The City Gallery: Trallong Common No.2

imgp6928Artist: Michael Howard

Medium: Oil, graphite, oil pastel.

I FIRST came across Michael Howard’s work when I wandered into a gallery in Crickhowell to pass the time while The Current Mrs Feeney and her sister were busy in a trinket shop downstairs.

There was an exhibition of his landscapes, and I was immediately struck by the strong use of colour and shape. I regretted not buying something, so I was pleased when a gallery in Swansea started to show some of his work recently. I bought this painting at the gallery’s winter show this week.

Trallong Common is in the Usk valley; it is a bit of a stretch to call that part of Swansea’s regional hinterland, but I liked the painting, so it is going into my City Gallery collection anyway.

Michael is a graduate of Chelsea School of Art. He spent 20 years teaching. He left his last post as Head of Art at Rugby School in order to paint full time.

He describes his paintings as “an emotional response to what I experience and observe when walking in the hills around Brecon.”

The City Gallery: Light Show

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Artist: Tony Douglas-Jones

Medium: Watercolour.

PORT Talbot steelworks sprawl along the shore on the east side of Swansea Bay, and are as iconic to city residents as is the Mumbles lighthouse, which stands on the opposite side of the bay.

I like this night-time scene very much. Many a Swansea resident has driven at night past the works, which runs alongside the M4 motorway in this part of Wales, and thought: “Almost home now.”

Sadly, the works has recently announced large scale redundancies because the British steel industry is struggling to compete with the import of cheap Chinese steel in an over-supplied market.

So more than just the shades of evening are falling on this historic and still hugely important symbol of Welsh industry now.

Born in Scotland and raised in Wales, Tony lists John Singer Sargent, Edward Seago and John Yardley as his main influences, and draws his inspiration from the Gower peninsula, where he has been a part-time resident for the last 15 years.  Find out more about Tony on his website http://www.douglas-jones.co.uk

The City Gallery: St Helen’s

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Artist: Frank Austin

Medium: Oil

Frank Austin’s studio in The Uplands district of Swansea is just a couple of streets from my house. Frank is an interesting character. I have interviewed him previously for the Retired Lives category in this blog.

The painting depicts a Swansea v The Barbarians rugby match at the St Helen’s rugby and cricket ground on Mumbles Road in Swansea. I liked it because it reminded me of the time when I was a rugby reporter for the South Wales Evening Post.

The Barbarians toured South Wales every Easter. They were an invitation team. The players wore Barbarians shirts (black and white hoops) and shorts, but each player retained his individual club’s socks. Hence the Baa-Baas (as they were known) in the painting are sporting a colourful variety of hosiery.

Swansea as a first-class rugby club and St Helen’s as a premier sporting venue were both consigned to history with the emergence of full-time professionalism in the sport, and the transition to regional teams in Wales.

Swansea is now represented in the Pro 12 league by the Ospreys regional side, based at the Liberty Stadium which is shared with Swansea City Football Club.

Swansea continue as a semi-pro side at St Helen’s, which is also used by Glamorgan County Cricket Club for an annual week-long Swansea Festival. Glamorgan no longer play regularly at the ground, which has decidedly seen better days.

One of which is remembered in Frank’s evocative painting of the day the Baa-Baas would come to town.

Frank lists Edward Hopper, Norman Rockwell and Howard Hodgkin among his influences. “Formaldehyde, unmade beds, video art, flashing lights and most installation art hold no interest” for him.

You can discover more about Frank’s work on his website frankaustin.co.uk

The City Gallery: The House On The Hill

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Artist: Denise Di Battista

Medium: Acrylic

The full title of the painting is The House On The Hill, Gower Coastal Path.

An admission; when I first saw Denise’s work, I didn’t like it. I thought it was garish. It began to grow on me, but when I finally made up my mind to buy something by her, it was in the unlikely setting of Ward 3 of Swansea’s Singleton Hospital. There are several prints of her work hanging in the patients’ day room there.

I had a look on her website (http://www.artofwales.com) and found the original of House On The Hill was available. I visited her studio, in the front room of her home in Llanelli, and had a chat with her about her work.

Denise in her front-room home studio
Denise in her front-room home studio

She was born in Middlesbrough, but her family moved to Llanelli when she was very young. I asked if she had had a conventional art school background.

“No, I trained as a nurse,” she said. She gained a science degree from the Open University in her 30s, and her nursing career had progressed to the point where she was a Sister Tutor at Llanelli General Hospital.

Why then did she decide to make the radical switch from nurse to artist?

“I had always wanted to paint, but I was never sure I could make a living out of painting. But when I got to 50, I thought ‘If not now, then never’. ”

She retrained as a respiratory medical technician, because it was better paid than nursing. The extra money gave her the chance to find the time to start painting as well.

But it was still a considerable financial gamble. She remembers always painting when she was young, but as a child of the post-war 1950s she was understandably encouraged by her parents to seek her future in something that offered more security than art. Hence the nursing career.

How did things work out?

“I was able to make a living from day one, because I was selling prints of my work.

“I had a good exhibition in Llanelli. I sold 25 prints. I used the money to buy my own printing equipment.

“My husband makes limited edition giclee prints of my work, and I started selling them at craft fairs.”

This approach was driven by necessity because of her background. “Lots of artists make their money through teaching. I am not qualified to teach, so I had to sell.

Denise paints every day from early morning until early afternoon.
Denise paints every day from early morning until early afternoon.

“I worked hard at it; I still do. I paint every day. I start as early as possible, and paint until 2pm. I treat it as my job.”

Denise describes her work as “adding colour to life.” What inspires her?

“I firmly believe that whatever your life presents you with affects your work. At the moment, my husband and I are doing a lot of walking, so my current work is very influenced by the coast and woodlands where we walk.”

The house in the painting I bought can be seen from the coastal path near Thurba Head, Rhossili. “I wanted to capture the undulation of the various strips of land, the wonderful stonework with the white geometric shape of the house perched aloft,” Denise says in her description of the work.

A confessed lover of bright colours, she admires artists, like Van Gogh and Gaugin, who portray things with exaggerated vibrancy.

Her own exaggerated sense of colour is now hanging on my wall. It makes me smile when I look at it.

The City Gallery: Swansea Cityscape

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Artist: Robert Harrison

I STARTED collecting art a couple of years ago. I tend to buy paintings that feature or relate to Swansea.

Robert Harrison was born in Neath in 1943. He studied at the West of England College of Art in Bristol. After a post graduate course at Cardiff University, he taught art at a comprehensive school in Hertfordshire before becoming a full-time artist.

I like the way his work combines formal landscape views with abstract designs.