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!
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.
Bus Stop (back of Brynmill Launderette)
And finally, a shot with no cars just a woman with a pram – but it is double yellow lines along here.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.