Friday 13 March 2015

Wales, within Britain, is no longer a country for and says "Hwyl Fawr" to an old artist called Osi Rhys Osmond

Osi, one of Wales’ most respected artists, but also author, broadcaster and commentator on arts and culture in Welsh and English, who has died at the age of seventy-four, said, on learning of his short time left : "I would love to live for another twenty years, but it seems that this will be incredibly unlikely, but what I'll do is, I'll live for the next two minutes as intensely as I possible can and as happily as I possibly can."

What you possibly didn't know about Osi, that he :

* was born Olwen Rhys Osmond and brought up in the mining community of Wattsville, in the lower Sirhowi Valley in Wales, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, early in 1940, where his father, uncles and grandfathers on both sides of his family, worked as coal miners at the 'Nine Mile Point Colliery', at Cwmfelinfach.

* as a boy, was deeply affected by his surroundings and later said : “I have always been obsessed by the landscape in which I grew up and the pure abstract beauty of the changing colour of the bracken covered hills surrounding the valley that became perhaps the dominant factor in making me as an artist” and "I've had an awareness of the power and wonder of colour since I was a child. I remember always feeling an appreciation of colour."

* left school and, at the age of nineteen, started study at Newport School of Art in 1959, followed by Cardiff School of Art until 1964 and then a year at the University of Wales Cardiff,  while keeping true to his roots in the Sirhowi Valley and recalled : "As an art student I resisted the vogue for a certain kind of image of the mining industry and sought to create something that spoke more about the eternal qualities of the landscape in which I found myself. The more sentimental view of the mining life that had become the accepted norm in the visual arts was something that I felt had been done and added little to any understanding of how that community lived, worked and socialised.”

* embarked on a career as a further education teacher as a visiting lecturer at Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and Carmarthen Schools of Art and the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David and Lampeter, before working as Head of Foundation Studies at Carmarthen School of Art between at the age of forty-eight in 1988 and until 1996, when at the age of fifty-six, he became Lecturer in Painting, Drawing and History of Art at Swansea Metropolitan University(right), where he remained until 2012 :

* in 2002 contributed one of the six essays in 'I Know Another Way: From Tintern to St. David’s', which reflected on the old pilgrim route, worked as the editorial consultant and contributor on 'Visual Culture' section of the 'Encyclopaedia of Wales', published by University of Wales and in 2005 contributed to Planet Magazine's volume : 'Imagining the Imagination: The Word and the Visual Image in Wales' and in the same year started his tv work presenting a twelve programme, Welsh-language series, 'Byd O Liw'  'World of Colour'(left).

* in 2006 directed 'Under Milk Wood' at the 'Laugharne Festival' in a "timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town" as described by Dylan Thomas, its most famous inhabitant in a production using local residents playing all parts, the streets and scaffolding providing the sets, with Keith Williams responsible for staging the performances, both backstage and then front of house and money raised donated to a local playing field.

* reflected in 2012 : "some work is eternal and I think Under Milk Wood is. It’s an extraordinary piece of work. I directed it for the Laugharne Festival a few years ago. I saw it performed in Welsh a few years ago too; it almost sounded like it was from an African village. It internationalized it, removed the clichés. Because it was in Welsh, it took away the Welshness. I find it difficult to explain!"

* in 2006 had his monograph of the Polish painter, Joseph Herman, 'Carboniferous Collision' published by the Institute of Welsh, the story of his work as a refugee artist after his arrival in the mining community of Ystradgynlais in 1944 who : 'Like all true artists it was such wrestling with the inchoate, a continuing quest for solidity behind the vagueness of the world, that led to clarification of an indeterminate but persistent form into appropriate subject matter for his painting. In the act of painting a similar situation pertains. The painter now has the nascent matter, the paint and the indeterminate but persistent form- the idea, thought or concept - and these are resolved in a harmonious exchange within the strictures of the palette and canvas.'

* in 2008 made his contribution to BBC Radio 3's 'Free Thinking : A Festival of Ideas' with : "Here a bombing range, jets scream in from the east, soar, climb and dive, tearing the sky apart. Bombs fall in elegant arcs and heavy machine guns thud unduly, dully rivet back the torn sky into one seemless, contiguous space.... on yellow sand, mothers and children, small children play in the innocence of childhood. The bombs will fall in other times, on other people in other places. The children play unperturbed, bombs do not fall on them from their skies.."

* continued : "Tonight I meet poets, crowned and chaired bards of the National Eisteddfod of Wales. We will discuss our idea of a 'White Book of Carmarthen'.  People will sign in the name of peace, amongst the constant reminders of military aggression it is the very least we can do. At the Eisteddfod the Arch Druid will ask "A oes heddwch ?" "Is there peace ?" The audience will reply :"Heddwch" "Peace."

* in television made the single 'Art of the First World War' for S4C in 2008 and the following year made a six-part TV documentary series in Welsh, based on 'Lliwiau' because : “Colour is the basis of my craft. I talk through colour. I speak through colour, I use colour to express myself and convey my ideas” and explored the contemporary meaning of colour in different cultures with visits to India, where he noted that "colour compensates for a lot of poverty and deprivation. It's in the buildings and the costumes and the buildings. It's extraordinary to see" as well as France and Australia.

* used the series to examine the historical perspective of colour with Professor Gwyn Thomas, revealing colour and light at the root of some of the world’s oldest civilisations and Professor Deri Tomos dealing with its influence on some of the greatest scientific discoveries : 'Lliwiau -Grym Lliw' : and 'Lliwiau Newydd' :

* in his 'Ymateb' 'Response' Exhibition in 2009, through his paintings, drawings and watercolours, made his direct response to the conflict in Palestine and the invasion of Gaza the year before, with its devastating number of civilian casualties, his vision reinforced by the constant sound of bombing and machine gun fire, drifting over the water to Llansteffan from the military base in Pembrey : “When they started bombing Gaza I realised that the Gaza strip is about the same size as the coastline and water that I see from my garden in Llansteffan, so I was struck by the image of a million-and-a-half people down there with bombs and rockets falling on them.”

* used the Exhibition to take the viewer on a series of emotional journeys reflecting on his visits during the previous thirty years, having travelled extensively throughout the Middle East and spent time in war torn areas of Palestine and Sudan and placed engravings within the three drawings with poetic expression from Waldo Williams, Mahmoud Darwish and Frank Bidart..

* in 2011, opening Iwan Bala's Exhibition, 'Field Notes', took the opportunity to extol the benefits of drawing : " I believe, that as a teacher of drawing, that of all human achievements and accomplishments  : speaking, reading, writing, singing, laughing, 'drawing' is the one which has been ignored, neglected, misused, badly treated and explored. It's a tool that we have as human beings that is underused in every sense, because in education and in life it becomes a means of expression, which is fine, but it can be a means of understanding, of enquiry, of investigation, of stating something, of making something clear which is inchoate, another dimension to the human performance."

* also in 2011, based his ‘Hawk and Helicopter’ Exhibition with drawing, painting and text relating once more on the military testing ground on Pembrey Sands where he noted  : 'Cormorants guano their red roosting rocks a rancid pink. Ravens clank and tumble, blackly. The rivers pour down as the moon drawn tide ebbs and flows. This is the normality of the place. Occasionally, this is disturbed by unexpected sights and strange sounds, for here hawks hunt and sometimes helicopters hover; peregrine falcons and Chinooks appear and disappear, fly, rise, descend, hunt, patrol, attack and retreat. The sudden raucous voice of the Chinook bruises the sky, assaults hearing, the blade’s violent clatter shatters the clear esturine light.'

* at the age of seventy-two in 2012, in his 'Landscape and Inheritance' Exhibition, used recent paintings, drawings, photographs, sound recordings and work from his days as a student, half a century before, to look at Wattsville and the  geological landscapes of the Sirhowy Valley as a : “small tribute to my family, my boyhood friends, the community that made me, and those who went before me in bequeathing to me a mystery; a history and a wonder at our brief eternities and where and how we spend them."

* in one large-scale painting focused on the 1935 ‘staydown strike', the first ever in the history of the South Wales Coalfield, at Nine Mile Point Colliery, five years before he was born, a protest against the use of scab labour and used typeface and newspaper headlines to drive home the politics, in another expression of his lifelong political activism,which had seen him serve as a County Councillor for many years and stand on a number occasions as a Parliamentary candidate and reflecting on the demise of the coal industry said that Wattsville  was unrecognisable : "When hundreds and thousands of men are put out of work, the effect of that is monumental. People do not heal as easily as the landscape and I think the community is still feeling the repercussions"

* in 2014 faced death with equanimity, when, with his wife Hilary, he received his terminal prognosis from two surgeons, one of whom said : "When you go home from this talk today, you must begin to put your affairs in order. You might see Christmas, but I don't think it's very likely that you will" to which he said : "I'm not afraid of death, doesn't worry me in the slightest." They were a bit surprised by that. I said : "I don't want to experience pain, but I said "it won't be any different, in a sense, to birth, which I don't remember very much about. Coming out of somewhere dark into in the light and then I will eventually go out of the light into somewhere dark and my eternity will be those years in between" ..By the time I'd finished talking they burst into tears and left the room. We smiled at each other and burst into laughter and then we stopped and bust into tears and we left the room unaccompanied and made our own way home."

* in his career, held one-man exhibitions, showed his work with fellow Welsh artists in his native Wales as well as London, Lithuania, Denmark and the U.S.A, in 2012 was back on tv as co-presenter and mentor on the BBC Wales  series, 'The Exhibitionists', where participants competed to become art experts, was profiled on BBC 2's. 'The Culture Show' and had received accolades : election to the 'Gorsedd of the Bards' at the National Eisteddfod in Swansea, in recognition of his 'Contribution to the Arts' and in 2013 was made an 'Honorary Fellow' of the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, but never lost sight of who he was and from where he came.

* said, in what could serve as a fitting epitaph :

"The world is a wonderful place and why can't we all appreciate that fact ? It seems to me that life is not such a difficult thing to do, if only we think about it a little more carefully and consider it a little bit more carefully."

* in 2013 wrote of his coastal sunsets : 'These watercolours of the sunset are my way of holding on to the beauty of the Earth and to the wonder of life itself.”

1 comment:

  1. the two sides of my family lived there and some worked at nine mile point mine they were the Clewer's and the Hayne's