Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cardiff Museum

When I was a kid I spent many happy hours wandering around the art galleries in Cardiff Museum. Some of the big old historical paintings used to scare the hell out of me, but I loved the smaller, lighter gallery of Impressionist art.

It was there, too that I first saw paintings by Graham Sutherland. His work was to become a big influence on me. In fact, recently I’ve been looking again at his sketches and paintings, though only in books.

You can visit the arts section of their website here.

In the last couple of weeks, Cardiff Museum has opened seven newly refurbished art galleries. As I walked in for the first time, there was one of my favourite Graham Sutherland paintings right in front of me. It made me happy.

The new galleries are really beautiful and very elegantly and tastefully decorated. The rooms are now more open-plan giving a much more spacious feel. They house a fantastic collection of Impressionist and Modern Art. It is simply amazing to be able to look at works by Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rodin, Picasso and many more. There are eight Monets on show, for goodness sake!

There is also a special exhibition running on “Modern Art from 1930 – Surrealism and Neo-Romanticism”. That sounds a bit high-falutin’ but it’s really very good. Again, when I was younger, I was fascinated by Surrealist art so it’s amazing to see original works by some of my heroes such as Ernst and Magritte,

As with a lot of art exhibitions, though, it can be a bit overwhelming. I usually find that after an hour or so I have to get out of there before my head explodes.

It’s also difficult sometimes to understand the themes and links that the curator had in mind when putting the collection together. I asked about this and was told that staff are currently being trained and that in a few weeks guided tours would be available.

It’s a strange situation, though, when these new developments are taking place at a time when a number of privately-owned commercial galleries in Cardiff have had to close and of those that are still going some are struggling.

It’s also a time when the funding of 32 organisations by the Arts Council of Wales is to stop following a spending review (see this BBC News report).

I’m not really into the detail of it all but if you’re interested in the background to the development of these galleries, and of other work going on, you can look here at the “The Future Display of Visual Art in Wales” – a report for the Welsh Assembly Government on the options and costs involved in establishing a national art gallery for Wales and a national centre for contemporary art.

I just like that I get to look at great art in great surroundings. Oh, and that it's free.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Sunday my brother and I walked the whole length of the new community route. He set a cracking pace considering he’s an old fella with a gammy leg.

At the top end of the walk we found this.

It’s no wonder I get lost.

One minute I’m nearly in Tonteg, the next I’m on my way to Moscow! And I’ve never even heard of Sargres!

It turns out I’m not simply on a local community footpath – I’m on the EuroVelo Bike Route. Thank goodness I don’t have a bike or I’d never make it home for tea.


This is a Victorian cast iron vent that was discovered when the new bypass was built.

It was originally used to … wait for it … “ventilate the sewers”. Nice.

Now it has been set up as a waymarker for the community route and has been decorated by local schoolchildren.

The art on the sign was inspired by the Welsh artist Ernest Zobole (1927 – 1999). (That’s not a typical Welsh surname, by the way – Zobole was the child of Italian immigrants.) For images of some of his work, click here.

Zobole was a member of a group of Welsh artists known as “The Rhondda Group” who would discuss their work on the train to Cardiff every day (the journey then took about 2 hours).

All in all, an interesting Sunday morning stroll.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cloud Cover

“And the sky is full of dreams
But you don’t know how to fly
I don’t have a simple answer
But I know that I could answer something better.

This feeling won’t go
Wait for it, wait for it
Wait for it, wait for it
Something better.”

from “This is Your Life” by The Killers

Whenever I need to gain or regain perspective on my life I go to certain places where there are great views and big open skies. For many years it was Newlands Corner in Surrey or the Brecon Beacons in Mid Wales.

Now with the opening of the Community Route I wrote about previously, I have found another place.

I start at a little place called Cross Inn and walk a number of sections, sometimes as far as Church Village (where I was born … remember?).

Incidentally, I found out a few days ago that my Mum lived in Cross Inn when she was little. She may even have been born there. From the description of the house and its location it seems that she grew up in the house that my sister-in-law now lives in. Curious, eh?

Going for long walks is therapeutic for me. It’s my medication. It keeps the black dog at bay.

I take my sketchbook and my camera.

Often I don’t use them. I just walk.

I exercise … not just my body, but my mind and my soul.

I think deeply about things. I work – and walk - things out. I plan and I pray.

Having a view, with ever changing light and shade, reminds me of ‘the bigger picture’. Looking more closely I see fields, hedges, fences and pathways. It makes the journey seem possible. Manageable.

Looking at the sky helps me to dream (blue-sky thinking, and all that).

Over the years I’ve taken countless shots of all sorts of skies. Often, they are not dramatic or photogenic. Just clouds being constantly reshaped by a wind you cannot see.

And the good thing is that it’s not always lonely. In this part of the world you say “hello” to (mostly) everyone you meet and sometimes stop to exchange a few words.

The other day I stopped to talk to an elderly man who was leaning on a gate. He was a local fella who had lived in one of the nearby villages all his life. He lived in a close community of houses, shops and pubs. A place with not much employment and not much hope. After we’d chatted for a while he looked out at the view and said,

“This is the big country … and we didn’t even know it was here.”

I’m very pleased with these photos of the sky I took on Sunday. They reflect my current frame of mind.

Waiting for something better.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

I'm much too excited about a new road ...

... and this is not a metaphor!

The Church Village Bypass has just been opened. The road bypasses not just Church Village (which is where I was born, by the way) but a number of other small villages that used to get terribly congested with traffic. Only took 30 years of discussion and planning.
Alongside the main road a “Community Route” has been developed for cyclists and walkers. It’s a great walk with lovely views. It starts at Cross Inn and goes to Pontypridd (which will only mean anything to those of you that know the area).

It's a distance of ... oh, quite a long way.

The community footpath is safe because it’s fenced off from the road.

Or at least … that was the idea.

When I first walked along there I wondered about notices that had been posted along the fence.

Then I found out why.

It seems some elements of the community had a different agenda. Not only a new road but free fencing as well. Bargain! Whole sections have been taken away.

At least they left the notice.

Another section of the community has also been very well provided for. Let’s hope they are a little more appreciative.

I mean the dormice.


As you drive along the road you notice unusual structures crossing overhead.

These are the three Dormouse Bridges have been built in different places across the road. The cost was £190,000 - though I doubt the dormice are paying. Makes me wonder how the dormice persuaded the Local Authority to build them bridges though. It's all the more impressive when you consider that the plans of mice often go astray.

As it says on the official notice board:

“Dormice are primarily arboreal, moving around through the interlinked branches of trees. To maintain links to habitats on either side of the road Dormouse Bridges have been provided to enable them to cross …”

You couldn’t make it up, could you?

This is one of the views ... sort of.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Drawing Practice

Did you get any advice when you were coming up that was particularly useful?

One of the things I learned the most from was a school program in Paris and Vicenza. We weren’t allowed to take photographs – everything that we responded to, we had to draw. One of my struggles now is finding more time to draw, and to get back in touch with that.”
Chief of Operations N. Scott Johnson of Richard Meier & Partners Architects.

I’ve always loved to draw.

One of my earliest memories is sitting at the table in my Nanny and Pop’s house trying to draw cowboys and Indians. I couldn’t draw the gun in the cowboy’s hand so I asked my Dad to help me. He did it perfectly.

(I must have been about 17 at the time.)

I also remember trying to draw a reindeer in Mrs. Lloyd’s class in Tonysguboriau Primary School. I couldn’t, but the next day the head teacher came in with a stencil for me to draw around.

When I was a teenager I would go out most days during the school holidays (or when I was skiving) to sketch. I walked miles and filled sketchbooks. Some of the sketches I worked up into detailed coloured studies. I’m sure they are still knocking around somewhere.

Walking, sketching and taking photos is still the bedrock of what I do. For me, it’s the equivalent of practicing my scales on the piano every day … well, most days … OK, some days.

And I’ve come to terms with drawing the same things over and over again. It’s not about originality or creativity – it’s about practice.

But in the last few weeks there has been an interesting development.

A shift occurred as I sketched a tree. At some point I stopped sketching and started drawing.

For me, there’s a difference.

A sketch is a quick, unrefined representation of a thing. A drawing is much more imaginative, complex, detailed, worked. I was no longer representing the tree but simply referencing it as a source for a drawing. Although I was still looking at the tree and down at the page (as you do when sketching) I was now letting the pen (I usually sketch with a ballpoint pen) take flight and move more freely across the page. I was working into the image, adding depth and intensity, allowing the ink to blotch and working it onto the paper.

These sketches / drawings are still rough and ready and I plan to work some of them up into fully-fledged drawings to be mounted, framed and sold. (When I’ve done this in the past they’ve proved very popular.)

It doesn’t happen every time I go out sketching – some days I feel like I can’t draw to save my life – but when it does, and the “flow” kicks in, it’s a deeply satisfying experience. When it’s not there I just carry on with the practice of sketching as I go.

My enjoyment of the process must have released endorphins into my brain, though, because now it’s not a discipline … it’s an addiction.

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