How young artists are giving Wales the self-confidence to sketch out a brighter future
Young artists are showcasing Welsh culture in exciting new ways, but not so long ago the creative landscape looked very different.
When I left Wales for university in 2010, I took great pleasure in blu-tacking Niki Pilkington prints alongside my ‘I HEART VODKA’ poster. Her work was like nothing I had seen before and as a Welsh-speaking millennial felt it was made especially for me.
And others agreed. In an era of crippling university debts and the skyrocketing cost of owning a home, Niki managed to revolutionise the way young people viewed art as something for them, regardless of how little money they had.
Today, her monochrome pencil work and sparse, electric pops of colour give her work an über contemporary feel, which stands in stark contrast to the traditional idioms and phrases so synonymous with her art.
Speaking to Nation.Cymru, she explains: “After living in London, coming home to Wales was like seeing it with new eyes; I discovered a new fondness for the language and culture I’d taken for granted growing up. This is when my signature style was born.
“There was no one doing what I was back then, so things certainly have changed over the last 11 years. For so long, Welsh people have bought art, gifts and products in English because there simply wasn’t another option, but now that’s changing dramatically and there’s so much more available by makers from Wales.
“For instance, I now offer custom prints, where customers choose a letter and I hand paint the full name underneath. I offer the full Welsh alphabet and can’t tell you how many people have said how happy they are to finally buy art with their Welsh initials; they can get a ‘Ll’ instead of an ‘L’ for a name like Llinos, or a ‘Ff’ for Ffion rather than an ‘F’. It may not seem like much, but if it’s your name, it’s important to you.”
Away from home for the first time, I was overwhelmed by city life and found comfort in Niki’s art, a reminder that just because I had moved didn’t mean I was losing what mattered most. Even today, she dominates the Welsh art scene and you’ll struggle to find a woman under 35 who doesn’t know her name. The importance of seeing ourselves in the art we buy shouldn’t be underestimated.
Not far behind Niki was Twinkle & Gloom, whose whimsy and weird Welsh ladies put a tongue in cheek spin on natives and tradition while highlighting modern themes like feminism.
But it would be a few more years before the boom in patriotic art. Efa Lois, Tafwyl’s official illustrator 2018-2020, favours legends of the Mabinogi and local folklore; she has a particular penchant for Welsh witches, documenting 60 to date which range from the witch of the Roche Castle curse to Siwsi Dôl y Clochydd from Llanfachreth.
In her spare time she also runs Prosiect Drudwen, a blog which celebrates the forgotten women of Welsh history.
Another highlight is Myths ‘n’ Tits, who offers up smutty pop culture references while the escapades of Nerys and Cerys perfectly capture the modern experience of being young and Welsh.
Finally, uplifting and humorous propaganda style posters by Ffŵligans were inspired by travels around south east Asia and China, where seemingly cheerful images on billboards and communist posters juxtaposed with striking typography and bold colours.
The creative duo moved from Bristol to north Wales to give their children a Welsh education, but noticed their children continued to speak in English to each other, prompting the ‘Siaradwch Gymraeg’ poster.
With YesCymru membership doubling in three weeks to hit 15,000, the pipe dream of an independent Wales suddenly feels achievable. But there are many across the UK who vehemently oppose it, and that vehemence takes a real emotional toll: oversensitive… hostile… dead language… delusional… you’d be nothing without us… chip on your shoulder… principality… the rest of the world’s never even heard of you, anyway!
This relentless gaslighting is deeply demoralising. But the role these artists play in celebrating their Welsh identity shouldn’t be disregarded as a key driver in the upswell of self-confidence across the country.
The art being produced isn’t despondent, but vibrant and full of life—and, far from having a chip on our shoulder, it shows we’re more than capable of not taking ourselves seriously while having plenty to say for ourselves when necessary.
More than anything, they provide reassurance we’re all in this together; which quietens the self-doubts when the trolls wear me down.
A new YouGov poll shows support for Welsh independence is highest among those aged 16-24, with 46% supporting an independent Wales. The figure among those aged 25-49 dwindles to 39% while just 18% of those aged 65+ support independence.
It’s clear that the variety of art available reflects newfound national confidence and so, going forward, young artists will play a key role in maintaining the drive to secure a brighter future for Wales.