Helen Booth and Synapse

The current exhibition showing at Oriel Mwldan is ‘Synapse’ by Helen Booth, an artist who showed previously at Mwldan in 2007, and who was awarded the prestigious Pollock Krasner award in 2012. Her work with installation, drawing and painting is all about interconnectedness, some of  which is explored through works in graphite and oil on gesso, and some with paint, and most interesting in this particular show in an installation titled ‘Strings’. This piece is composed of multi-layers of strings, some hanging in dense cluster, and others drawn out and stretched, capturing something akin to the complexity of the threads of a spider’s web. Periodically a light sweeps across the strings, which highlights the darker corners of it, and illuminates the mass from which the detail is drawn, and the fact that all is connected. The work is inspired by The Nature of Spirit a work written by Alan Turing in the mid-1930s. Turing’s work indicates the idea that there is a direct connection between the internal workings of the brain and the universe as a whole, and the more one looks at the work on display the more one sees the connectedness everywhere. Along with the installation are largely monochrome paintings and drawings the essence of which is the effect of light, in ‘Separation’ the image captured is from the view in the artist’s studio window during the winter, and the presence of snow, and the skeletal landscape are the central theme of the picture. The more geometric pieces as in ‘Hidden Landscape’ bring out once more the idea that beyond everything we see in natural colours and shapes there is a structure which is joining the one to the many, and through the fragile imagery the artist attempts to illuminate those things which might normally be lost in the darkness which is in opposite to the light. This is an experimental work in total, by a conceptual artist who is attempting to encapsulate difficult ideas into a form which will be both enjoyable to the observer and offer them food for thought. In her own words ‘Light makes geometry of landscapes and rock formations and distills everything else – skeletal trees and melancholy weather – to scratches, scuffs and scars.’ Synapse is showing at Oriel Mwldan  until 17 May 2014

A conversation with Helen about the exhibition can be seen on theCul Culture Colony website

Draw Breath

Draw Breath, the new exhibition at Oriel Mwldan, by acclaimed artist Stephen West, offers through the medium of dramatic drawings, a powerful statement about the lungs of the planet, executed with immense skill and magnetic vigour.The effect of the dark line drawing, used to create the deep tangle of branches and leaves on ash trees, now currently dying in their thousands, stirs the mind to acknowledge the dark threat in the underworld contained in the loveliness of the woodlands. There is therefore more to the current exhibition than the surface images which when focussed upon, and breathed in, illustrate a further understanding of the concerned, artistic mind of Stephen West. West’s recognition that the trees are the lungs of the planet, and that without them we are lost, is carried in these images of trees. They are not all of them images of The Ash, there are others including a dramatic Fallen Beech, and then, surprisingly the viewer faces a series of pictures entitled ‘Committee Meetings’ where it seems that all the characters depicted are in the act of talking or shouting at one another. These satirical drawings are neither realistic nor abstract, but there is a sense in which the level of reality tells a story, as in Bwrdd Europ, and spectacularly in his take on Picasso’s Guernica?’ His style appears initially to be loose and lively, maybe even a little wild, but the composition and the structure, are in fact very strong and controlled. The small crowd that gathered for the opening were obviously impressed. Artist Eleri Mills, who travelled some fifty miles for the show, commented on the work. ‘It has an energy that is thrilling,’ she said. ‘But there is also something essentially classical about it.’

Alan Hewson, Project Director, Chapter Arts, Cardiff,  gave the opening talk to the invited viewers, and said that he has known West as a committed artist, ‘He has a deep dedication,’ he said. ‘and works with a fluency and skill which is admirable.’

West describes himself as a ‘drawyer’, a term coined to describe someone making work through the medium of drawing and his work can be seen between now and 25 January in Oriel Mwldan open daily. For visual experience of his work  and to hear Stephen talk about his work see Jacob Whittaker’s film on Culture Colony.

What follows, with the permission of Alan Hewson is the talk he gave to open the show, perceptive and instructive,  and certainly worth a read!


 I was delighted to be asked to open Stephen’s exhibition. I have known Stephen for over twenty years, both as a committed artist and also an able and imaginative arts administrator.  I say committed artist as I know the difficulty of trying to maintain your own practice as well as earning a living. It takes a dedication, persistence and courage.

 The range of work in Stephen’s exhibition is wide, from the deeply personal to issues of national and global significance in which he conveys his skill as an artist or as he prefers it a drawyer and he clearly expresses himself  through his drawings with great fluency and skill 

I mentioned the deeply personal and the title of the exhibition gives a clue-Draw breath refers to a time of recovery and recuperation.    With Stephen it was a response to the Glaucoma he had and the threat to his sight.  It gave him a desire to work from nature and enjoy the delight of simply looking.

It is sad but true we take things for granted and only when our health is threatened by disease do we really appreciate the amazing value of life. But you can be respond in a positive or a negative way and in Stephen’s drawings he has chosen to celebrate the life around him.

But at the same time as celebrating life he also shows that everything is vulnerable.

Draw Breath also refers to respiration of trees inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen contributing to making this planet habitable for life.

 His series of trees shows with great skill and vigour the beauty of the ash tree but at the same time it is a reminder that the ash like the oak, larch and other species is under grave threat from disease. Many remember the devastation of Dutch elm disease over thirty years ago and the millions of trees that were lost. We face that againwith this being part ofthe impact of Global trading making it much easier for diseases and insects to travel, carried in plants, in crates and containers. According to the Forestry Commission the UK has had as manytree  diseases in the last 10 years as in previous fifty – another unexpected and unwelcome downside of the unfettered global market and a reminder how vulnerable and fragile is the world we inhabit.

It’s particularly poignant in Wales not only because of the ash trees link to the Welsh Bardic tradition but also through the work of David Nash the sculptor who has focused for 40 years on working with wood, with the Ash Dome being one of his earliest and most famous works and this too must now be under threat.

The threat to ash trees is from fungal spores spread by plants imported from  Europe.

But it is not only the devastation of nature that we see for as the spores invade and destroy the trees so mankind can destroy like spores. In 1937nazi planes swarmed into Spain to create the massacre at Guernica whichPicassso turned into one of the most compelling symbols against the horror of war.  Stephen uses this work for a stepping off point to explore its powerful imageswhich have now become  archetypes embedded in our unconscious.

 On a smaller and more insidious stage Stephen uses his wit and draughtsmanship to explore the bane of all those involved in the arts, the committee. Stephen says ‘I  consider the power of the cultural committee can be another threat – this time to our art institutions.’

 Drawing on my 35 years in the arts in Wales I hesitate to say that the satirical view of committees was drawn from Stephen’s personal experience but it’s true that the committee seem to be an intergral part of the arts landscape.  A lot of time and energy can be wasted as Stephen shows in his drawings of the meetings consuming as he puts it ‘the precious oxygen in their often pointless chattering’. In his career in Arts Administration I am sure he has longed for the end of such meetings and to be out in the woods and fields drawing as I have.

But I feel that in some ways it is not just the committee itself that is at fault but lack of  different voices within that committee.  Not just within in it  but in the wider sphere- Wales has not been well served either in the print media or on television on coverage and debate about the arts and those external and internal voices are an answer the power of the committee.

The committee in its best form is a symbol of the democratic process-  Winston Churchill said ‘democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time’- dicatorships brings certainty – there is one truth, one belief, democracy is shambolic and untidy  and uncertain but so are we as people and if we have to put up with wasted time and effort if we want everyone’s voice then that’s how it should be.

Stephen’s art, as I said at the start, encompasses the deeply personal and the global and he shows his consummate skill in using his art to encourage us to meditate on the seamless link between our own experience and the world we inhabit.

Terrestrial Locomotion

Pete Williams at Oriel Mwldan

Terrestrial Locomotion (of land and self-propulsion)

Pete Williams is a print-maker, with a long-standing reputation for detailed artistic work and his current exhibition at Theatr Mwldan, has the potential to appeal to a keen audience of those who love  both the work of a craftsman and that of a fine artist, as this unique work is an exemplary demonstration of a combination of both practices and takes them to a new level.

The work currently on show at Mwldan relates not only to Williams’s printmaking, but also, perhaps surprisingly,  to his love of running, and it is this which is recorded and translated into tangible and beautiful pieces of work.

‘When I run,’ he says. ‘My mind begins to empty of all the stresses and strains of daily life. After I have got over the first couple of muscle aching, shin battering miles, my body and mind tend to level out and a serene calm begins to settle.’

Out of this serenity and after the running, comes the creating of the objects which will capture the essence of the runs themselves.  These are huge pieces of work in wood. Circular and powerful they are named for the runs; Llwyernog Silver Mine, Elan Valley Reservoir; and they are worked with chisels and a craftsman’s tools. Designs and patterns put into the wood, bring texture and shape, then inks are added and worked into the designs, creating  the blocks from which the prints can be taken. The fact that these giant circular designs, can then be reproduced again and again, is of course the magical part of the print-making process, and a most appealing process it is. But then the truth is that these blocks are in themselves complete and beautiful works of art.

Williams is the co-founder and director of the Print Market Project in Cardiff, now  a studio with facilities for stone and plate lithography, silkscreen, relief and etching, coupled with opportunities for forward thinking and combining practices. Williams calls it ‘A most Important Space’ the name of the film about the Project, showing alongside the work in the Mwldan gallery. The soundtrack and the images within the film, generate a feeling of uplift and a suggestion that making art can be a joyful, life-enhancing pursuit. By watching the smiles of those viewing, it would seem that idea can be infectious.

Williams is also associate lecturer at Cardiff and Swansea Metropolitan University and Carmarthen School of Art on the BA/MA Fine Art Printmaking and his show is in Oriel Mwldan until 24th August.

On a Raft with Emrys Williams

The artist now showing at Oriel Mwldan is Emrys Williams whose installation of a Raft on the Mwldan is a thought-provoking piece, based on the idea of the artist’s studio as a raft. When the artist is truly involved with his work he leaves the external space and floats in a timeless space. I recently interviewed Emrys, and what he said rang bells  for me as a writer. The way that time disappears when completely absorbed in the process of creation, is an extraordinary raft-like journey. The creative process is the exquisite marriage of yin and yang. to make a taoist observation. The yin is the rising of the ‘idea’ from the inner self, the yang is the lifting of the brush or the pen, to translate it from the inner into the outer. The following is the review I did for the Tivyside Advertiser.

Emrys Williams : Raft Afon Mwldan


In the latest exhibition at the Oriel Mwldan, enormous canvases twelve foot by eight foot, bearing images and glyphs mysterious and mundane, adorn the walls and create the surrounding  edges of a world in which the raft makes its epic journey. In the centre lies the raft itself and upon its surface are all those items the artist deems to be necessary to make his journey into the unknown, each of which is symbolic to an aspect of his life, his creativity and the elemental quality of its gift.

Its maker Emrys Williams talks fluently on the subject of this original mixed media installation which is based on the idea of the artist’s studio as a location set free from the confines of its surroundings, moving into territory hitherto unknown, as it lives in the mind of the artist until conveyed into the world.

The images on the raft and the paintings are drawn from many sources, and also, the artist himself explains in interview, directly from the collected images lying in the sub-conscious.

‘At times when I am painting I am taken with an impulse to place something, or put a stroke, just so, and I know it is a part of the topography I am seeking,’ he says.

Here and there on the canvases are words  which are taken from the ‘Six words of advice’ from Tilopa an early Buddhist Monk. These words relate to being in the present and not continually referring back, or trying to look forward. For the creative artist this meditative state of ‘here and now’ has always been a prized state of being and one which produces extraordinary work.

This is an unusual piece, thought-provoking and contemporary, though its modernity does not neglect its inspiration, which contributes a timeless quality. The artist acknowledges that he has been stimulated and inspired by the ancient Buddhist teachings and also by the Egyptian artefacts in the British Museum, where the precious objects were packed in boxes and loaded on to boats for the afterlife, symbolic and awe-inspiring enough to cause him to begin to record his own journey.

The installation runs at Oriel Mwldan until 23rd February.