There is a Wiki entry for ‘Welsh Art’ that describes it as ‘essentially a regional variant of the forms and styles of the rest of the British Isles’, arguable perhaps, but patronising certainly. One figure proved the exception. With the arrival of Kyffin Williams on the Welsh art scene in the 1950s and 60s there arose a new sense of national identity in the visual arts in Wales. It mirrored the rising political and literary nationalism in Wales at the time. Williams’ work depicted a rugged, merciless landscape of hill farming and worked-out slate quarries, perhaps more familiar to his neighbours in North Wales than the steel workers of Port Talbot. However, despite the obvious regionalism of Williams’ paintings, the work soon came to embody an image of the principality as a whole. In the south, artists looked to more international influences, Ceri Richards, a surrealist who had been a prize winner at the Venice Biennale, was perceived as less Welsh than his Polish immigrant contemporaries, Josef Herman and Karel Lek.
So Kyffin Williams dominated Welsh painting style for sixty years, and his contemporaries Charles Wyatt Warren, and the Scot, Donald McIntyre, perpetuated the distinctive use of the heavily loaded palette knife, although the latter with a more technicolour palette. Today his influence can still be found in the hundreds of landscape painters working in the principality today. Of those contemporary Welsh landscape painters Martin Llewellyn stands out as the leading talent of his generation.
Coming to professional painting relatively late in life, Martin has managed to achieve in a few short years what most artists fail to manage in decades. Born and bred in Neath, South Wales, Martin is an entirely self-taught painter. His influences, along with the overwhelming majority of his peers, are obvious. Kyffin Williams and his immediate followers, Wyatt-Warren and Gwilym Prichard amongst others dominated the modern Welsh art scene as the Colourists have in Scotland for over a century and it is impossible to avoid their impact.
In contrast Martin’s style is tighter than Williams’, his touch is lighter, smaller stroked than the great broad square stroke distinctive of Williams’ palette knife. In subject, Martin’s paintings are inspired by the great variety of landscapes both coastal and mountainous across the length and breadth of Wales. His paintings have a deeply seductive quality that has broadened their appeal far beyond the Welsh border. Whether through the luscious handling of the paint or the restrained palette of dark greens and greys, they supremely capture a damp morning on a Welsh hillside or a stroll on an Atlantic buffeted clifftop, the drama of the Snowdonia skyline or the crash of surf against the Pembrokeshire coast. Since turning professional in 2012 Martin has sold his paintings all over the world and to say that his paintings sell well would rather understate the extraordinary rate at which his work sells out of our gallery window. I am happy to break with my usual strict policy of not making wild predictions about artists futures and say that Martin is one to watch.
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