Exploring the SoA Collections 2020

As part of the first year art history module Exploring the School of Art Collections, students have the opportunity to write a small piece for this blog. This year the group decided on the theme of ‘deference’ – historical and contemporary pictures that demonstrate traditions (imaginary or real) of loyalty be it to the church, to the state, to royalty, to their communities or even within personal relationships. Each student had the opportunity to choose from a selection of prints, drawings and photographs. They only had one week to undertake some research before presenting their drafts. They all worked very hard on these projects so please take the time to view their efforts.

Helen Flower – Art History

Priamo Tolu (b.1957) Occupied Coalmine 2, silverprint, 1992

There is a lot going on in this striking picture which tells the stories of miners lives in Sardinia. It was taken by the photojournalist Priamo Tolu (born 1952) in 1992.

A group of men sit and stand in the tunnel of a mine. A ladder is propped up against a wall; some hats and a jumper are also fastened to that wall. Two men can be seen walking towards the camera. All men are wearing overalls and boots and look deceptively like they have been working. At first glance, I thought it was just a group of miners on a coffee break, because some of them look very relaxed.

However, the image is called Occupied coalmine. This title indicates that, although the miners were staying in the mine, they were not working. There is also Italian writing on the wall. This graffiti contradicted my first impression as one word jumped straight out at me: EXPLOSIVA. This word indicates that they were occupying the mine with explosives – a dangerous game to play.

The graffiti may have also been a message to the photojournalists, whom the strikers knew would be visiting the mine. It says ‘20-5-92 Start of the occupation. Work and peace for our people. Victory win fight explosive.’ It seems to be a coded message. I think it means that the miners wanted to protect their jobs, because they needed the money to sustain their lives, and that they were protesting against the authorities.

It was an ongoing protest as the miners did not want the mine to be closed. I discovered during my research that protests happened in 1995 and 2012 as well as in 1992, the year the photo was taken. The workers fought for their mine and their jobs. They refused to serve their country (the government) any longer. Instead, they banded together to celebrate freedom and respect for their communities. Tolu took this photo to show the realities of mining culture. A lot of photos about mining were doctored, but this picture was probably not staged.

As most of the men look to the right side of the photo, it seems as if they were listening to someone talking about the protest. They look very despondent, as though they were sick of the mine, because they had already stayed down there for days. The mining culture was being lost, and they were very aware that mining would never be the same again in Sardinia. The story of this mine is reminiscent of those of the Welsh coal mines: despite of numerous miners’ strikes during the 1980s, they were also closed one after the other, and the traditional miner’s way of living disappeared in the process.

Katerina Vranova – Art History

Veta Gorner (b.1974) Intersections, colour etching, 2003

The work Intersections by Russian artist Veta Gorner (born 1974) is a two-plate colour etching made in 2003. It depicts a seemingly simple landscape scene with a dancing couple placed in the foreground, taking up most of the view. Not that there is much else to look at besides them on the flat horizon, except for the solitary tree, which can be seen in the background between the dancing bodies, with a lonely observer leaning against its trunk. It is impossible to see whether the lone figure faces the couple or not, but I assume he does watch their every move.

The dancing couple consists of a semi-nude bald man on the right and a woman, creating a smooth silhouette with her hair tied in a flat twisted bun and with the curves of her body tightly hugged by a red dress with an open back, on the left. Her ears are weighted with big, circular earrings. With her outstretched right arm, decorated with a red bangle at the wrist, she is holding her partner’s left hand.

I chose this print because, even from a distance, I was immediately drawn to the prominence of the figures, their dialogue with the space and the tense atmosphere enhanced by the colour palette. The chemistry between the figures is quite complex; what at first glance might seem as arrogance and posh attitude, transforms into something greater, hidden in the lines of their body language as the viewer observes more closely.

The colour palette is quite simple, consisting of only the black of the outlines and the white of the Somerset paper, both of which are creating a horizontally flipped contrast to the predominant red. The colour red is the embodiment of the fire that has swallowed all life in this landscape. The fire, the passion shared in the movement, has burned their souls; throwing their bodies into this madness; stripping their poses of pretentious humbleness; leaving the couple enveloped in pride and elegance and radiating with desire and devotion. Red, the colour of desire that flows through both bodies and moves them in the swift motions of the tango. Red, the colour of the blood of a desperate (jealous) man; the colour he sees when she is dancing with another while he watches from afar.

Gorner says that she tries to depict life with its ups and downs and tensions in between in her work. She concerns herself not only with its physical structure, but also with the emotions and thoughts that move us into action and that make us who we are. I think she depicts infidelity in quite a decent manner in this print. She avoids lewdness, but still captures the forbidden intimacy and chemistry between the couple; their devotion to each other, but also their love/hate relationship, because they both know that what they have is not supposed to exist. All of this is projected in the body language as well: the bald man gripping his partner’s hands tight, refusing to let go while she holds him with the same aggression. Despite facing each other, they are refusing to look each other’s eyes. They keep them shut in silent denial instead. Nevertheless, both are too proud to let go of the other, and their stubbornness burns the land that they are dancing on.

Joanna Reed –  Art History

Gwyn Martin (1921-2001) The Thick Blue Line, Socialist Democracy 1968 Harold Wilson’s Visit, Aberystwyth, silverprint

In this silver print photograph by Gwyn Martin (1921-2001), policemen line up in front of King’s Hall in Aberystwyth during the visit of well-known British Labour politician Harold Wilson (1916-1995), who served as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970 and again from 1974 until 1976. The image was taken to capture a very unusual event for this Welsh town; it was – and still is – very rare to see so many policemen gathering in Aberystwyth.

The way this image reflects the theme of deference is firstly shown by the policemen. They swore an oath to protect the constitution, regardless of their own political views, and to represent the law, just as Wilson represents the crown.

Secondly, Wilson shows respect to the farmers who had to deal with the changes that were happening in the agricultural sector. The photo was taken a few years before the UK joined the European Union in 1973, and there was a lot of talk in the 1960s about how this would affect areas such as agriculture; going from producing food only for one country to a wider, international scale. The National Library of Wales has a film in its collection that shows Wilson visiting King’s Hall to address agricultural workers. The same reel also contains footage of agricultural workers waving placards in protest against tied cottages (accommodation let by employers to their workers).

Harold Wilson also pays deference to the Welsh people after the Aberfan disaster in 1966; a colliery waste tip had collapsed and killed over a hundred children and adults. He said that he would treat the situation with extreme care. Aberfan was a tragedy for the whole of Wales.

Lastly, Wilson shows deference to the town of Aberystwyth specifically, because Charles, the Prince of Wales (born 1948), studied Welsh there on his recommendation.

Looking at this photograph now in the 21st century, it reminds me of how policemen are no longer respected these days. Back in 1968, the people all waited patiently behind the policemen to catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister, with the policemen really part of the wider community.

Gwyn Martin was a Welsh photographer and pharmacist, born in the Rhondda Valley. He was an RAF navigator during the Second World War and became a prisoner of war for two years. He played a large role in Aberystwyth’s community. Martin’s portfolios are now entirely under the care of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

Mathea Seiring – Fine Art

Frederick Walker (1840-1875), The Settlers of Long Arrow, wood engraving, 1861

The Settlers of Long Arrow is an illustration created by Frederick Walker (1840-1875) for Once a Week magazine in 1861. The picture depicts a young woman dressed in a black dress and cape. An older woman wearing similar clothing and a young man holding his hat in his hand, stand behind her. They are placed in what appears to be a cemetery. The young woman has distanced herself from the other two who are looking at her with worried expressions. The description for it reads Woman swooning for Man. Considering the clothing, the characters’ expressions and the setting, it is obvious that she is mourning for a dead lover or even husband.

I was immediately drawn to the picture because I grew up surrounded by illustrations. It was thus wonderful to see such an early example. The scene seems sombre and sad, which is why I cannot explain why it caught my attention so completely. The details are extraordinary and yet seem so simple. I read the chapter that inspired this picture, and I concluded that the young man is called Denis Brady and the grieving young woman Coral. Coral is mourning for her lover Keefe, who has settled down with another woman. However, I could not establish the older lady’s identity.

As mentioned before, Frederick Walker was the artist who designed this illustration. He had an interest in drawing from a young age. I could not find out how Walker received the commission to illustrate this particular story. Walker worked for a variety of magazines and achieved great success as a black and white illustrator. He also illustrated several novelist’s books and provided drawings for poetry books.

Once a Week was a magazine that was published weekly from 1859 to 1880. It was created to provide an outlet for innovative illustrators. The image was created at a time when wood engraving was reaching its peak as a medium for black and white illustration within the publishing world.

Lucija Perinic – Art History

prince and princess
Johann Baptist Zwecker (1814-1876) Prince and Princess, watercolour, 1860s

Johann Baptist Zwecker was the creator of this artwork. He a was painter and illustrator who was born in Germany in 1814 and died in 1876. Zwecker was a friend of George Powell of Nanteos (1842-1882) and provided the illustrations for Powell’s and Eirikur Magnusson’s (1833-1913) two-volume book Legends of Iceland.

The picture in question is Prince and Princess. It is a watercolour on cream wove paper, mounted on card with gold leaf bevelled margins and was painted between 1860 and 1866. The image depicts a scene from the Icelandic legend Katla’s Dream; however, it does not appear in either volume of Powell’s and Magnusson’s Legends of Iceland. The eye is drawn towards the embracing royal couple. A prince is seated on the left-hand side. He is holding the right hand of the princess with his right hand while his left embraces her waist. He has long auburn hair and is wearing a crown and a fur-lined, brownish coloured tunic. The princess has long, blond hair and is wearing a white hat and a red dress that is covered with a blue and golden robe. Four men are standing at a table behind them to the right; they are toasting the prince and the princess with their drinking horns. Ornate arches, supported by double columns, are forming the background. The sea and cliffs can be seen among the columns.

This particular artwork shows Magnusson’s loyalty and respect for his culture and country, although, as mentioned before, it did not appear in his and Powell’s book. To 21st-century viewers without prior knowledge of Icelandic legends, this image represents a visually pleasing but ultimately generic prince and princess. According to legend, the princess is Katla, the chief’s wife. Prince Kári came to her in a dream, and the following summer she gave birth to the prince’s son. She named him ‘Kári’ after his father, and her husband graciously accepted him as his son.

Isaac Peat – Fine Art

Leslie Price (b.1938) The Coal Run, Miners’ Strike, silver print, 1984

Leslie Price (born 1938) began taking photos in the 1960s and started off with a Kodak Box Brownie camera. He would take the films to the chemist to have them developed. One day, he met a Polish man at a pub who said that he should start developing them himself. Dick Marks, the man from the pub, showed Price the darkroom process and became a ‘second father’ to him. Price says that he taught him how to look at photographs and told him: ‘Don’t try to take photos, try to take stories.’

Price’s storytelling is nowhere more abundant than in his silver print photograph The Coal Run. It depicts boys heaving sacks of coal up one of the very steep hills in Penrhiwceiber. During the miners’ strikes in 1984-85, boys were sent down the hill by their families to gather coal. It was used to heat the family homes so that they could stay warm. Price describes this photograph as ‘probably my favourite photograph of all, of all the photographs I’ve taken.’ Price describes the boys as being exhausted and photographed them at the bottom of the hill, which can also be seen in the School of Art collections’ Jobs for Our Children (PH662), before he ran up to take this dynamic photograph of the boys struggling uphill. Price wanted this work to be dark and moody. He worked hard in the darkroom to bring out the only face visible in the photograph; the second lad up the hill, struggling with the weight of the coal on his back.

The boys seem to be a metaphor of the strikes. The heavy sacks of coal they hold above their heads and carry up the never-ending, very steep hill, represent the emotional weight that the miners’ strikes caused.

The strikes ultimately led to the closing of Penrhiwceiber colliery in 1985, and the community of Penrhiwceiber never fully recovered. To this day, 50% of the children in Penrhiwceiber grow up below the poverty line, a clear indicator of the lack of redevelopment in the area since the mine’s closure.

Over time, this photograph, and many others that Price took, developed into a historical reference to what a miner’s life was like; and who would be better qualified to tell that story than a miner himself?

Heather Beales – Fine Art

Frances Woodley (b.1952) Tormentors, etching, 1981

Tormentors is a monochrome etching made in 1981 by Frances Woodley (born 1952). It depicts three chimpanzees who are wearing human clothing. One of them is also wearing what looks like a folded paper hat. The image struck me as humorous at first, perhaps because chimps are often thought of as mischievous and rascally. If these apes were human, however, they would be older people; they seem thoughtful and settled, slow-moving types.

Two of the chimpanzees are placed together, leaning forwards against a low wall. One has his arms around the other who dangles a hand and finger above the head of the third chimp who is sitting alone in front of the wall. The third ape seems completely lost in thought and oblivious to the other two.

There is a tension created with the poised finger, almost at the centre of the ‘S’-shaped composition. Perhaps this is just the moment before the seated chimp is prodded or tickled and complete mayhem is about to ensue. I can imagine the subsequent chaos of much shrieking and chasing about of the squabbling apes. However, they seem quite peaceful and heavily planted in their positions, and not about to leap off in monkey fashion.

I assume from the title, Tormentors, that the two chimpanzees in the background are colluding to torment the other in the foreground. There is a film that came out in 1971 about a gang of wild, violent bikers called The Tormentors. In 2006, English singer Morrissey released an album called Ringleader of the Tormentors. In spiritual literature, the tormentors are described as people that get in the way and hold you back from your true calling in life.

Frances Woodley also created artworks such as ceramic pieces of chimpanzees in Baroque costumes and other fantasy animals.

Ifan Gwynedd – Fine Art

William Grant Murray (1877-1950), Swansea Eisteddfod Gorsedd 1926, photogravure of an oil painting

Swansea Eisteddfod Gorsedd 1926 by William Grant Murray (1877-1950) is a photogravure of a painting that depicts the annual ceremony held at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. A figure stands on the left side of the image, wearing a blue garment and holding a large sword. This figure is referred to as ceidwad y cledd, a man who plays an integral role in the ceremony. In the background, we see members of the orsedd standing in their white clothing – gwisg yr orsedd. The Archdderwydd is the person placed behind the figures in the foreground, wearing white and gold. He is responsible for running the ceremony. The palette used in this work mainly consists of primary colours blue, yellow, red, white, green. The artist has included one of the distinctive stones referred to as cerrig yr orsedd on the right side of the painting. Cerrig yr orsedd are the large stones that are placed at the site of the Eisteddfod each year to mark the location of the cultural festival.

William Grant Murray chose to record this particular scene, because of the cultural importance of the ceremony to the Welsh language and the Eisteddfod. One clear theme that transpires from viewing this artwork is the national identity of Wales. The festival began in 1861 and is arguably the main annual cultural event in Wales; it must have been a tempting attraction for the artist to depict. Murray was an art teacher, gallery curator and artist, as well as the principal of the Swansea School of Art from 1908 to 1943. He was the first curator of the Glynn Vivian Gallery, Swansea. Many talented artists such a Murray, for example Bill Price and Evan Walters (1892-1950), also lived in Swansea during this period. The standard of art was thus high, which meant, in my opinion, that the paintings produced during this era were exceptional.

The focus is on the five figures in the foreground. They are painted in great detail whilst the figures in the background are loosely portrayed with lighter tones. This contrast between the prominent foreground figures and the vague figures of the background implies the difference of importance between the people taking part in the ceremony. This piece is an accurate depiction that records an element of the national identity of Wales.

Hannah Beach – Art History

Frederick Walker (1840-1875), The Adventures of Philip, wood engraving, 1862

I find this wood engraving by Frederick Walker (1840-1875) very interesting, because of its great details and tonal variations. Walker’s main medium was illustration, and he worked with many novelists and wood engraving companies to create his images. This engraving was created for William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Adventures of Philip. At first, Walker would work from Thackeray’s sketches, but after some time Walker requested to create his own illustrations for the novel. This shows the mutual deference in their relationship, the respect they had for each another regarding their decisions as illustrator and writer.

To give the image a sense of depth and detail, the artist used chiaroscuro well in the forming of the main four figures. The details in this engraving show the observer that Walker tried to capture accurate expressions in the figures’ faces and postures. Even the detailing of the figures in the background is very impressive. The scene depicts Philip and his family attending a church service. This holy act can be seen as very private for the family as they are separated by a curtain from the rest of the congregation. This separation could also emphasise the importance of the story’s main character Philip at the end of the novel; it was finished in 1862, the year of the engraving’s production.

Deference can be seen in the relationship between the writer and the illustrator, but also in the figures in this engraving. I think deference is represented in this engraving by the respect the Philip has for the church. Seeing this illustration through 21st century-eyes, I believe that, in its time, the image would have been seen as a way of showing the ideals of 19th century England and its relationship with the church. The humble postures and expressions of the figures enhance this respect for the church.

Ellie Hodnett – Art History

Leslie Price (b.1938) Mountain Ash, 1986, silverprint, 1986

On first inspection, this silver print photograph by Leslie Price (b. 1938) is ambiguous in meaning. It is not until the context between the artist and his choice of subject is explored, that we as viewers can truly appreciate the unique atmosphere that previous coal miner and self-taught photographer Price has actually achieved.

The composition of the photograph excites interest as our eyes are drawn towards the bold inscription sprayed across the wall. The words ‘POLICE STATE’ evoke a sense of curiosity as their meaning is brought into question whilst we observe the ordinary figures in the scene. The old woman almost central in the photograph demands attention as she stares directly at the camera; she is also noticeably dressed in lighter colours, which draws even more contrast between her and the younger male figures in the image.

This contrast in age and gender paints a unique perspective of the small community of Mountain Ash, a once prominent mining town in South Wales. The inscribed ‘POLICE STATE’ adds a dramatic and thought-provoking element to the photograph’s composition; the viewer is rendered curious about how the depicted figures might feel about this ‘POLICE STATE’ and the effect it might have not only on their community, but also on each of them individually.

The coal strikes of 1984 had a profound effect on the communities in South Wales. As a miner himself, photographer Leslie Price would have experienced the direct consequences of these strikes. Interestingly, the artist does not attempt to photograph the coal fields in question but highlights the communities around them and their deference to the industry that feeds them.

When considering the communities’ deference to the local industry, the effects of a ‘POLICE STATE’ on this small village become more personal and emotionally charged, especially in the wake of a strike. Price encapsulated an essence of emotion by representing the miners’ strikes and the coal field of South Wales through the perspective of one community – his home village – in a single photograph.

David Eccles – Fine Art

Rudy Lewis (b.1939) Face at the Window [Tashilhumpo Monastery, Tibet], silverprint, 1980s
When I first saw this black and white photograph (taken between 1980 and 1990) without knowing its title, Face at the Window, I thought it represented poverty in a Third World- country in the past. This was due to the run-down looking building and the sad looking face at the window, and because of the lack of clues that would reveal where the picture was taken. The photo turned out to be the image of a monk looking through a window of a monastery in Tibet. It is a close-up shot of the structure; however, the face is only small in the composition. It was taken by an artist called Lewis Rudy (b.1939).

From what I can gather, Lewis was a technician at the School of Art in Aberystwyth between 1990 and 2001. He has photographed people across the world, capturing events in the USA, South America, Africa, the Himalayas and the Far East. His passion for travelling explains how he came to take this black and white image of a Tibetan monk.

Exploring Tibet must have been a great opportunity for Rudy. As an artist, he got the chance to capture interesting images in a country that is reputed to be a mysterious place.

To the viewer, it looks like a natural setting, as if Lewis had just been walking past and wanted to capture the moment. He managed to create a ghostly image due to the black and white tones. The photograph must have been taken either to be kept as a souvenir, or to purposely tell a story of how the monks lived and prayed in and around that region. However, it leaves me asking questions such as the exact date the image was taken; could the monk be somebody the photographer grew attached to as a friend; and whether there are other images capturing this same monk in this particular monastery?

Tessa Stringer – Fine Art

Chris Orr (b.1943), The Fall No.6, ink, crayon and watercolour collage, 1976

This is an ink crayon and watercolour created in 1976 by Christopher (Chris) Orr. Christopher Orr was born in 1943 in Scotland. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in London 1967. He currently lives and works in London.

The Fall No. 6 is one of six works by Orr commissioned by the Welsh Arts Council for the exhibition ‘The Fall’ which opened at the Oriel in April 1976 and toured to Bangor Art Gallery, the Museum and Art Gallery, Newport, and the Glynn Vivian Museum and Art Gallery, Swansea. The commissioned artists, Mervyn Baldwin, Paul Bowen, Ian Grainger, Will Lorimer, Gwyn Watkins and Orr, were challenged to provide a series of illustrations for specific passages in the Bible relating to Adam and Eve’s ‘Fall’.

I originally thought that the man and woman in focus were boarding a train and saying goodbye to the two figures partially seen at the bottom of the image. However, after finding out that this was a commission based on the biblical story of Adam and Eve, I realised that the couple was them and that the two other figures’ names are inscribed on the cloths that cover their mouths. They are called ‘Cherubim’ and ‘Seraphim’. A Cherubim is an angel that resembles a person. A Seraphim is an angel of a higher status and has six wings: two to fly with; two to cover their feet; and two to cover their face. It looks to me as though the Cherubim and Seraphim know where Adam and Eve are being sent to on the train but are keeping quiet about it. Why there is a robot present in the scene, is my only question.

Gabriella Jobbagyova – Art History

Edward Frank Gillet (1874-1927), Crockfords, drypoint, c.1910

British artist and illustrator Edward Frank Gillet (1874-1927), who created this impressive drypoint print, was from Suffolk. He is better known as Frank Gillett. The exact year of the image’s creation is unknown; it was approximately between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

A group of men sit around a big table. At first sight, the main figure reminded me of Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), the 16th President of the United States, and seemed to be looking directly at me. The whole composition creates the impression that something essential and secret is happening. The men appear so very still and calm that you almost feel as if they were waiting for you to leave the room, so they can carry on with whatever they were doing before you interrupted them.

However, Gillet did not concentrate on the history of the US or politics in his art, but captured the rural life of his home country Great Britain. So why was my first impression connected to Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)? When I thought about it, I realized that the fashion of Lincoln’s time, especially the clothes and manners of that era’s middle class men, reminded me of it. The men around the table represent the whole of that class. The man at the centre of the composition represents someone who can connect with the community. These men created a pretty good example of loyalty in the 19th century. Why loyalty? Because it seems that each of them would wait for the other and, without the other, they would not want to continue with what they were doing.

However, the title is the most exciting aspect of the picture for me. I think that a lot of us focus on the title, because it is one way that an artist can show us his idea. Crockford’s relates to casino and gambling. This is how we look at it now; however, in the past, the casino was a place where intelligent men met for gambling or, if they did not play, they could just spend time in each other’s company and talk about topics that were important to them. In this picture, for instance, we can see that they do not have any cards or other gambling utensils. They just sit together.

Maybe it is not easy for everyone to see the idea of the picture at first sight, but if you concentrate on details, you can see what the artist wants to say with his art.

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