Friday, February 5, 2010

Art Preview: Kyffin Williams Portraits

A major new exhibition showcasing paintings by the late Sir Kyffin Williams was officially opened last night by Rolf Harris. Karen Price finds out more about the display which shows another side to his work
HE’S best known for his bleak Welsh landscapes, but Sir Kyffin Williams always said that some of his best paintings were his portraits.
Now visitors to a gallery on Anglesey, where the artist lived until his death three years ago, can view his depictions of famous Welsh names and ordinary people he crossed paths with during his lifetime.
Kyffin Williams: Portraits was officially opened at Oriel Kyffin Williams – the gallery dedicated to the late artist – by Rolf Harris last night.
Among the portraits on display are those of Dr John Gwilym Jones, Evan Roberts and Sir Kyffin’s former landlady, known as Miss Josling.
The show also features portraits that other artists have painted of Sir Kyffin, including one by Harris.
They have never been exhibited together before and, as well as being taken from Oriel Kyffin Williams’ own collection, there are portraits on loan from national, public and private collections, including the National Portrait Gallery, London’s Southbank Centre, National Museum Wales and the National Library of Wales.
It is believed that Sir Kyffin considered his portraits his most important works.
During the ’90s, Oriel Ynys Môn held separate retrospectives of Sir Kyffin’s work entitled Portraits, Landscapes and Drawings, and Portraits proved the most popular.
Ranging from eminent Welsh figures to women and children and the old Welsh farmer, Sir Kyffin’s portraits depict honesty, humanity and simplicity.
The artist himself said: “The people of Wales have always appeared to me to have an unusual curiosity about their fellow men, so it is strange we have produced so few portrait painters.
“I have never considered myself to be one of these, but over the past 50 years I have been unable to resist the challenge of the portrait.
“I too have been obsessed by people and have always presumed this has been because so many of my forebears were persons who ministered to the needs of their parishioners.
“Every portrait I have painted has been a considerable strain, for nothing comes easily to me, but I believe that some of my best work has been of the many interesting faces I have painted.”
Visitors to the exhibition will also be pleased to see a range of portraits of Sir Kyffin by other artists, including the one by Australian-born painter and entertainer Harris, who was invited to officially launch the exhibition.
Harris, who first studied art at London’ s City and Guilds and later under impressionist Hayward Veal, was introduced to Sir Kyffin’s work through his Welsh-born wife Alwen.
They eventually met the artist in 2005 while they were visiting a friend in Wales.
They kept in touch with Sir Kyffin and Harris, whose parents emigrated to Australia from Merthyr Tydfil, later asked him if he could paint his portrait.
Harris took a selection of photographs of him and produced the painting in his studio.
But he would send regular images of his work to Sir Kyffin for his approval.
The portrait was completed before Sir Kyffin’s death in September 2006 and he approved of the painting.
“He was absolutely charming – open, warm and a fantastic artist,” Harris said after the artist’s death.
The portrait, which was previously displayed at the Mall Galleries in London as part of a group show, will now form part of the new Anglesey exhibition.
Pat West, principal officer of Museums, Culture and Archives for Anglesey County Council, believes that the show is a great chance for people to see another side of Sir Kyffin’s work.
“He is well-known for his landscapes and works on paper, but his portraits are a very important part of his work,” she said.
“We try to show different aspects of his work at the gallery, and to show Kyffin in his entirety, you have to display the portraits.”
Oriel Kyffin Williams opened on Anglesey in 2008 just a stone’s throw from where the eminent Welsh artist grew up. The gallery is a £1.5m extension to Oriel Ynys Mon and holds exhibitions celebrating the Welsh artist’s work.
Kyffin Williams: Portraits is showing at Oriel Kyffin Williams until July 11

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