A Kind of Departure

CCQ Issue 1Cover.pdf

Earlier on this year I decided that rather than bemoan the limited platforms for contemporary art in Wales I should get up off my sedentary bottom and do something about it. And so, with the help of two colleagues from blown magazine (which I was deputy editor for from 2009 until the final issue November 2012), and with a lot of other help and support from a staggering array of people, I give you Culture Colony Quarterly Magazine (CCQ).

This is a new, independent perspective on the arts in Wales and folds in the many different genres and disciplines, because everything has a context. It is internationally facing, because so much of what happens in Wales resonates across the world and there are so many creative practitioners who either live here or collaborate with our artists that it would be foolish not to recognise the links and connections that send the creativity that happens in Wales to all the corners of the globe (which, being round, has no corners).

Those of you who are familiar with our partner organisation Culture Colony will understan, the drivers behind our new project. CCQ is as much about the conversation as it is about profile and is as interested in the motivations behind the production of art as the finished work.

I am going to concentrate my efforts on the magazine and the web site, as they both develop in response to the feedback from the community of artists and audiences that we serve, but reserve the right to come back here from time to fulminate about things that might not fit within the magazine’s remit.

Thank you for following this blog and for your feedback and endorsements across so many platforms. I was a reluctant blogger and initially started as part of my post graduate diploma in journalism at Cardiff University (which I cannot recommend highly enough to all wannabe journalists) but, since graduating in 2010, it has become an important outlet for me to let loose my thoughts and responses to various things close to my heart and has, occasionally, even led to paid work as a journalist and to all manner of interesting side projects.

I hope you will keep an eye on CCQ as it evolves. As I write I am surrounded by the smell of fresh ink (on matte Hello silk 130gsm with a fluorescent spot colour for you print junkies). The internet is a wonderful place but there’s still magic in print so please do try and get hold of our first issue, which will be rolling out across Wales, the UK and internationally, like a tea stain on a duvet, from tomorrow.


Open Doors, Closing Doors – Cardiff Open Studios

David FitzJohn TactileBOSCH Citizen

This weekend (27 & 28 October 2012), as part of Cardiff Contemporary, around 100 artists will fling open their doors and welcome people in to see what they get up in their creative work spaces for Cardiff Open Studios.

This is the first time that there’s been this concerted effort by so many artists and is an indicator of the collaborative spirit that pervades the first outing of the two month visual & applied arts & design festival that is Cardiff Contemporary (01 October – 30 November).

There’ll be a bittersweet tang in the air because this weekend marks the end of tactileBOSCH‘s existence in the old Victorian laundry that this throbbingly vibrant group of artists has occupied for 12 years.

I first wrote about tactileBOSCH here when I was still just dipping a toe in the blogosphere’s murky waters. Buried in that blog is an interview with co-founder of tB, Kim Fielding so here it is again so you don’t have to rummage around looking for it. Though, as a still very green trainee journalist I hadn’t factored in my interview subject scoffing chocolate biscuits (provided by me as a bribe to get my interview), nor the very necessary hum of a fan heater – tB could be arctic in the winter.

The importance of places like tB can’t be overstated: incubators for new talent; studio spaces for economically challenged artists (most of the artists I know); platforms for work that doesn’t fit into other gallery spaces; a meeting of minds; a buzz. So much. I’ve already written about why affordable artists’ studios are important here so I won’t bang on, but the loss of tB from the Cardiff art scene will be keenly felt and it will be mourned by all the artists from across the UK and the globe who have had a chance to make and show work there.

So tonight (27 Oct), from 6pm there’ll be the party of a lifetime and, as always, everyone is welcome.

Blowback tactileBOSCH 2012

But before that party, there are plenty of other studios for you to visit and there’s bound to be tea, cake, chat, great work, friendly artists just waiting to say hello. The Cardiff Open Studios website has lots of helpful advice for planning your trip, including this map to guide you around the city.

Here are the venues and artists – take a deep breath, it’s comprehensive:

André Stitt’s Studio Artist: André Stitt Anthony Shapland’s Studio Artist: Anthony Shapland Butetown Artists Studios Artists: Philip Nicol, David Gould, Richard Cox, Mary Husted, Maggie James, Carwyn Evans, Carol Hiles, Annie Giles Hobbs, Dilys Jackson, Jan Beeney, Will Roberts Cardiff Print Workshop Artists: Anne Williams, Lauren Burgess, Catherine Ade, Becci Holmes, Jane Taylor, Dave Pettersen, Claire Carter, Georgina Brownlow, Sue Paton, Sue Edwards, Mana Pon, Sally Williams, Jane Marchesi, Eirian Lloyd, Bill Chambers, Lilith Gough, Jackie Shackson, Jan Arwyn Jones, Steve Griffiths Fireworks Clay Studios Artists: Becky Adams, Dan Allen, John Blackwell, Lowri Davies, Natalia Dias, Virginia Graham, Diane Horne, Lisa Krigel, Frankie Locke, Nicola Moorhouse, Sara Moorhouse, Zoe Preece, Matthew Thompson, Caroline Taylor, Paul Wearingm Gemma Wilde, Joseph Hopkinson, Jin Eui Kim, Louise Hall, Carol Freehan, Ann Jones.Fox Studio Artists: Phil Lambert, Catherine Lewis, Sam Aldridge, Elbow Room, Cathryn Lowri Griffiths, Jude Noon, Sara Annwyl Geraint Evans’ Studio Artist: Geraint Evans Inkspot Studios Artist: Candice Black Jacqueline Alkema’s Studio Artists: Jacqueline Alkema Kings Road Studios Artists: Jan Williams, Jo Berry, Gordon Dalton, Lee Campbell, James Charlton, Alun Rosser, Andy Fung, Amber Mottram, Rabab Ghazoul, Brian Watkins, Sam Pickthall, Chris Moore, Margaret Sian Williams, Chloe Barry, Barrie J Davies. Molly Curley’s Studio Artist: Molly Curly Morgan Arcade Studios Daniel Hamilton, Nicole Miles, Heloise Godfrey, Lynton Black, Liam O’ Connor,Christopher Holloway, Julien Decaudin, Godmachine, Emma Levey, Lucy Daniels, Cath Jones, Cath Wetherhead, Nic Jones, Robert Lo Bue (Applingua), Sarah HIll (Applingua), Yoke Creative Morgen Hall’s Studio Artist:Morgen Hall Oriel Canfas Gallery Artists: Alun Hemming, Anthony Evans, Chris Griffin, Pete Sainty, Adrian Metcalfe Printhaus Artists: Printhaus Print Workshops, Shaun James, Alys Wall, Jan Bennett, Sophie Barras, Sue Roberts, Liz Picton, Jenny Cashmore, Goat Major Projects, Nathalie Hooper, Cinzia Mutigli Print Market Project Artists: Pete Williams and Print workshops facilities. Studio b Artists: Anna Rafferty, Emily Lander, Kelly Best, Lauren Foulkes, Louise Shenstone, Molly Firth, Rhiannon Boswell, Elena Andruhiv tactileBOSCH Gallery and Workshops Artists Kim Fielding and a host of others presenting at final show after 6pm 27th October. Third Floor Gallery Studios Artist: Ian Smith Warwick Hall Studios Artists: Matt Cook, Freya Dooley, Matthew Evans, Gabrielle Frazer, Rebecca Wyn Kelly, Beth Lewis, Ellie Young

There are links to all of the artists and studios on the Cardiff Open Studios site. All of this has been pulled together by Richard Higlett in an astonishingly short space of time.

It’s going to be a great weekend. Hope to see you there.


It seems that drawing,  painting  and print are back on the agenda again. Artists’ collective tactileBosch put out a call for artists working in two dimensions and the selection that forms Citizen certainly proves that there’s plenty of mileage left in the traditional media.

Curated by Sam Aldridge, Andrew Cooper, Kim Fielding and Neil Jeffries, there’s the usual eclectic mix of stuff, but the venue’s nooks and crannies lend themselves to a range of work and nothing seems overcrowded, nor are there any jarring juxtapositions.

True to form, tactileBosch made the opening on 01 May memorable and really did roll out the red carpet. And there was live music from the likes of techno duo Barry Hole’s Hit List, offering up terrific renderings of 80s classics like Kraftwerk’s Das Model on a multitude of synths and gizmos. Made me almost nostalgic for my youth.

As with any open call, new voices emerge and Citizen offers a chance to see the unfamiliar alongside those who have embedded themselves on the Welsh art scene.

Jonathan Powell’s bathetic heads and Richard Monahan’s dysmorphic characters require a longer look. While Elys John’s monochrome flowers, (see main pic above) painstakingly rendered, bloom and grow to fill the screen: Computer rendering, but without the usual showing off. He also offers a slightly harder-to-see projection that’s part dandelion seeds, part jellyfish, part heavenly bodies. Tucked under the roof, it’s easy to miss it but worth looking up. Both films are hypnotic and, despite their hidden techno credentials, are beautiful in their organic simplicity.

There’s the full gamut of approaches here. Matt Skelley’s Three Chairs, uses light to create an afterburn image that transforms the mundane into something magical. Martinez de Lecea’s series of digitally tinkered with images are extremely powerful in their restrained use of technology, while Mi-Young Choi offers hyper-real skies with lone missiles cutting across the canvas, in sharp contrast to the dark canvasses of Steph Goodger’s hellish painting’s, based on Dante’s Inferno. Similarly Sonja Benskin Mesher’s jewel-like abstract landscapes contrast with Geraint Evan’s apocalyptic urban scenes.

Of course it wouldn’t be a tactileBosch exhibition without a performance. As he and his fellow students deal with the news that the MAP (time-based/performance) at UWIC will be no more from the end of this academic year (snuffed out with barely a murmur), Chris Evans decided to rebrand himself as a painter – literally. In his performance Jackson Bollocks, he suspended himself from the ceiling and used his head as a paintbrush.

There are 23 artists in this show and a blog can’t do them justice, although the foursome of curators certainly seem to have done so. I suggest you get up to Llandaff in Cardiff before 23 May and see for yourself. Check website for details of opening times and days.

If you want to see more of drawing but not as we know it, here’s a trail for the forthcoming Opus show at Bay Art. It’s called “What will be seen” and promised to stretch perceptions of drawing to the limits.

Meanwhile, I’m off to the opening, across two sites, of Ffotogallery’s latest exhibition, Life Less Ordinary looking at performance in display in South African Art.

paint and place

A quick plug for Elfyn Lewis’s wonderful work at St David’s Hall Foyer Galleries, which runs to March 27th. Darryl Corner has already offered a great review in his Western Mail column, so it would be daft to restate what he’s said.

But I’ve known Elfyn for some time now, and would add that I never fail to be impressed with his seriousness of intent, his constant probing and experimenting and his deep and obvious commitment to paint, a medium that bobs in and out of fashion like a WAG’s handbag. Like his more-or-less contemporaries, Brendan Stuart Burns and Catrin Webster, Lewis manages to use abstraction to open up responses to place even if those responses are all in the mind of the viewer.

Below is the press release for the forthcoming exhibition at Cynon Valley Museum and Art Gallery, in Aberdare (my top tip – there’s a free bus to Tescos from the station and said supermarket is just over the road from CVMAG.)

There’ll be a whole new body of work in that exhibition and I’m hoping it’ll include some of the larger works, which won him the Gold Medal for Fine Art at last year’s National Eisteddfod.  Both venues offer interest free purchasing for original artworks, through the Arts Council’s Collectorplan Scheme and, if you’re going with some cash or your flexible friend, I strongly urge you to snap up some of Lowri Davies’  beautiful ceramics as they sell like hot cakes.

‘Gestiana’ by / gan Elfyn Lewis 13 March / Mawrth – 24 April / Ebril 2010

Cynon Valley Museum and Art Gallery, Aberdare

‘Surfaces are layered with paint that overflows, dripping. Congested, thick impasto paint has been pushed and forced to create a painting, which is also an object of desire. These paintings are layered time after time until the upper layer explodes and transforms from its volcanic creation into a vivid landscape. These are eruptions of colour and beauty intended to transfix the viewer’. Elfyn Lewis was born in Porthmadog, North Wales. His abstract paintings born of his love for the landscape of Wales and the powerful memories associated with the places depicted are distinctive and instantly recognisable. In 2009 he was the principal artist representing Wales at the Euro Celtic Art Festival, part of the Festival Interceltique the world’s largest Celtic Art’s Festival as well as being awarded the Gold Medal for Fine Art at the Meirion National Eisteddfod of Wales. He has exhibited throughout the UK and worldwide and his work is represented in both public and private collections. Brodor o Borthmadog, Gwynedd, yw Elfyn Lewis. Mae pawb yn adnabod ei weledigaeth ddihafal o’r hoff fannau sy’n ymddangos yn ei luniau. Dyma arlunydd sy’n gweu grym y cof a chariad at wedd ei gynefin gyda’i gilydd. Yn 2009, Elfyn oedd y prif arlunydd yn cynrychioli Cymru yn Arddangosfa Celfyddyd Weledol Ewro-Celtaidd. (Rhan yw hon o’r Ŵyl Ryng-Geltaidd, yr ŵyl gelfyddydau Geltaidd fwyaf yn y byd.) Yn ogystal â hyn, fe enillodd y Fedal Aur am Gelfyddyd Gain yn Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Meirion a’r Cylch, y Bala, yn 2009. Mae wedi arddangos ei waith ym mhob rhan o’r Deyrnas Unedig, ac mae casgliadau cyhoeddus a phreifat wedi prynu darluniau ganddo. http://www.elfynlewis.com


The past few weeks have offered up some exhibitions that unintentionally drew together a lot of disparate threads in the chaotic loom of my imagination.

It started with a trip to Swansea, to catch the very last day of Peter Finnemore’s show at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, and the last week of Willie Doherty’s.

Two very different artists, one from West Wales, the other from Northern Ireland, whose work is rooted in their understanding of the place from which they come.

Finnemore’s show was a chance to showcase a collection of his work, purchased by the Glynn Vivian. It is immediately clear that there is a curatorial sympathy for his practice, played out in the imaginative and well-thought out “tree” of tiny dvd screens. Each showed different scenes from Finnemore’s garden in the Gwendraeth Valley. As birds flock and cluster around bird feeders all is so-far-so-good bucolic fantasy. Until Finnemore looms up into shot, clad in his trademark camouflage. The birds carry on feeding and there is an indescribable sense of sinister benevolence (even as I type it it sounds pretentious, but it’s really hard to define otherwise).

Into the main space to watch a loop of  films, all handled with the same subtle humour and some highly surreal moments – Finnemore as a camouflaged Elvis impersonator miming to Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire (the link won’t take you to Finnemore but to YouTube), using a a giant sunflower as his mic. There are fires and explosions, sheds and greenhouses and the late great Myffin the cat. To go into much more detail would be unfair, as the show’s over. The point is that this is confident work that comes from a strong identification with place. As does Willie Doherty’s.

In the main galleries Willie Doherty‘s films Buried and Ghost Story are glossier than Finnemore’s. The shots are sumptious in Buried and, I suspect, more budget-greedy for the long tracking shot in Ghost Story, narrated by Stephen Rae. In the former we are in dark woodland, in that dense coniferous light that could be day or night. Smoke drifts from a near-dead fire; invertebrates ooze from bark like resin. Slowly the human traces come into focus: shell case, melted plastic, along with the memory of some of the dark deeds that occurred in the woodlands of   Northern Ireland’s bloodied past. It is difficult, as audience, not to overlay meaning on to the astonishingly beautiful and well-shot images.

Again, mean of me as the show finished on 14 February, but this is all by way of setting the scene, so bear with me please.

After a hurried lunch it was off up the Swansea Valley to Newtown and Oriel Davies. Although I’d been up and down the Swansea Valley before, this was the first time I’d done it all in one stretch – watching the Sleeping Giant heave into view at the head of the valley tinged with the colour of pale dried blood as the bracken turned in the late winter sun.

Across the Brecon Beacons, past the absurd German village on the army range near Sennybridge, devoid of all other human traces except for the green plastic porta-loos that modern soldiers require for their comfort. Little fishhooks of hiraeth (which translate from Welsh rather crudely as longing or yearning for home) tweak at my heart.

Missing my secret short cut, I can see the now dark Newtown twinkling below and arrive just in time to miss my next artist’s first howl on the roof of the gallery. Simon Whitehead‘s work, the culmination of some 15 years, is embodied in two core elements: Afield and Louphole. Whitehead’s approach is informed by his days as a dancer and a geographer and has incorporated many different ways of working but all refer back to the landscape and human habitation of and movement through it. This sounds dense and worthy but the results are far from it. He is a generous collaborator, inviting other artists and a wider public to engage with him as he re-examines ways of travelling through a landscape – sometimes by just slowing up the pace to that of a walking horse, or by strapping cameras to the chests of willing participants and asking them to describe their journey, as he does in Stalks.

Since a residency in Quebec, Whitehead has become interested in wolves – hunted to extinction here centuries ago – they were still present in Canada and their howls permeated his consciousness. Had I arrived in time I would have seen him on the stainless steel roof of Oriel Davies, giant galvanised megaphone in hand, howling to the populace of this town in Powys. Instead I’ll have to wait until 04 March (at 7pm if you’re in the neighbourhood).

Meanwhile, back in Cardiff, photographer Martin Parr has been documenting the traditional Saturday night out in working men’s clubs in South Wales. the results can be seen at Earlswood Social Club in Rumney and are well worth a visit. The project is part of public art agency Safle‘s collaborationwith St David’s Partnership – the organisation behind the new St David’s 2 development in Cardiff’s city centre. The launch night offered up bingo, a wonderful Elvis impersonator and I even managed to win the raffle (I’m easily pleased, me).

The show runs until 14 March so catch it if you can.

The Art of Living

For the next few weeks I’m going to be ruminating about art – more specifically contemporary art, made by artists who are still alive and chasing after the zeitgeist or just glancing sideways at life.

This will not be a torrent of art history, theory, jargon or mumbo jumbo, just a look at how artists work and what they do, and why they should keep on doing it.

As a preface to this I’m going to get the buttock elephant out of the cyber room right now: Yes, I was part of a panel that awarded £20,000 to artist Sue Williams under the Arts Council of Wales Creative Wales Awards scheme and, yes, she was proposing to use some of that money to cast buttocks as part of an exploration into sex, gender, identity and racial attitudes to body parts. And yes, yes, yes, I spoke to a Sunday Times journalist and you can Google the rest.

As an aside, if you want to know what the nasty end of the blogosphere looks like, see what the Americans had to say about me.

So why do certain elements in the media hate contemporary art and artists? And why, in the face of such hatred, do artists carry on? Aside from the highly visible money makers, such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, most artists do not earn enough from their artistic practice to make a living.

I have been lucky enough to be at the starting point of hundreds of creative projects; to hear the synapses in the artist’s brain fizz and crackle and to watch as an idea turns into something concrete, tangible and often (although not always) wonderful. If you think that contemporary art is unfathomable or just some bloke covered in his own body fluids, stick with me over the next few weeks and I’ll try and change your mind.