Lockdown took us back to disciplined nonconformist Wales of the past says artist
The pandemic lockdown took Wales back to its disciplined nonconformist religious past according to an artist who says that his new work is an attempt to bridge the two eras in Welsh history.
Ceredigion artist Wynne Melville Jones said that they were “clear parallels and likenesses” between Welsh communities fifty years ago and the way society was locked down under the Covid pandemic, which he has attempted to capture in his new work Yn Ôl Traed Dacu (In Grandpa’s Footsteps).
He said that the differences between how the Covid lockdown was enforced in Wales and England may also have been an echo of Wales’ past.
“Considering the historical background it is understandable that the Welsh government took a more reasonable and careful course of action in dealing with Covid 19 than the Westminster government,” said Wynne Melville Jones.
The painting was created during the 21-22 pandemic lockdown and Wynne Melville Jones said that it was very much like turning the clock back fifty years (or more) to a different and almost forgotten era.
Sunday observance was central to the way of life at the time and it appeared that most people in the communities were ready to respect the harsh regulations imposed by the chapels, the artist said.
“It was lockdown every week on a Sunday,” he said. “Shops and cinemas were shut and sports and entertainment were banned. The washing was left until Monday morning and some of my friends were not allowed to read comics on Sundays.
“A massive cultural and social revolution happened in a short space of time.
“It was difficult to imagine how this level of extreme discipline could be introduced in present-day Wales and it took a pandemic to get strict measures and limitations to our day to day lives and to force us to live in lock-down.”
The painting is based on a scene of a typical Welsh village with the chapel as the dominant building. It’s Sunday evening in the early 60’s and the villagers are making their way up the hill on a narrow road to the evening service at the chapel, all dressed in black or sombre colours, in respect of the Sabbath.
In the foreground, a young child is being led to the service by his grandfather in a clear attempt to ensure that the next generation was brought up in the Welsh nonconformist religion.
The picture is an attempt to recreate the atmosphere in a traditional Welsh community in the early sixties, from the personal memory of the artist but the road signs are contemporary to symbolically represent the future threats and outside influences to the “old way of life”.
It’s a stark reminder of the huge influence of the religious denominations in Wales on Welsh traditional communities, the artist said.
“The chapels at the time had the power to enforce and censor the personal and social behaviour of these communities,” the artist added. “It was 1996 before all the public houses were open in Wales.”
More of Wynne Melville Jones’ work can be found here.
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