Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Good Show

Yesterday evening I went to a Private View of new paintings by Darren Hughes.

“Born in Bangor, in 1970, Darren Hughes is one of the leading figures of the new generation of Welsh landscape painters. Following recent sell-out exhibitions in London and Wales, Darren returns for his third solo show at Martin Tinney Gallery”. (Click the gallery link to see the paintings.)

This guy can PAINT! His paintings are technically accomplished, attractive and atmospheric.

But, for me, there are a few other things going on in them that make them particularly interesting.

Firstly, there’s a darkness in them that appeals to me. This is a feature of the light on the landscape but it also captures the inherent sense of melancholy that pervades the Welsh. The singer, Judith Owen, sums it up well in this interview where she says, “The Welsh are the Irish without the fun. We're a very melancholy bunch, and we sing truly melancholy songs. When I say melancholy, I mean people talk about operations and death at the dinner table all the time.”

And if you don’t believe that’s true, spend five minutes with me in the local library or in the local shops.

But I don’t just mean it facetiously. I think there is a creative, highly-expressive melancholy in the Welsh psyche. It summed up in the word “Hiraeth” ( which doesn’t easily translate into English but has something to do with a deep longing for the land, for a sense of place and a sense of home. Darren’s paintings show a close affinity with the land - with all its shadows and moods.

Which brings me on to the second thing that I see in Darren’s wonderful, dramatic landscapes. They are real scenes of real places, mostly near where he lives in Bethesda. Stone walls, agricultural fencing, telegraph poles, small houses, communities and schools. I was first struck by this when I saw one of his paintings a number of years ago. It didn’t show a typical Welsh chapel, or a traditional stone cottage or any of the usual postcard-type stuff. It showed a temporary, prefabricated school building with a flat, galvanised roof that is so typical of schools around here. And that made me identify and feel at home with his work. He was painting places similar to where I grew up and went to school.

Thirdly - and following on - I think Darren’s paintings of Wales as it really is are an important record of this time and place in our history and culture. Like good still-life paintings, they take the simple, ordinary, everyday things and put them in front of us - and future generations - and say “This is what it is like here and now. This is how it looks and this is how it feels to live here.”

When we look back at history there are many approaches we can take. But looking at the art of the time and thinking about what it represents is a good way to understand the cultures, beliefs and experiences of people and communities.

This is an exhibition that will live with me for a long time.

So not all Private Views suck after all.

There must be something of the Welsh within in me then. A deep of longing for the land, a sense of place and home. I am fortunate to feel at home wherever I am but is something very deeply rooted in how I found a deep connection with God that gave me a real sense of home that I carry with me - which reminds me of the Celtic fathers who carried home in their hearts. I do love being out on the land though, drinking it in, something I cannot feel in a city. Hmm a lot to ponder with that sentence.
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