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Christmas shows (1 of 2)

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).

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Glynn Vivian Open Exhibition

Delighted to say that these two paintings “Glanmor Glamour” and “Round the Bend” have both been selected to the part of the Swansea Open exhibition in December at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery! Very proud to have my work showing in such a great gallery.

Glamor Glamour
Glamor Glamour
Round the Bend
Round the Bend (Oil on Linen Canvas, 55 x 46 cm unframed) 

 

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Twilight

Dusk on Kemble Street
Dusk on Kemble Street 24x30cm

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.

Evening on Brynmill Ave
Evening on Brynmill Avenue 48 x 38 cm

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lights! Action!

imagesWe are two artists in this household. My husband, James Henry Johnston (known to friends and family as “Seamas”) is a portrait artist. With the gloomy light of winter making photography difficult we decided to invest in some softbox lights to so to take better photographs of our paintings.

I spent a good 40 minutes tidying the downstairs gallery/studio and then unpacking and assembling the lights. I actually like trying to assemble things like furniture or new electronic equipment, as I am quite geeky in that way. I only looked at the instructions once, only to  then to decide they were utterly useless.

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E27 bulbs (not actual size)

The huge photographic lights have to handled with care as they can smash easily, as I found to my cost a few years ago. I was unwrapping my first E27 Lighting Lamp, ordered online, but I was laughing so hard at its unexpected size that I dropped the thing and it broke into powdery dust!

I had studied the helpful diagrams I’d found and added to my pinterest account. Whilst they made it plain that a 45% angle was necessary for the angle of the light, they were not so clear on how close to the painting they should be or high or low they should be positioned.  We took some photos of each other and then Seamas then spent several hours experiment with distance and angles.  So you can see from the photo below, my initial angles and heights were all wrong!

Seamas, concluded that every time you wanted to take a photo of a painting that you needed to several photographs at different heights and distances to see which one came out the best. I think that’s code for “I haven’t quite worked it out yet!”

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Good Drying Weather

My mother tells me many people don’t use clothes lines  or washing lines any more. They use tumble driers, instead. They must have big electricity bills. What better way to dry your washing that using good old fashioned solar power? In the early modern period people just laid their clothes out on bushes to dry. The word “clothesline” wasn’t used until the 1830s.  Presumably, increasing urbanisation meant that things like bushes or even rocks were no longer available to dry clothes on!

Good Drying Weather
Good Drying Weather

24x30cm oil on linen canvas

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Crowded Community

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.

And finally, a shot with no cars just a woman with a pram – but it is double yellow lines along here.

 

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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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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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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)