Galleries - October 2016

Wales doesn’t readily recognise its heroes in the visual arts. There is no gallery where you can be sure to see a body of work by the main Welsh artists. Yes, the art collections of the National Library and the National Museum are rich behind the scenes, but relatively little by Welsh greats is on display; certainly not a coherent overview. How can we know our heroes if we can’t experience their work? Peter Lord’s compendious new book, ‘The Tradition’, is a reminder of just how much remarkable art has come out of Wales. But to get any sense of the major names you have to go on quite a hunt – stalking, say, Gwen John, Cedric Morris, Maurice Cockrill or David Nash, or the Welsh works of Turner, Cotman or Sutherland. There have been a few helpful exhibitions in recent years at the National Museum: ‘father of British landscape painting’ Richard Wilson, the remarkable J D Innes, whose colourful career was cut short aged 27, and John Piper’s mountains of Wales. But the superb recent David Jones show demonstrated his genius in Chichester and Nottingham, not Wales; the last exhibition of Ceri Richards was at the New Art Centre in Wiltshire. Luckily, independent galleries have stepped in to show some masters in context this autumn. In Cardiff, the Martin Tinney Gallery has brought together an exhibition of the late John Knapp-Fisher, the quiet magnetism of whose paintings made his shows sell outs. He spent most of his life in North Pembrokeshire where he created such a persuasive vision of dark skies, whitewashed cottages and grey seas that people see the landscape through his eyes. John Macfarlane, coming in November, is best known as a world class stage designer, but his paintings are breath taking, whether concept designs or studies of figures and still lifes. He could be the artist for whom the term ‘painterly’ was invented, so able is he with the flick of a brush to conjure the reflection in an eye or the wonder in an opened pomegranate. Ernest Zobole was another master – at the Kooywood Gallery . He painted the Rhondda Valley all his life with a dark expressionism of multiple perspectives, often simultaneously inside and outside, typically at night, when blue mountains, coal tips and terraces were sparked to life by fleeting headlamps and jewel-like streetlights. He only once tried living anywhere else, and he came home saying “it was like getting back into a warm bed.” The paintings were poems to the valley he loved. It’s refreshing to see an emerging Welsh master, Bedwyr Williams, on the shortlist for the international biennial prize exhibition Artes Mundi 7 , which spills over from the National Museum of Wales to nearby Chapter . Williams succeeds perennially in surprising, often cheekily bringing humour into the stuffy halls of conceptual art. Coinciding with the start of Artes Mundi, the Cardiff ContemporaryFestival runs from late October to late November, filling spaces all over the Welsh capital with a theme taken from the words experimentally transmitted by Marconi at Cardiff in 1897, “Are you ready?” The hub is in a basement of the wonderful Angel Hotel and the festival is taking over underused and public spaces across the city and Cardiff Bay. Look out for sculpture commissions, performance art and light shows designed to transcend the boundaries of art, architecture and theatre. The wide ranging roster of artists includes Heather and Ivan Morison, Anthony Shapland, Czech artist Roman Štetina and locally born sculptor Laura Ford, widely recognised as one of Wales’ newest masters. Also in Cardiff, the Albany 14 GALLERIES WALES OCTOBER 2016 rt Wales ‘luckily independent galleries have stepped in’