Andrew Lambirth

At full throttle

Andrew Lambirth on an artist’s relationship with the Llanthony Valley in south Wales

Andrew Lambirth on an artist’s relationship with the Llanthony Valley in south Wales

On a warm but dampish day a month ago, I set off for the wilds of south Wales to explore the Llanthony Valley in the Black Mountains. The train takes the visitor as far as Abergavenny, after which you’re somewhat reliant on a car, unless you favour pony-trekking or have the leisure for hill walking. The darker green on the hillsides in July was bracken, the distinctive red earth slipping here and there into red mud after the cloudbursts of the day before. The narrow, twisty lanes climbed hills and traversed vales embowered with dank herbage, but the views when the hedges opened up were glorious. This article is as much about a place, a tract of country, as it is about art. It is also by way of being a preview of an exhibition — George Rowlett in Wales: Capel-y-ffin Paintings 2005 — rather than the usual review, for although I saw the paintings which make up the show, I also went to Wales specifically to see the dramatic landscape which is their subject. I was not disappointed.

The Llanthony Valley is already famous in art circles for being the one-time home of the sculptor Eric Gill (1882–1940). Gill lived and worked at Capel-y-ffin in the mid-1920s, having moved there from Ditchling in Sussex purportedly to escape the publicity surrounding the unorthodox craft-and-religion community he’d set up. David Jones (1895–1974), who had been an apprentice of Gill and an on–off member of the community, found his own artistic voice at Capel in depictions of the countryside, picking up especially on the strong rhythms of the hills and the bright counter-rhythms of the little brooks. As Gill’s biographer, Fiona MacCarthy, writes of Jones: ‘His days at Capel gave him that perception of his Welshness which emerges after that time in his painting and poetry.’

George Rowlett (born 1941) is one of our leading landscape painters, whose chosen territory is London River and the coastal plains of east Kent.

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