Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru 2011 in Wrecsam

30Jul11

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This year I was asked to select work for the National Eisteddfod of Wales. Along with my fellow selectors, sculptor Lois Williams and curator Alessandro Vincentelli we met over many weeks to try to select a coherent and relevant exhibition of Welsh contemporary art.

The process of selecting work for this year’s exhibition in Lle Celf has been extremely difficult and challenging. With all open exhibitions you never quite know what is going to be submitted. As the process begins you have in mind what you, as a selector, would like the exhibition to look like. It has inevitably meant that good work has been rejected along the way in order to create a coherent snapshot of contemporary Welsh visual art. I would like to thank all of the artists who submitted work for this year’s exhibition and hope that if, like me in the past, you were not selected this time you will view the exhibition and, taking into account the challenges we faced as selectors, apply again next year.

I found a number of themes formed during the selection process:
• artists working in series, sometimes describing a notion of narrative
• an exploration of isolation, or emptiness
• concepts of home

I enjoyed discovering the dialogue between artists who have been pulled together in a fairly random fashion, the common link being that they decided to apply this year.

I have been a fan of Bedwyr Williams’ work for some time now. Wales is so fortunate to have an international artist of his calibre choosing to make his home here. Working as an artist in north Wales is not easy. We do not have a network of contemporary art galleries, dealers, or an arts media generating wider interest in our work. There are few opportunities for artists to find alternative funding sources to enable them to continue with their practice. Fewer still for an artist who wishes to forge a very distinctive route in their creative endeavours. Bedwyr operates from a base in north-west Wales. His uncomfortable, wry, sometimes awkward sense of humour reflects on cultural differences through specific examples and experiences. He helps us to explore the universal through the personal. I was particularly impressed when I first saw Nimrod at Ceri Hand Gallery, Liverpool in 2009, and which will subsequently be shown at Oriel Davies in Newtown this summer. This piece was mesmeric and exciting, accessible and challenging in equal measure. There’s an unsettling nature to his work which I like; taking the ordinary and turning it into something that forces us to question what we know. His wellington boots are, on the one hand, that most basic of things; every Welsh home has a pair, that’s one thing for sure…as sure as eggs is eggs. Bedwyr subverts these and makes them into a linocut, the surface carved with symbols of rural life. (It’s interesting within this exhibition to see wellington boots also used as a prop in the photographs of Michal Iwanowski.) At once Bedwyr is mixing the traditional and contemporary in way that needs no prior knowledge of art history or over contextualised clap-trap. It is right that an artist of his stature, who has done so much to show Wales on the international stage, a recipient of Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales, a major player in contemporary British art, is recognised by the Eisteddfod at this time. A Welsh artist, based in Wales, making work that is about Welshness, otherness, difference. I am so pleased that we were able to offer the Gold Medal to Bedwyr at this point in his career. Bedwyr Williams shows himself to be an intelligent and challenging visual artist whose work encourages engagement and continues to develop and move forward.

Within the exhibition a number of artists chose to submit work produced as part of a series: David Rees Davies, Helen Sear, Heather Eastes, Georgia Jones, Peter Bodenham, Roger Lougher, Zoe Preece, Kenneth Price, Andreas R all reference multiple images.

Roger Lougher’s ubiquitous road signs indicate potential characteristics inherent in the Welsh psyche. Interesting the way that language disappears and the wonder of words starts to appear before your very eyes in the most basic of forms, allowing us to view the words themselves as if for the first time.

I really enjoyed seeing Helen Sear’s work at Crescent Arts and Duckett & Jeffrey’s in Yorkshire this year. There is something quiet and contemplative about her work. There is an intimacy at play. She intends to expose what is hidden or overlooked and to make the ordinary extraordinary. These are beautiful photographs that have a painterly feel to them, a jewel-like brightness, a stark contrast to the paired down minimal beauty of her work “Pond” shown this year in Scarborough. Here a simple idea is explored extensively making a connection between people, masks, the natural and manufactured, the exterior and interior. People start to take on the characteristics of animals, something which is explored elsewhere in the narrative work of Penny Hallas and Heather Eastes, as does Stephen West’s red arm and drawing of a wolf dog.

Andreas Rüthi’s paintings are also multiples; each one a play on the knowing and known, while at the same time a delightful observational study. These are still lives that could be set up in any family home. The paintings show work by famous artists in books alongside objects and continue a theme I first saw in his work in the John Moores’ exhibition in 2006. Like the earlier work which featured postcards and objects, these paintings act as a visual diary of the artist’s life. Antonia Dewhurst’s work references the political but works on the basis of beautiful images of real and imagined huts, they form an interesting dialogue with Gareth Griffith’s Tents and Alan Whitfield’s interior photographs of empty shops.

The craft on show this year is less than I would have liked. We are not far from the acclaimed national centre for the applied arts at Ruthin Craft Centre. The submission from makers was very disappointing. The prize money has been shared between animation/film by Sean Vicary, fine art ceramics by Peter Bodenham, and porcelain work by Carys Davies.

Peter Bodenham’s work explores the notion of home. His work is both engaging and well made. Having originally trained in ceramics at Camberwell in the 80s, no doubt coming into contact with Gillian Lowndes, Jaqueline Poncelet, Ian Auld, Ewan Henderson, and Colin Pearson, he then moved into fine art based practice following an MA in Fine Art and Critical Studies at Cardiff Institute. At the heart of his work is the making process, he responds to materials. His work stands out in a craft context because it is critically engaged. This passion for making is expressed through his work as Head of Ceramics at Coleg Sir Gar, and his contribution to the International Ceramics Festival in Aberystwyth. His work should be seen more often and deserves a much wider audience.

I hope you will enjoy the exhibition and find your own narrative when navigating the space. Find your favourite piece; consider purchasing some work and starting your own collection of contemporary art from Wales. Collecting is a great way of supporting the creative energy of our nation, getting involved with the career of an artist and entering into an exciting and stimulating world where perceptions are challenged and visual dialogue takes place.

The Eisteddfod has hosted an art and crafts exhibition since 1865. Lle Celf, the visual arts pavilion, attracts up to 40,000 visitors over the week. Previous winners have included Shani Rhys James, Brenda Chamberlain, Mary Griffiths, Peter Finnemore, Tim Davies, Sue Williams, Cefyn Burgess, Claire Curneen, Ann Catrin Evans, Catrin Howell, Walter Keeler, Eleri Mills and Pamela Rawnsley.

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3 Responses to “Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru 2011 in Wrecsam”

  1. Went yesterday and spent nearly all afternoon in the art pavilion – really impressed.


  1. 1 Ty Unnos in Newtown: Antonia Dewhurst « Steffan Jones-Hughes

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