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Frank Brangwyn and Brangwyn Hall

You cannot miss Frank Brangwyn’s name in Brynmill, Swansea as there’s a huge hall that takes his name. These past two weeks or so I have worked as an invigilator for Swansea University. One of the venues used for exams is this beautiful hall. The murals that adorn the massive walls are stunning.

Frank Brangwn was born in Bruges, Belgium (Welsh father, English mother) in 1867. His father was a church architect and craftsman. Frank was largely self-taught but that did not stop him from becoming a painter, water colourist, engraver, illustrator and progressive designer.  In his youth, Brangwyn had joined Royal Navy Volunteers and travelled extensively including Russia and South Africa.

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Frank Brangwyn

He was an astonishingly proflic artist. As well as paintings and drawings, he produced designs for stained glass, furniture, ceramics, table glassware, buildings and interiors. He was also a lithographer and woodcutter and was a book illustrator. It has been estimated that during his lifetime Brangwyn produced over 12,000 works. His mural commissions would cover over 22,000 sq ft (2,000 m2) of canvas, he painted over 1,000 oils, over 660 mixed media works (watercolours, gouache), over 500 etchings, about 400 wood engravings and woodcuts, 280 lithographs, 40 architectural and interior designs, 230 designs for items of furniture and 20 stained glass panels and windows.

 

Known as the British Empire Panels Brangwyn spent a total of 7 years producing 16 large works that cover 3,000 sq ft (280 m2). When you see the size of the murals you can understand why they took 7 years to complete.

In 1928 the House of Lords was commissioned  Brangwyn to produce a series celebrating the beauty of the British Empire and the Dominions to fill the Royal Gallery.  Lord Iveagh tried to secure Brangwyn full artistic freedom to design and paint the commission his way. Unfotunately, Lord Iveagh died in 1927.  After 5 years of work the panels were displayed in the Royal Gallery for approvial by the Lords, but the peers refused to accept them because they were “too colourful and lively” for the place. It was worse than that. Some of them mocked his work in the national press. Lord Crawford, a Tory Peer, wrote in a “The Daily News” that the painting would be more suited to a night club than the House of Lords: “Just imagine five feet long bananas and grinning black monkeys looming over them!”

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One of the Panels that Lord Crawford criticised

It has been suggested that, this was rejection was part of a increasing restriction on artiostic expression that accompanying the birth of totalitarian movements across Europe. Fortuantely for the people of Wales and Swansea in partricular 1934 the panels were purchased by Swansea Council in 1934 and were housed in the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. 

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Brangywn Hall, inside

The House of Lords’ loss is Swansea’s gain. These panels are absolutely astonishing. They are massive, colorful and packed to the gills with detail. Apparently, the height of the Hall’s ceiling had to be increased slightly to accommodate the tallest of the panels. They dominate the very large hall and the photographs fail the capture the huge scale of the panels. The are a true feast for the eyes.

The Glynn Vivian Gallery and Brangwyn Hall has on display quite a few of Brangwyn’s beautiful preparatory cartoons. He was a brillant draughtsman.

 

Interestingly Frank Barngwyn used modern technology to aid him; photography. The squaring up technique is one that artists have used for centuries, and is still used today by many (including me). If you look closely at the murals you can see the feint pencil lines of the grids he used.

The animals and people are incredible but the foilage of each country has also been painstakingly researched. I initally thought that the mass of green were sort of generic foliage but when I looked athe panel for England I was blown away when I realised that I recognised every type of leaf and flower; oak leaves, horsechestnuts, sunflowers, pears, apples, foxgoves, irises, blueblues. This is true for all the panels.

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The England Panel

I particularly enjoyed the details at the bottpom of the panels as they were at eye level. There were lots of tortoises, rabbits, bugs, butterfies and reptiles. The only thing thatappeared to be missiong were fish and aquautic mammals!  In the 1930s, before colour television and nature programs (and the nearest zoo in Bristol) this riot of creatures must have been quite a relevation for the people of Swansea.

Frank Brangwyn’s evident enthusiasm for the British empire was somewhat out-of-step with the increasingly introspective times of the inter-war years. Interestingly, his treatment of the different and diverse peoples of the British Empire was powerful and energetic. There are plenty of impressive female breasts but the women are strong and vital figures, not overtly sexualised. Perhaps, his celebration of empire makes for uncomfortable viewing in a post-empire world. Yet, the men and women of the Empire are depicted with dignity and sympathy, and the accent throughout is on the people, animals and plants of the conquered countries rather than on the activities of the conquerors.

Sadly, the rejection of the Panels by the Lords devasted Frank Brangwyn and it caused lasting depression in him. He became increasingly pessimistic and a hypochondriac and began disposing of his possessions during the 1930s. This is so sad as these murals are so wonderful!

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Was this grinning monkey Lord Crawford objected to?
Brangwyn, Frank, 1867-1956; British Empire Panel (14) Australia
Australia

Brangwyn, Frank, 1867-1956; British Empire Panel (9) Burma

Burma

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East Africa
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Siam

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Summer daydreams in the dark winter.

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Last Swim of the Day (Port Eynon)

I always struggle in the winter. It creeps up on me. I start to feel down although nothing particularly bad has happened. I feel myself start sliding. Then the thing takes on an almost physical shape. I can feel the edges of the thing starting to weigh heavily on me. Then, in the back of my mind, a thought dimly appears; “You Need Light”.

I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or winter depression, although I can get it during really wet summers when the days are overcast, day after day. This year has been particularly tough. I am often thinking thoughts like “Why is it so dark?”, “Oh no, is it night already?” and “How long until the sun comes up?” It seems to get worse with each passing year. Maybe it just because this winter has been particularly cold?

Fortunately, I have a couple of SAD lamps and one of those alarm clocks that will mimic a sunrise. I just have to remember to switch them on and sit next to them. I don’t always do so. So, here I am now with a lamp on and I can feel it cheering me up getting the hypothalamus in my brain to work properly. Earlier, when there was some gloomy daylight I painted a couple of summer beach scenes. I felt very happy painting the people on the beach in the blinding summer sun. I thought about the day back in the summer we visited Port Eynon, on the South Gower Coast.  The sea was glassy. It was so warm that paddling was wonderful. We had chips for tea. It was lovely. It was a day when you didn’t feel the need to “do” anything. You were quite happy just sitting in the shade watching the people on the beach.

I have long suspected that my tendency towards SAD is one of the reasons why I paint so many sunny and bright scenes. I feel much better for thinking about this wonderful summer’s day and painting these two beach scenes.

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Family Outing to the Beach (Port Eynon)  Oil on Linen Canvas 46x38cm unframed

 

See People Paintings

 

 

 

 

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Snow, snow, everywhere but here.

In the Brecon Beacons it has snowed. In Stroud, where my parents live, it has snowed. Here? Nope. We had about ten minutes of sleet yesterday morning and that’s it.  That’s what you get for living next to the sea, mild winters and damp summers.

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Winter Beacons

The last time it snowed here was about 7 years ago. I’ve been a long time waiting.

I love watching snow falling out the sky. I like to stand outside and look up into the sky and watch the flakes tumbling one after another down to the ground. I love the muffled sound and the creaking sound under foot. But its not to be *sigh*. It’s just not the same with rain!

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Wintery Mumbles c. 2010
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Glynn Vivian Open Exhibition

Christmas Shows (2 of 2)

In October 2011 the gallery was closed temporarily for a £6 million refurbishment and recladding of the 1974 extension. It wasn’t opened again until 2017. That’s almost 6 years closed.

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The Glynn Vivian looked like this for over 5 years

Then this  summer it reopened.

So when the gallery announced that it was going to hold an Open Exhibition this December there was a lot of interest from Swansea-based artists. The opening event on Saturday was super packed. We had to queue to get in.

My two paintings were “Round the bend” and “Glamour Glamour”

Seamas, my husband (James Henry Johnston) also had a self portrait in the exhibition. I thought his painting looked really good!

There was lots of really interesting work there. I really enjoyed the fact that there was a lot of variety and the walls were packed with work. The standard was very high. I intend to return when it’s not so packed to have a another look.

“Round The Bend” Oil on Linen Canvas 55 x 46 cm unframed

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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.

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

 

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Twilight

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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.

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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!”