This is an old post. I now only sell prints via Artmajuer.com here
Flat capped man is based on an 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.
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.
Old time house buying
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.
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.
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.
Here is a view of the length of Bernard Street from the South end, looking towards Uplands. It was quite hard to paint as I felt that I was trying to capture an absence. The light cuts across an empty road. When I saw this scene late on a Sunday evening in August I was struck by this emptiness, absence. No people. No cars, anywhere along its length.
Usually there are are cars outside the convenience store half way along the road, but it was closed. In term time the road is crammed with cars belonging to students, some who live in the streets that branch off from Bernard Street, some are parents dropping their children off at the local schools, some are passing tradespeople, many more are students attending lectures on the Singleton Campus. Yet, on this summer evening there was no one. It was like a ghost town. This one image, more than any sums up the transient community that Brynmill has become. It has become an unsustainable community. A community without families, especially those with children is a dying community.
Brynmill and Uplands suffer from the fact that the majority of students are absent for about 4 months each year. The situation has parallels with that in North Wales and Cornwall, where holiday homes mean areas are practically deserted in the winter. This has resulted in businesses closing due to a lack of all year custom and for the same reason has led to closures of libraries, schools and GP practices. Here, and in Uplands many shops and businesses have closed and have been taken over by bars and coffee shops. Are the losses of our library, post offices, banks and local businesses due to the lack of all year trade?
In Brynmill there are no banks, post offices, libraries, swimming pools or leisure centre. The Victorian swimming baths opposite Victoria Park were pulled down years ago. The public toilets were also destroyed (the week before the preservation order was to come in place). We have two junior schools but few of the children live locally. You see children walking to school but that’s only because their parents have parked in places like Bernard Street and walk them to school. The pollution caused by all this additional traffic has a negative effect on the environment and people’s health. Yes, we do still have a chip shop, a pub, a coffee house, a community centre, a bread shop, a convenience store, a launderette and a DIY store. But for how much longer? Its difficult to sustain a business on 8 months’ trade. It was probably a large part of the reason why The Cricketer’s pub closed down.
Yet, Brynmill has so much to offer. It has two fantastic parks; Singleton and Brynmill. There is a university on our doorstep. It is 5-10 minutes walking distance from the seafront. There are several well attended churches. I love the sea air. It is mild here. We rarely have frosts. It has a Bohemian feel to the place. As an artist, I don’t think I would thrive in suburbia where people would expect you to be neat and tidy. I am not neat and tidy. I love the hilly, terraces and the mix of people. People are friendly. You can start a conversation with anyone in a shop and they talk back as if they know you.
I want this community to live and to thrive, not to become a hollowed out dead place full of strangers who know nothing about the area. This project has been part of that. I have asked questions and have found out about the people who were born and grew up here. I walked up and down streets and back lanes. Again and again, trying to catch the shadows at different times of the day. Morning is my favourite time. I have counted the number of houses that no longer have lounges with sofas at the front of the house but rather desks and beds for students. The official figures are wrong. There are many more student houses (HMO) that are on the council register.
This has become an unbalanced and unsustainable community. The Local council and Welsh assembly are ignoring the problem. Chasing short-term profit at the expense of people’s lives and the local economy. I have seen the place where I have lived for 18 years in a different light and I have only scratched the surface. I want to keep digging.
I think that I have enough paintings for my “Hollowed Community” Project, for the time being. So now I am walking further afield to find new subjects. I walked up hill to Sketty, parts of which have fantastic views across Swansea Bay. I loved this large white house on the corner of a quiet street, Grosvenor Road, because I think there is some of the “sea-side” light on this building although it’s further inland and Brynmill, where I live.
Nothing sums up my Gafnu Cymuned:Hollowed Community project more than the sight of The Cricketers public house now shut and boarded up. It is just across the road from the St Helens Rugby and Cricket ground where sport has been played for over 140 years. On 19 June 1928 the ground was the venue of a mile race, for Swansea Grammar School’s Sports Day, won by a teenage Dylan Thomas; he carried a newspaper photograph of his victory with him until his death. Seven years later, Swansea RFC defeated the New Zealand 11-3 at St Helen’s, becoming the first club side to beat the All Blacks.
A famous cricketer, Gary Sobers, once hit six sixes in a row, in one over, during a cricket match in the nearby St Helens cricket ground in 1968. The final ball of the six sixes supposedly sailed through the air and crashed through the window of the Cricketers pub. In later years this great sporting feat was commemorated with a cricket ball drawn in the window that the ball supposedly crashed through all those years ago.
Sadly, an important piece of local and international history, has been bulldozed by the march of Swansea University. Now this window is boarded up and like much local history rubbed out by the advancement of student houses (HMOs) and the student ghettoisation of Brynmill and Uplands. Its rather curious, that despite being surrounded by students in Bryn Road and King Edwards Road, that this pub was not a viable business. A rather telling piece of evidence against those who always claim that more students bring more money to the city. They didn’t bring enough money to this local business.
Recently, stories have appeared in the local press claiming that discarded needles have been found around the back of the pub. These claims have been fiercely rejected by locals who see the newspaper reports as fake news planted by the developers, in order to strengthen their case for another massive HMO. I don’t think Dylan Thomas would have approved of the passing of this historic pub.
Long before I came to Swansea in 1998, there used to be a corner shop and a post office, side by side on Marlborough Road. There were both there in 1986. There is a photo to prove it (see below). The Corner shop had gone by 1998. The building was completely renovated; the large side window on Bernard Street was blocked up, the upstairs windows made smaller, the front door was moved and the shop window removed and replaced with modern uPVC double glazing. The front of the building was pebble-dashed. The chimney was removed, presumably when the new roof was added.
I do remember the post office. It was still open when we moved to Waterloo Place in 2000 – I remember queuing to buy stamps and posted my Christmas parcels there. Soon after, the government decided that there were too many Post Offices, and although people said that the elderly would struggle to walk the half a mile to the Uplands, to pick up their pensions, it was closed in 2003.
The red pillar box remains. The only clue to the former identity of one of these nondescript houses. The other clue is the lack of a boundary wall at the front of the former shop. Just an apron of grey concrete. They are both student houses now. There is still a “for let” sign in the window of the former shop. They sit in a street which is well over 50% student houses.
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.
The schools have gone back. Unusually its raining. When I was teaching, the first weeks of term usually would enjoy an Indian Summer. It made the pain of returning to work after the long break a little easier. Not this year. The students are returning. Term does not start for another month but quite a few students have been here over the summer.
The roads are starting to fill up with cars. The empty kerbs are vanishing. The stretch of road in this painting is often packed with cars on both sides. The local bus struggles round this bend and down the hill towards the viewer. The shadow to the far right is that of a rather tatty old coach house which has suddenly been converted into student accommodation over the summer. The Rhyddings pub is perched at the top of the hill.
In term time at the start and end of each school day a “lollypop lady” ushers the junior school children and their families across this stretch of road. She does her job well. She gives motorists a very fierce look as she steps out into the road with her stop sign. She says hello to all the children as they cross. I have not seen her for weeks. Today must be her first day back at work too.
It all looks so peaceful but recent events in North Korea remind me not to take peace for granted. During the Second World War, air raids killed several Brynmill people and damaged homes in the area. In September 1940, Brynmill had a lucky escape. A single plane dropped 3 High Explosive bombs over Brynmill just before 9.00pm. One failed to explode and there was slight damage to Langland Terrace but no casualties.
In the following year, in February 1941 was what is commonly referred to as ‘The Three Nights’ Blitz’ took place. It lasted for nearly 14 hours, killed 230 people, injured another 397, wiped out entire streets of residential houses, made 7,000 people homeless and left the town centre of Swansea a terrifying inferno of total destruction. Some bombs fell on Brynmill too. The glow of the fires could be seen as far as Devon, and the west part of Wales in Pembrokeshire. My grandfather, who lived in Cardiff with my grandmother and mother, came to Swansea to help with the aftermath. Surprisingly, some of Swansea’s oldest buildings, the Castle, Swansea Museum, the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery survived but the town’s commercial heart was razed, with the Ben Evans store, which seemed to have supplied everyone with everything for upward of fifty years, was flattened.
I think that Swansea people think that the blitz only affected the town centre and the docks. The last raid on Swansea was two years later on the sixteenth of February nineteen forty-three. The Germans called the raid “Operation Wasservogal”. It started at nine-thirty in the evening and the target was the docks. A German bomber, possibly getting rid of its last bombs before it returned to Europe, dropped a bomb that fell on 24 Park Place and killed Elizabeth Fabian and Selina Mogridge outright. Selina’s 24-year old daughter, Hilda, later died of her injuries at Cefn Coed Hospital, just under 2 miles away in Cockett.
Thankfully, the Luftwaffe never came again. Later in the war, in spring of 1944 1,566 American troops were stationed in hundreds of tents at Camp X3 in Singleton Park in preparation for the D-Day landings. The officers, apparently, were stationed in Mumbles. The Americans were using Gower’s sandy beaches backed by cliffs to train for the D-Day landings on similar terrain in Normandy. Jim Owens has collected many stories about the GIs in Swansea in 1944. The local kids clearly thought they were both glamorous and generous.
If I remember rightly, there used to be photos of Prime Minister Winston Churchill visiting Swansea after the blitz in the Rhyddings pub.
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.
I have recently been spending time with my parents in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire. On a bright sunny Sunday morning I explored some of the winding tracks of a near by village called Chalford and Chalford Hill. Where is that? In the South West-ish of the English Midlands ( see map below). The Parish of […]
I was absolutely delighted to spot Claire Keegan’s “Foster” (and my painting on the cover) at the BBC’s screen of this year’s British Academy Film Awards, known as the BAFTAs. The Irish language film “The Quiet Girl” was nominated for Best Screenplay (Adapted) catagory. The film’s director Colm Bairead wrote the screenplay, adapted Claire Keegan’s beautiful novella. The moving film was also nominated for the Best Film Not in the English Language.
I am very excited to have an article in today’s Irish Independent on Sunday about me and work by Niall McMonagle. Below is my expanded Q & A interview that was much edited to feature in Niall McMonagle’s What Lies Beneath feature . It’s interesting to see that the online version had a different […]
New Work & Recent Sales
Washing Line, Arranmore _Emma Cownie
Inishcoo (To The Fore of Arranmore) – Emma Cownie
Kinnagoe Bay (Inishowen, Dongal)
Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Still, On Gola (Donegal)
An Port, Donegal_Emma Cownie
House on Ishcoo, Donegal-Emma Cownie
On Rutland Island, Donegal -Emma Cownie
Spring on THree Cliffs Bay, Gower_Emma Cownie
Sun on the Reeds (Glentornan, Donegal)-Emma Cownie
View from the Pier (Portnoo)-Emma Cownie
From Port to Glenlough (Donegal)
Fishing Boat at Port Donegal-Emma Cownie
Portnoo Pier, Donegal_Emma Cownie
Down to Rossbeg Pier, Donegal
Errigal reflection (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal from Cruit Island. Donegal _ Emma Cownie
Over to Fanad Lighhouse (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal painting – A Commission 2022
From Arranmore (Donegal)- Emma Cownie
Abanoned (Glentornan, Donegal) -Emma Cownie
Ferry Home (Arranmore, Donegal) by Emma Cownie
Summer Morning on Pobbles Bay
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle)
Down to Doagh Strand (Donegal)-Emma Cownie
Lambing Season at Fanad Head
Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Down to the Rusty Nail
Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie
Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen
The Walls of Derry
Painting of Derry City
Derry Walls by Emma Cownie
Shipquay Gate by Emma Cownie
Over to Owey Island (Keadue) Donegal
Lighting the way to Arranmore
Old Stone Cottage in front of Errigal (Donegal
Boat at the Pier, Gola
House on Inishbofin, with distant Seven Sisters (in studio)