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.
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
Bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.
Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I found this the most challenging “rule” to stick to.
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.
Bus Stop (back of Brynmill Launderette)
In future, I am intending to extend the “principles” of this project to other urban landscapes.