My name is Elfyn Lewis, I’m a Welsh artist living in Cardiff, (capital) Wales. The artist I have chosen is Turner.
I was born and raised in Porthmadog on the north west coast of Wales. The town was built on reclaimed land, as a port for the slate industry, situated some ten miles away in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Ships built in Porthmadog sailed across the oceans delivering slate and other goods, until circumstances changed. It’s now a tourist attraction for most of the year.
The ‘Cob' as it’s called locally is the embankment which protects the town from the sea. My family home is situated on the 'Cob' in a row of tall seaman’s houses overlooking the river Glaslyn in-front and the ‘Eryri’ mountain range behind. Eryri, although small in stature compared to most European ranges, holds its own in beauty and dramatic light. Porthmadog has lost none of its beauty and this is where my love of art began.
This is where Turner painted the estuary long before the 'Cob' was built. On one of his grand tours around Europe he visited this remote area and painted the fast-flowing rivers, the mountains, and the weather – which by all accounts was its usual wet and windy vociferous self, Wales was not kind to him. There are cartoons mocking his tour of Wales with the usual stereotypical nature of the English press.
Growing up in Porthmadog was a wondrous experience, and to this day influences my work. My art teacher at school Rob Piercy ignited my love of painting and encouraged me to look and see the world in new ways. We talked about artists from all over the world, but Turner was always there for me, and I believe he’s one of the first abstract painters. The way he captured light and movement in paint is something that many of us could only dream of doing. You don’t have to like your heroes or claim to understand them, but you can admire and try to understand what they are doing. I’d find myself sitting by the harbour with a sketchbook trying to capture a scene of fast-moving water with the moon as the only light. His influence ran deep just like the river.
Paintings like 'Rain Steam and Speed' capture so much movement - emotive snapshots of a place and time that transport the viewer. Even now, Turner’s paintings still resonate and sing the song of paint and its history. There are many works of his that capture this feeling of being there. In this painting 'Rain, Steam and Speed' the power of sky and land joining as one, with the train appearing like an arrow from the gloom. The techniques Turner used in this painting remind me of another of his paintings called ’Snow Storm; Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth’ where the sea and sky entwine as one to produce the effect of being in the eye of the storm. These two paintings have elements of abstraction, they give an impression of somewhere, of something that until then had not been seen.
Turner seemed to capture something from nothing. He broke up the traditional way of painting and created a movement that captured nature and landscape in a way that we are still investigating. Turner was not my only influence. I could have talked about Monet and Rothko etc, but Turner captivated me through his use of paint and his burning desire to capture the sun.
My own work is mainly abstract. I use tools and equipment to create paintings that seek to communicate movement of light and water, or the shapes that these elements have left on the land. There are many living artists who have inspired me and the obvious one is Richter. Like him, I use a squeegee to drag and pull paint across a surface. Unlike him I use acrylic paint. Oils, although I love them effected my eyes, so from an early age I’ve used acrylics and especially Lascaux paints. My process is physical and dynamic. I work on several pieces at the same time and skip from one painting to the next. Some pieces take days, others, months. I live with them and watch them emerging - gambling and guessing what to do next. Finding the solution to the work is a constant battle. In my mind I am always looking for a horizon and a feeling of water and sky. Abstract landscapes perhaps.
The painting I’ve chosen of my own work is called ‘Goleuni,’ which means light in Welsh. This painting captures something which for me is all important - the feeling of being whole. It’s full of little mistakes and things you could change or repeat. Mistakes often transform the work from looking like all the others, to being unique. When this happens, I experience a sudden rush of euphoria and delight in something that I hadn’t seen before. ‘Goleuni’ has the horizontal line that reminds me of the ‘Cob’ – with sky above and water below, fast moving clouds capture reflect starlight.
Being a studio-based painter is a daily routine – a balancing act of method and chance – searching for the light. Turner influenced my journey as a painter, but it’s the people and the place that made me.
Elfyn Lewis, 2020