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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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Rhyddings House, Brynmill

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Rhyddings House, Brynmill

This is a strange rather ugly building. It’s pebble-dashed exterior is tinged grey with neglect. The front garden is unkempt and there’s a red boat in the far corner of the garden. I noticed this building ages ago and was intrigued by it. Why didn’t it look like the houses around it? It reminded me of a block of flats and it seemed out of place amongst the tight terraces.

 

I have discovered recently that it is, in fact, an old mansion house, originally built in the mid 18th century. If you walk around the back of the building it looks less like an ugly tenement as through a stone archway there is smaller stone building attached called “the cottage”.

Rhyddings House
Rear of Rhydding House with the “Cottage”

 

 

Further research reveals that when it was built in the mid-18th century, it was one of few big houses to the west of Swansea. It had 8 generously sized bedrooms, an orchard, walled garden, and farmland. The surrounding areas would have been hay fields, dotted with patches of trees.  It was located far away from the smoking chimneys of the industrial areas along the River Tawe. It had views of the burrows (sand dunes) at the bottom of the hill to the south and, weather permitting, across the bay to the distant shores of Devon. From 1837 onwards, you would have been able to see the new Brynmill Reservoir to the north-west. This lake later became the heart of Brynmill Park.

The name of Rhyddings is a bit of a mystery. I asked my Welsh-speaking facebook friend, Rhydian, his opinion on why “Rhyddings” is pronounced locally with a hard “d” sound instead of with a soft “f” sound. He said,  “short answer is that I don’t know. The word ‘Rhydd’ is Welsh for ‘Free’ but I’m not sure whether there’s any connection there to be honest because the word Rhydding isn’t used today if it was ever a word, and -ing isn’t a common suffix in Welsh.With regards to the pronunciation, it probably is being mispronounced technically but since it’s not, as far as I’m aware, an actual word then I don’t feel it matters.”

The house had many tenants over the years. Thomas Bowdler , was its most notable resident. He was an English doctor of medicine, philanthropist, and man of letters. He lived here in 1818, whilst he was carefully deleting all the unsuitable parts from the plays of Shakespeare ‘which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family’ to make them suitable for women and children to read:- this was his “The Family Shakespeare”. He died in 1825 at the age of 70 and was buried in nearby Oystermouth.  He left money to the poor of Swansea and his home parish of Box, in Somerset. Although the bulk of his large library was donated to the University of Wales, Lampeter, the remainder of his library and print collection were put up for sale along with his furniture.

The house was subject to a series of misfortune, not least of which was being struck by lightning during an autumn thunderstorm of 1831 and being bombed during the Second World War. Relations with the local community weren’t always easy – different tenants prosecuted local children for minor “crimes” on a more than one occasion. Once for a 12-year-old was prosecuted for “scrumping” (pinching apples) and a 14-year old for picking flowers. In 1873 a public right of way through the near-by Rhyddings Fields were closed off and this provoked an anonymous letter from the fictional  “Twm Sion Catti” (a Welsh version of Robin Hood) demanding to know who had done this. A later tenant, the Dutch South African farmer Richard White Beor, became a Justice of the Peace and no doubt helped keep law and order in this rural area.

The last decade of the 19th century saw the start of the terraces being built. In the 1880s Swansea was growing rapidly. Middle-class suburbs were spreading west. St Helen’s Avenue and King Edward’s Road had been built and houses were starting to climb up Rhyddings Park Road and Finsbury Terrace. By the start of the First World War, the farmland and the orchard was a dim and distant memory.

 

Map of Brynmill
Brynmill, Swansea

 

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The Rhyddings, Brynmill, Swansea.

 

 

The Rhyddings
“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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My Painting Project: Urban Minimalism

I have just finished a 5-month teaching contract at a local school. Teaching is all consuming, it has to be in order to do be done well, but it does affect my capacity to “think” about art. So, recent weeks I have finally been able to stop and take stock of what I am doing, and where want to go with my work.

I have decided on a new project which I am calling “Urban minimalism“. It was initially inspired by the empty streets around where I live in Brynmill, Swansea. In recent years Brynmill has been increasingly taken over by HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupancy) rented out to the growing population of university students. In the summer months most of the students leave and the local streets which are usually crammed with cars are suddenly empty. I was struck by both the physical empty space as well as the peace they left behind. I wanted to capture this temporary calm 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

  1. No cars
  2. No People
  3. Bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.
  4.  Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I found this the most challenging “rule” to stick to.
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Shadow Play

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. The simplified blocks of colour. Shadows are one of the earliest ways man has used to mark time and seeking out the long shadows that mark the rising or falling of the sun in the morning and evening are a reminder that the empty streets are only temporarily so.

 

In future, I am intending to extend the “principles” of this project to other urban landscapes.

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Is it Three Cliffs Bay or Three Cliff Bay?

Looking Back from Three Cliffs Bay
Looking Back From Three Cliffs Bay
Looking Back From Three Cliffs, Gower 2017 

 

Oil Painting of Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, Wales. This is an unusual view from Three Cliffs Bay in Gower, Wales, looking back towards Parkmill from the top of granite rock monuments of one of the three cliffs.

I loved the array of colours and found it an arresting view, away from the bustle of the waves and shouting exuberance, to the calm and reflective.

 

 

 

However, when I came to write this post this morning, I was suddenly seized by the terrible thought that I might have been guilty of getting a Gower place name wrong. I thought so anyway.   I have been calling Three Cliff Bay, Gower, Three Cliffs Bay. So what? However, I have noticed last week that a local artist and blogger called it Three Cliff Bay, with no “s”. So I decided that I had been erroneously been adding an extra “s” to the cliff part of the name. Entirely understandable because you would assume that if it’s in the plural, it would have an “s” at the end.  Perhaps I not been paying close enough attention! I felt bad, that I had got it wrong. I’d be a poor landscape artist if I couldn’t get the name of the place I had painted correct!

However, I decided this need further investigation. Trying to check this on the internet, did not clear up the matter. Plenty of others also call it Three Cliffs with an “s”. The Visit Swansea Bay website for one calls this area Three Cliffs Bay as does as Trip Advisor and the local campsite, which calls itself Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park! You think they would know what its called, as they live there?

However, I think it’s a little more complicated than that. Google Maps actually has both names. But when I studied their map a little closer – it seems that they use Three Cliffs Bay for the tidal beach and Three Cliff Bay for the sea part of the bay. The Ordnance Survey just has Three Cliff Bay for the sea part of the bay. So finally, I turn to my trusted authority on all things Gower related – a book. Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’s 1976 edition of “Portrait of Gower” which is full of facts, stories and gossip about old Gower and its people (Wynford was a Swansea-born Historian who was taught English at school by Dylan Thomas’s father).

Wynford-vaughan-thomas
Wynford Vaugh-Thomas in his BBC days

His section on what he calls “one of the great Gower views” he calls it Three Cliffs Bay. So there. Phew! That’s good enough for me. I have worried about nothing and wasted half an hour fact checking.

It is called Three Cliffs Bay. Unless you happen to be out at sea and then is Three Cliff Bay! Unless you know better!

© Emma Cownie 2017

 

 

 

 

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My Summer Art Exhibition in Swansea.

Art Exhibition in Brynmill Swansea

My exhibition of Gower seascapes and scenes from life in Brynmill, Swansea. 

There were some last minute discussions about what should be included. A late addition quickly had “D'” hooks and string attached this morning. The bubble wrap was rolled out and the paintings were carefully rolled into several parcels for the very brief car journey to the venue, Brynmill Coffee House, Langland Terrace, Swansea. When we arrived, the paintings were swiftly arranged around the room. One painting was almost left out, but some rearrangement of paintings and the arrival of an extra hook meant everyone made onto the walls. No one was carried back home. Photos were taken of my husband, Seamas, putting up the paintings, the final arrangement of pictures and then me with the paintings.

It’s great to see my work up on some else’s walls. The dark blue on the cafe walls really complements the paintings well. I can reflect on the themes I have followed over the course of the last 6 months. Whether its a determined shopper at the once-monthly Uplands Market, families outside Singleton Park or the waves on Gower beaches, it’s always about colour and light for me. I can see similar tones of blues and greens that I favour; royal blue, and yellow ochres in particular. It’s satisfying to think these paintings “belong” together. I think cafes and restaurants are a great place to exhibit paintings. White-walled galleries can be so intimidating. They really should have lots of sofas for people to sit on too.  In a cafe or restaurant, people can take their time to look at the artwork on the walls in a relaxed environment.  I hope that my art will bring people pleasure.  I hope that by recognising places they know well, like the cafe they are sitting, in an oil painting, it will give them a small thrill. A shock of recognition. I think oil paintings have the power “elevate” quite ordinary things.

So now my exhibition is up and ready to be visited during the month of August.  Pop by and enter the draw for the print of Brynmill Coffee House, worth £45, all proceeds will go the Swansea charity supported by Brynmill Coffee House.

 

 

© Emma Cownie 2017

 

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Worm’s Head Lookout Station at Rhossili, Gower

Worm Head Coastwatch station
Painting Worms Head Station, Rhossili
Worms Head Coastwatch Station (SOLD)

This is another gem in the Gower landscape – the Worm’s Head Lookout Station at Rhossili.  I really enjoyed painting this. This stout and sturdy single story building is made of granite and was built over 120 years ago, around 1896. It sits alone at the top of the high cliffs that look out towards Worms Head and beyond to Lundy Island and to the Celtic Sea. The wind-blasted building has an 8m flagstaff and a 6m wind generator.  I was inspired to paint this because of the sharp summer shadows and the isolation of the tiny building. It oozes Hopper.

It is set in a very beautiful but dangerous coastline. Between the cliffs and Worm Head is the Causeway, a scramble of rocks and rock pools, which is open for 2.5 hours either side of low tide. The tidal rise here is the second highest in the world. However, it is fatal to attempt to wade or swim to when the causeway is flooded or partially so. The coastline and waters around Gower are lovely to look at and to paint but they need to be treated with great respect. The waters around the Worm can also be dangerous to small craft, fishing boats and surfers.

This is why I am very glad that a team of local volunteers for National Coastwatch look after the interests of visitors and seafarers, alike. Since 2007, from 10am till 4pm in the winter and 10am till 6pm in the summer the lookout is staffed. If at the end of watch the Causeway has not yet flooded and there are members of the public still out on Worm’s Head, the watch is kept open until everyone is safely back on the mainland. So although the Lookout Station looks somewhat bleak and empty, the front door is, in fact, open and there is someone inside looking out for us all!

For more information on National Coastwatch see https://www.nci.org.uk/wormshead

For an excellent online map of Gower see: http://www.mapsta.net/uk-os/gower/

Emma Cownie Art©

 

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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.

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My Donation to the Shelter Cymru Art Auction 2016

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I have just donated this painting “Farm Under Velvet Mountain” to this year’s Shelter Cymru Art Auction – always happy to support such a worthy cause.

“A must for any art lover, the Annual Welsh Art Auctions are amongst the biggest fundraising events in the Shelter Cymru calendar and are always a great evening out.”

http://sheltercymru.org.uk

Some words about this painting –

“This is an oil painting of the Table Mountian in Mid Wales.
I painted this because I loved the colours of blues, turquoise and purple which blend pleasingly with the blue-greens and terracottas of the trees and land.

Nature unearths such lovely rich colours and casts them wide in lovely complementary chromatic patchworks.
I would say this painting is inspired like so many of my mid-Wales landscapes by one of my favourite painters, Robert Bevan, whose landscapes have influenced how I paint this type of hilly upland landscape as opposed to the landscape I paint of Gower Peninsula which is usually in my own unique refractionist style which in itself influenced by expressionism.

I love the idea that colour expresses emotion, transports and alleviates the self and a creates an emotional response to a place depicted in a painting. Ideally I like to transport the viewer to the place so that the viewer somehow feels they are there or have been there in some sense. That is somehow familiar to them.
In this painting I hoped to transport one to soft lazy warmnesss of summer in the fields of Mid Wales. The velvety feel of the Table Mountain helps heighten this feeling of softness. The warm summer breeze can often give this sense of snoozy softness and I hope some of this is conveyed in this painting with the manicure trees like hairdryed Bouffants and the dusty dryness of the terracotta.”