Articles by Huw David Jones
This month, Swansea’s Attic Gallery showcases two exhibitions by artists whose work presents contrasting visions of the Welsh landscape: one rural, the other urban and industrial.
Nick Holly was brought up in the St. Thomas’s district of Swansea, where he still lives. His work explores the everyday comings and goings of this dockside community, from children kicking footballs in the streets, to housewives gossiping on the doorsteps of their tidy terraced homes.
It is nostalgic vision of Swansea, one which is distinctly out-of-step with the modern reality of the city, which has experience massive redevelopment of late, coupled with a shifting economic base that has eroded its traditional working-class communities and brought a new wave of residents, many settling from overseas. Nevertheless, these colourful paintings, with their blue-grey wash and occasional flashes of yellow and red, have a naïve charm, reminiscent of Lowry or the early work of Rhondda painter Ernest Zobole.
The second exhibition at the Attic features work by the Anglesey-based artist Wilf Roberts. His main subject is y Cefn Gwlad or the Welsh countryside, notably the rocky grandeur of Mynydd Bodafon or the farms and villages around Llanerchymedd. Working in oils and acrylics, his dark, thick-set landscapes draw obvious comparisons with painters like Kyffin Williams or John Elwyn of Cardiganshire who formed part of the Welsh Environmentalist School of the 1950s. But again, these scenes are devoid of modern influences, such as tractors, pylons or plastic silo bags.
So, whilst exploring two different sides of the country, both Holly and Roberts present an essentially romantic image of Wales. This may have strong appeal, particularly from a commercial point of view. But it ignores the complex, and often fractious, reality of the present.
Wales is changing, and if Welsh painting is to keep pace with contemporary shifts in the social and cultural make-up of the nation, it must change too. Holly and Roberts are both good painters, but their vision is distorted by harking back to the Wales of the past – a Wales that no longer exists, if ever it did in such settled forms as these.
Nick Holly/Wilf Roberts is at the Attic Gallery, Swansea, from Sat 27 Sep to Sat 15 Nov, 2008.
This post was originally published by Buzz magazine.