

Print #1
Small Print of Flat Capped Man

 

Regular Print £30

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Regular Size Print of Flat Capped Man

 

 

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Going up in the world (the rise of Metroland)

Light Shadow
Light Shadow
If you walk north of Brynmill, you start to go up in the world. The surburbs of Ffynone, Uplands and Sketty are perched on one of Swansea many hills. The houses that were built here after the First World War are big and spacious. Swansea, like the rest of the UK, experienced a house-building boom in the late 1920s and the 1930s. This put home ownership within the reach of many for the first time. Now families with modest means could see their aspirations realised in bricks. 
Some edgy flat roofed Art Deco houses were built. Much more popular, were detached and semi-detached mock Tudor styles with  front and rear gardens. Their interiors had to be fashionable. Art Deco fireplaces were everywhere. Electricity was also installed. That way, the family’s maid could use new domestic inventions like the wireless and vacuum cleaner. They were light, clean family homes that were both practical and elegant. This was suburban splendour.
This was the chic of “Metroland”. This so-called”Metroland” or “Metro-land” was the name given to the suburbs of north-west of London that was served by the Metropolitan Railway (The Met). The term “Metro-land” was coined by the Met’s marketing department in 1915 when the Guide to the Extension Line became the Metro-land guide. It promoted a dream of a modern home in beautiful countryside with a fast railway service to central London. The Metroland style was self-consciously rustic. It was a peaceful Eden that harked back to a Shakespearean “golden age” of England. It was a style that was adopted by builders wanting to appeal to the professional classes of Wales too. 
Welcoming Gate
The Welcoming Gate

Metroland was part of popular culture of the 1920 and 1930s. There were several songs about Metroland. Evelyn Waugh had a character Lady Metroland who appeared in several of his books (“Decline and Fall”, “Vile Bodies” and “A Handful of Dust”).  Poet John Betjeman, wrote poems about Metroland. He even made a celebrated documentary for BBC Television,  called Metro-land, in 1973.

 

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Getting ready for madeinroath 2017

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Roath Street Art

We took the train down to Cardiff on Friday to look at the venue for my “Gafnu Cymuned: Hollowed Community” exhibition in the

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Outside Inkspot, Cardiff

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.

MiR2017-BrochureA5pgs-Final-web.pdf - Google Chrome 01102017 101302
MiR  brochure

MiR2017-BrochureA5pgs-Final-web

Link to madeinroath 2017 Festival Page