Welsh artists exploring their identity; GALLERIES In the 11th article exploring the legacy of the Derek Williams Trust, David Moore examines the role Welsh artists have played in the evolution of the country's culture and how Amgueddfa Cyrmu - National Museum Wales - has helped to care for some of our best-loved works...
AWith the National Eisteddfod of Wales in early August, this, the 11th article about artworks acquired, or supported, by the Derek Williams Trust and cared for at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, explores artists who have been brought up in a traditional Welsh-speaking environment and who are driven by a need to highlight specific features of place, culture and memory.
The trust acquired two paintings by Ivor Davies (born 1935), Caethni, a 1996 oil on canvas, in 1999 and Prefiguration - Eryr, a 1956-61 mixed-media work on hessian, in 2009. The latter was included in Silent Explosion, a recent show at the Museum examining the artist's long-term fascination with the role of destruction in art.
Inspired by an accidental inkblot, the left-hand image in Prefiguration - Eryr was copied and enlarged onto hessian in charcoal powder mixed with glue. Paper doylies and razor blades were embedded in its surface, introducing tension. The bird-like shape on the right and, indeed, the work's title, evoke the well-known Mabinogi tale of Lleu Llaw Gyffes transforming into an eagle on being struck by a spear thrown by Gronw Bebr as he stood with one foot on the side of a trough and the other on a goat. Such shapeshifting, often involving magic or divine intervention, is, of course, a prevalent motif in mythology and folklore.
Other densely-pigmented and layered works by the artist from a period when he studied in Lausanne, Switzerland, also have heavily-distressed surfaces suggesting collapse and destruction which, for him, are in a continuous cycle with creation. With indistinct forms and use of materials like dirt and discarded materials, these works are reminiscent of Art Informel, a continental form of abstract expressionism characteristic of artists such as Antoni Tapies and Alberto Burri.
Ivor returned to Prefiguration - Eryr later in the 1960s, having cut it in half, stitched it back together and placed it on a new hessian ground. This kind of preservation, whether in writing, fragments, discarded objects or memories, destroyed, reanimated or reinterpreted, is central to his ideas.
The changing of both form and identity have led, too, to concern about the erosion of the Welsh language and its communities.
The Derek Williams Trust has also acquired five paintings by Iwan Bala (born 1956) all of which, in different ways, explore issues of cultural identity in a global context. This has evolved out of a longstanding concern for the future of the Welsh language, its culture and communities.
His 1992 mixed-media Raise High Your Ruins, bought in 1998, emerged out of a four-month residency at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare.
The majestic dry-stone ruins of the ancient capital Great Zimbabwe - as well as contemporary stone sculpture rooted in Shona religion, myth and culture - had a profound effect upon him. Built between the 11th and 15th centuries by the Shona civilisation, this former city and trading post with its palace and striking central conical tower became a symbol for the Republic of Zimbabwe created in 1980. Its African origins had, however, been censored during much of the 1960s and 1970s under the white minority government in Rhodesia.
For two years after his residency, Iwan's work dealt with the dislocation he experienced on returning to Cardiff. Imagery associated with the central tower emerged in his painting as he connected a concern for Welsh identity with a broadening awareness of post-colonial issues.
Four more 2005 works by Iwan Bala were acquired in 2007, all mixed-media on paper, exploring in distinctive, yet elusive, map-based drawings the ever-changing relationship between cultural identities in a global context. Recurring motifs are included. A Janus double-head, inspired by Romano-British carving with one profile facing the past while the other looks to the future, alludes to the ambiguous complexity of national identity. A stylised black boat, reminiscent of the Mabinogi cauldron of rebirth, suggests a process of cultural questioning and reinvention.
Mary Lloyd Jones' 2007 mixed-media work on paper Swyn I was bought by the Derek Williams Trust in 2008. Born in 1934 she often uses text or ancient writing as part of her visual imagery and as an integral part of landscape painting.
Following manuscript research at the National Library, she selected particular texts to feature in multi-layered works, like palimpsests, with marks between paint layers. Expressing her Welsh identity, language and culture she has also sought to establish links with a wider Celtic world through the inclusion of early alphabets and symbols derived from Ogham or stone carvings in the prehistoric passage graves of Anglesey and the Republic of Ireland.
In Swyn I she has included a hand-written magic spell, found in family papers, comprising the incantation 'Abracadabra', which was used in folk medicine to cure cattle of illness. This is shown alongside imagery from prehistoric carvings and a Sator Square containing a five-word Latin palindrome to which are also attributed magic powers.
For a number of years the Derek Williams Trust acquired artworks from the National Eisteddfod of Wales. These included Ogwen Davies' mixed-media work Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and Lois Williams' textile hanging A Reconstructed Thing. More recently, the trust acquired the oil on canvas Loner by Geraint Evans, depicting a druid standing nonchalantly in the driveway of a modern house, and Bedwyr Williams' majestic video installation Tyrrau Mawr as its Artes Mundi Purchase Prize.
It has also supported the museum in the acquisition of John Meirion Morris' bronze sculpture Cofeb Tryweryn, commemorating the drowning for a reservoir of the Welsh-speaking village and Tim Davies' 21-part Postcard Series III - Figures In Landscape, featuring postcards from which ladies in traditional Welsh costume have been neatly cut out.
Such artworks are a significant part of the Derek Williams Trust's purchased and supported works cared for at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales for the enjoyment and appreciation of visitors.
| David Moore, who lives in Brecon, has worked extensively for museums and galleries in Wales and has an interest in the development of public art collections. His publications on aspects of Welsh art collections and art in Wales may be obtained through www.crookedwindow.co.uk. See derekwilliamstrust.org for information about the Derek Williams Trust and its artworks
<(c) Ivor Davies - Prefiguration - Eryr, mixed media on hessian, 1956-61. (c) Ivor Davies Kevin Thomas, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
<(c) Mary Lloyd Jones - Swyn I, mixed media, 2007. (c) Mary Lloyd Jones Robin Maggs, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
<(c) Iwan Bala - Raise High Your Ruins, mixed media on canvas, 1992. (c) Iwan Bala Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Jul 28, 2018|
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