Big name for a small but ambitious gallery. Driving down to Pembrokeshire, Machynlleth marked the exact half-way mark on the journey. MOMA (or Museum of Modern Art) is located on the main road through the town in Y Tabernacl (English: The Tabernacle), converted in the mid-1980s from a Wesleyan chapel into a centre for the performing arts, with MOMA growing up alongside it.
Throughout the year MOMA shows Modern Welsh Art, a constantly changing exhibition featuring leading artists from Wales. Individual artists are spotlighted in a series of temporary exhibitions. Works in the permanent collection include an Augustus John portrait, a very characteristic Stanley Spencer, ‘Toasting’, and a John Piper – ‘Nursery Freize II’ (below). None of these, unfortunately, were on show when we visited. What did hold my attention, though, was an exhibition of recent work by father and son Aneurin and Meirion Jones.
Aneurin Jones was born on the Black Mountain in South Wales, and the eccentric characters of the locality remain a prime inspiration. Aneurin was appointed the first head of Art at Ysgol Y Preseli in the village of Crymych, Pembrokeshire, and spent the whole of his professional career there. The Preseli area inspired him greatly – both the landscape and the people. His most recent work centres on farm auctions, and the sadness and uprooting which follow in their wake.
In the exhibition catalogue, Aneurin Jones writes:
My ideas come from the rural west and mid Wales. I was born into one of these communities where the divide between reality and mythology was ambiguous. This was the age of the horse, and a time when the countryside was alive with colourful individuals whose imagination knew no bounds and whose physical shape was moulded by the land. I also felt the hand of an ancient inheritance. Although I left Cwmwysg to learn the craft of painting at Swansea College of Art, the countryside remained my driving force, and when I accepted the post of head of art at Ysgol Y Preseli, I found myself back in an area not dissimilar to the one where I was born, the communal hill farms and all its heroism. … It is these elements – the rural society, the physical shape of country people… that fire my imagination.
This exhibition … is a selection of recent work, based on direct observations in the … places where country people gather – farm sales, agricultural shows, horse fairs, marts, sheepdog trials – and certain events in the calendar, notably the Llanybydder Horse Fair and Barley Saturday in Cardigan. Although my interpretation of these ideas is personal, I am aware that I continue a tradition of country craftsmen in developing ideas from the source materials around us. There is therefore an element of documenting, but also of celebrating and lamenting – celebrating the elemental nature of country life but also lamenting the passing of tradition in the face of globalisation and rural depopulation.
The recent work has evolved to be more suggestive in nature, and yet retaining form and shape which are the driving force behind all my work. I begin with my first love, which is drawing, and from there I use the other media which are to hand: charcoal, pastel, various gels, and often finishing by applying rich Iayers of impasto. For me, painting is a process of simplification, and as we simplify, we mystify, until one is left with the essence and the purity of the experience.
Meirion Jones is from Dyfed and the vast majority of his work is inspired by that part of Wales, although he has also painted extensively in Latin America.
In the exhibition catalogue, Meirion Jones writes:
My paintings are inspired by light, be that the Iight of the West Wales coast or the lyrical contrejour light which brings a figure study to life with all its tonal relationships. I return again & again to certain places in Wales which have a physical and emotional ‘pull’, familiar places that are timeless and yet again constantly changing…. The other theme is essentially figurative. I often find myself ‘people watching’, contemplating the individual lost in a crowd, the solitary figure in time.
Tucked away in a back room used for seminars, we found the impressive Taliesin Mosaic displayed on three separate walls (below: click on image to enlarge for best view). It really deserves a more prominent position.
The Taliesin Mosaic was created by Martin Cheek in 1996 with the help of a donation from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. It consists of three panels illustrating the legend of Taliesin. Martin Cheek explains:
As a former animator I was particularly attracted by the ‘metamorphosis’ sequence, when the witch Ceridwen chases the boy Gwion. He changes into a hare, so she pursues him in the form of a greyhound; he then transforms himself into a salmon, she into an otter; followed by him changing into a bird and she into a bird of prey. (Here I chose a swallow and a buzzard [top] because as well as being attractive they can be found locally.) I love trying to put across the individual character of animals in my mosaics, indeed Iwould go so far as to say that I have made it my personal brief. So, clearly, the challenge of trying to capture three different animals each having the same personality was an attractive one.
The inspiration for the project came from the number of local place names that can be linked to the legend.