Wales Visitation inspired by Beat poem inhabits National museum

Near and Far Rocks, Tryfan. By John Piper (1903-1992)

Near and Far Rocks, Tryfan. By John Piper (1903-1992)

Six galleries of British paintings, inspired by American Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg’s poetry on LSD, are on display in Cardiff National Museum from 22th February in a collection entitled ‘Wales Visitation’.

John Smith, a museum assistant, said: “Allen Ginsberg, didn’t come to Wales in 1967 specifically to write a poem, but after climbing the mountains of Wales and walking through the Welsh countryside…these opened his mind. So we saw him here, just sat there, and he came up with the poetry he recited on LSD.”

“He became the inspiration of the every painter you see here. He is the inspiration behind the neo-romantics.” Mr Smith explained.

Ginsberg’s poetry, which explores the landscape of Wales in detail, invokes an imagined Celtic past and emphasizes the power and immensity of nature. “Wales Visitation” also becomes the reference and extension of Romantic tradition’s engagement with Welsh folklore.

The exhibition takes his poetry as a starting point for exploring modern and contemporary forms of neo romantic art.

The painting Capel-y-ffin, by David Jones, is one of the representative works featured in the display. Deeply influenced by Paul Cezanne’s landscape, this watercolour shows a Welsh border landscape imbued with historic and mythological significance.

John Piper, another important figure in 20th century in Britain who was known as a neo-Romantic, began to draw landscapes and building in the 1930s inspired by JMW Turner and Richard Wilson. This exhibition displays his three oil paintings, 23 watercolours, two monotype prints and a print portfolio, to give the audience a deep impression of his 10 year stay in Snowdonia. His works depict the rugged beauty of mountains in North Wales.

“This exhibition is all to do with Wales actually. The sculpture of North Wales, the pictures and drawings of Wales…all you see in the gallery back here is Wales. Artists and poets came to Wales, took the inspiration from different parts of Wales back, then came up with the works. It’s a declaration of Welsh art.” says John Smith.

Wendy Gordon, a primary school teacher, intends to bring two classes here to explore the display next Tuesday.

“This will be very useful because of the temporary nature of it will perhaps appear to the children a little bit more. And we will perhaps look at the Welsh landscape as well and we can compare and contrast. ” Ms Gordon says.

“I think it will make more people think about the landscape. I also think that it may make us look more closely at some of the contemporary artists in there, what they have seen and what they can recognise in the everyday. So we know everyday objects have been used not just the landscapes.”Ms Gordon adds.

Art and objects displayed in the exhibition are linked to the folklore and myths of Wales. Enlightened by Ginsberg’s poetry, they found that the real and imagined Celtic past mentioned in poetry contributed to the shape of the landscape and culture of Wales. David Jones’s paintings and traditional customs such as Mari Lwyd act as significant proof.

The display broadcasts ITV’s archive film on Mari Lwyd, which is a tradition associated with Christmas and New Year originating from the Llangynwyd area. A decorated horse skull travels from door-to-door with singing songs for entry permission and gives the residents best wishes for luck and health in the coming year. This seasonal tradition still survives in parts of South Wales today.

To make more people familiar with the valuable surviving customs and to feed the public’s desire to reconnect with myth and magic, artists in this exhibition try to recognise the disenchantment of modern life by creating objects and performances.

A 6-year-old girl’s mother, brings her daughter to the exhibition to see the objects.

The mother said: “I brought my daughter here to get in touch with the strange things, which give her a deep impression although she can’t understand what she has seen. But she will feel curious about all these things in her memory.”

“These are our national treasures,” she added.

Wales Visitation: Poetry, Romanticism and Myth in Art
Available from 22 February–7 September 2014.
7 Mar, 14 Mar, 21 Mar: Art Lunchtime Talk: Introduction to ‘Wales Visitation: Poetry, Romanticism and Myth in Art’ exhibition
Address: National Museum Cardiff, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP
Artists featured: David Jones, Richard Long, Graham Sutherland, Clare Woods, John Piper, Andrea Büttner

By Sherry Ye


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