Hello and welcome to my site.
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I’m a painter/poet living in Aberystwyth on Cardigan Bay where I moved after some wandering to teach Spanish at the uni. My first book of poems, Look up without Laughing (Gomer), came out in 1998 and my first solo painting show was at the Museum of Modern Art Wales (MOMA), Machynlleth, Jan-Feb 2014. I like to work the image in paint and word, and my second book, Ball on a River: paintings and poems (2015), sets the two forms out on facing pages in interactive mode. The kind of link-up I’m after is seen in Miners’ (Rhondda shorthand for the long-gone miners' holiday) when the pits shut, the washing of coal stopped, and something happened overnight in the river at the back of our house: the miracle of the water.
The last fortnight in July
Jesus touched the river’s pulse
and said, suddenly: ‘Be clean’.
I came down with my jam jar
from the tall church on the hill
and watched the clouds wiping soot
from the water’s calloused toes.
Then I saw all the fish had
gone, aye, off to Trecco Bay
with 5000 miners’ boys.
Next, something and nothing I saw on my first morning in America, which involved a different sort of vanishing act:
There was this guy in a Frank Sinatra
hat, like some punk in a 50s movie
-Hey you!- nifty on his feet too, between
the chairs in broad daylight when we’d gone back
for relish –Hey you there!- swooping like some
manky gull off the street, lifting bits off
my plate, dipping back quick for Joe’s, wasting
himself in the crowd, the frogspawn bun flipped
belly up, tidy as you like –Sod you!-
more Fred Astaire really, thinking of it.
The image draws me, plus Munch's dictum, Paint your life, suggesting a kind of painting that's more a window in than out. Ball on a River implies movement: I've always felt in the process of leaving the valley I grew up in, like a ball kicked over the park railings into the river. 'We live forwards but understand backwards', says Kierkegaard. It may need a salmon leap upstream, but the past stays with us, in a state of tension every life has in spades.
That'll be the Day
We are all shaped by circumstance. I cherish Goya: traumatised at eighty by events in Spain, he vomited his Black Paintings onto the walls of his house, images done with sticks and rags, of people who had only sticks and rags, as far from the fake yokel bliss in his royal commissions as you can get. Goya's house, the Quinta del Sordo, will be rebuilt one day, I'm sure, brick by brick, black by black, next to the Prado: 14 paintings; 7 up, 7 down. Some house/ show! Let's start a petition.
Images interpret the world, one's own world. When they work -in Kahlo or Dalí, say, Spencer, Bacon or Rego- inner and outer are one and the image more than its pictorial parts. Poems lead to paintings -that way round mostly for me- and connect with them directly or less so. Each must stand on its own, not explained by the other, but interacting with it, remaking itself. That's the plan.
Burial of a County Boy
Other Publications: Poems in Poetry Wales, Planet, Landfall (NZ)... Ten books from my spells at Cardiff, UCLA, Auckland, Liverpool, Aberystwyth and Bristol unis, including: The Spanish Eye. Painters and Poets of Spain (2007), The Crucified Mind: Rafael Alberti and the Surrealist Ethos in Spain (2001), Wellington's Welsh General: A Life of Sir Thomas Picton (1996). I started another, Salvador Dalí and the Stone of Madness, but shelved it to work on my own stuff. Maybe I should go back to it!
Painting shows: Besides MOMA, twice, solos have been held in Shrewsbury, Milford Haven, and locally in Aberystwyth (see Blog).
Bio-Sources: I hail from upper Rhondda Fawr where mountains press in hard enough to affect your breathing. I lost half my mates at eight when girls were made to skip the other side of a white line in the school yard verboten to boys. Our eyes never left a ball we chased even harder ten miles down-valley in the County grammar where railings stiffened our gender apartheid. Monsieur Rochât, a polyglot Swiss who's centre-stage in my (after-El Greco) Burial piece, saved me. ¡Gracias, hombre!
I reached the 6th Form soon after Buddy Holly died and noted the girls no longer skipped. James Dean wore blue jeans, we smoked Woodbines, hissed Churchill, sang Halfway to Paradise through the railings and heard Will you love me tomorrow? echo back.
Chasing my river down to the sea, I took Spanish at uni, the mystery of a foreign language having cranked up poetry's charm. Two of my profs, Stephen Reckert and José María Aguirre, clued me into images. It was a ticket to ride: Madrid, Los Angeles, Auckland, Aberystwyth! Living on the west Wales coast, 'under the new-made clouds', as Dylan said, stoked my own poetry which bore late fruit in Look up without Laughing, an old injunction to tell the truth. I was writing on art now and making paintings from poems I'd done when the thought came for a book with both in, Ball on a River.
Pantomime of the Eggs
The next was prompted by my first grandchild and Jan Zalasciewiecz's geological adventure, The Planet in a Pebble:
But Rhondda, even in its greening, is the pointer on my compass, which reminds me of something a friend said back one day from Canada: 'It's like they never lived'.
Language, they say, is processed via the left side of the brain, the analytical side, while visuals go to the right. But metaphor is different, says Iain McGilchrist (The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain) who sees a gestalt energy at work in poems and paintings alike. He may be right.