Updated: Aug 24, 2020
This summer I took a welcome break to visit my mother’s ancestral roots in North Wales and find some peaceful space away from the rush to focus on writing and photography. In the UK, the summer's on the way to breaking records for being the driest and hottest and the Isle of Anglesey or Ynys Mon in Welsh looks beautiful swathed in sunshine, The Island is surrounded by the shallow waters of the Irish Sea and the western side of the island forms a separate island, called Ynys Gybi or Holy Island. Anglesey has an area of 714 sq km being slightly larger than the Isle of Man and is the largest island in England and Wales. It’s highest point is Holyhead Mountain at 220 metres and with a population of about 68,000, Holyhead is the island’s largest town.
Oriel Ynys Môn lies in the heart of the island and is a purpose built museum, arts and events gallery, where I took a look at this year's Sir Kyffin Williams Drawing Prize. The Drawing Prize was founded in 2009 by the Kyffiin Williams Trust and Oriel Môn, and works in partnership with the National Museum of Wales and the National Library of Wales based in Aberystwyth. In the exhibition all of the successful entries were displayed alongside some of Kyffin’s own original drawings. There's a Student Prize and the First Prize's sponsered by ITV Cymru/Wales.
It was really informative to see the variety of media being used in Welsh contemporary drawing but more personally interesting to discover and learn about Sir Kyffin Williams who was born in Llangefni, Anglesey to one of two sons into an old landed Anglesey family. I hadn't realised he stands to be Wales's foremost ambassador in the visual arts.
Kyffin Williams was educated at Moreton Hall School and it was interesting to discover he attended Shrewsbury School UK, having myself taught visual art at its sister Shrewsbury school in Bangkok, Thailand. It was at Shrewsbury that he contracted polio which lead him to develop epilepsy a misfortune he later described as "my greatest fortune". After he failed a British Army medical examination in 1941 (because of epilepsy), his doctor advised him to take up art for the sake of his health and from there he developed a passion for it when he discovered the works of Piero Della Francesca.
Despite being told initially by his tutor that he couldn't draw Williams enrolled at London's London’s Slade School of Fine Art in 1941 (then relocated in Oxford). When he finished his 3 years there he left with the Slade Portrait Prize and then achieved his ambition to teach art and taught at Highgte School, London, where he was senior art master from 1944 until 1973. His pupils included the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, Royal Academicians Anthony Green and Patrick Procktor and composers John Tavener and John Rutter. In 1968 he won a scholarship with the Winston Churchill Fellowship to study and paint in Y Wladfa; a Welsh settlement in Patagonia. However he would always return home to Anglesey during his holidays, then take his study sketches back to London and complete his canvasses. Williams particular technique was applying thick oil paint with a palette knife having been predominately a landscape painter, however he also was an accomplished portraitist and something of a cartoonist and his paintings basically divide into three subjects; Venice, Patagonia and by far the largest section, Wales. On retiring from Highgate school Williams returned to Anglesey and spent the next 30 years, painting, promoting Welsh schools of Art and Welsh art in general. He was president of the Royal Cambrian Academy and was appointed a member of the Royal Academy in 1974.
So this year's 2018 first prize went to Colin See-Paynton (Six March Hares) and the student prize to George Bolwell (Plan for a Bathhouse). Overall a great selection of drawings so a visit comes highly recommended including a visit around Anglesey to see the rustic, rugged and breathtaking landscape Williams spent much of his time sketching - but try to make it during the summer months when the sun is out!