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New exhibition explores the idea of ‘Welshness’

11 May 2024 5 minute read
Cyn Cneifio Pen Llyn. Image: Russ Chester

An exhibition showcasing new works by two of Wales’ leading artists takes place in Cardiff this month, featuring paintings that explore the idea of ‘Welshness’.

Albany Gallery, Cardiff, hosts a spectacular show in May featuring artists Michael de Bono and Russ Chester.

Russ Chester whose project entitled ‘Chwilio am Gymru’ or ‘Looking for Wales’ explores perceptions of Welshness.

Russ, who studied Art and Photography at Newcastle Upon Tyne College of Art & Technology before moving to Wales says when he was invited to take part in this exhibition he wondered what he could paint.

He wanted to find a reason for painting, rather than just paint because he could.

He started to consider what ‘Welshness’ is by exploring the culture, heritage, environment, conservation and the working landscape seen through the eyes of his community.

He describes his project as “like arriving at a door knowing that something lay beyond and I could only get a glimpse through the keyhole.”

Nant Pasgen Mawr. Image: Russ Chester

Russ wanted to see if being Welsh was more than just the language or famous events such as the Eisteddfod, so visited many smaller events and festivals taking place in order to determine what being Welsh means.

“After listening to people, I started exploring social media and how people approached various subjects.

“I visited events taking place within the area, and borrowed images people had posted online.

“It gave me enough information for ‘Chwilio am Gymru.’

“I discovered – with a lot of help, guidance and ‘tip-offs’ from my local community – that the Welsh language and culture is very much alive, vibrant and thriving.”

International acclaim

“Just because we don’t see events advertised on posters around the place doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We all know about the Eisteddfod and The Royal Welsh Show but I’ve been to ‘Plygain’ evenings (a form of harmony singing) where my limited knowledge of the language still enabled me to join in.

“I also attended comedy evenings, speed shearing competitions and ploughing contests, live music and improvised poetry nights – the sole quality binding them all together being the almost exclusive use of Welsh as a first and foremost language.”

The research has resulted in a selection of stunning images from such events, with his experience of working as a stonemason on farms and old buildings allowing him to appreciate the textures, colours and feel of stone.

Russ is an internationally selling artist and has his work in private collections around the world. He has received commissions from Canada, France, New Zealand and Norway, and exhibits his work in London, Cardiff and the North Wales Galleries. He also undertakes Workshops with schools for primary, secondary, GCSE and A-level students.

Figurative realism

The collection of works by Russ Chester features alongside Michael de Bono – a self- taught contemporary painter from the Welsh valleys working in the tradition of figurative realism.

Golden. Image: Michael de Bono

He has produced a collection of exquisite paintings, which include bold red cherries sitting in a silver dish, dancing pears and a classic Martini.

Michael uses a complex array of oil glazes which with painstaking labour, create a jewel-like and hyper-smooth surface.

Michael says: “My ideal is to make beautiful paintings that last into posterity and present familiar things in novel ways.

“It’s a challenge but I think there are a couple of standout works such as the portrait I painted called “Golden” and a still life titled “Radiant Pears” which exemplify what I’m aiming for.

“They were hard to paint and took a lot of time but the outcome is spectacular, well worth having a close look at.

“I really like a couple of paintings, both depicting fruit in a silver dish – one is of green grapes and the other of rich red cherries with their stems reaching upward, almost as though they are cheering in celebration.

“I painted them entirely from life, first sketching the forms out with watercolour onto a gesso panel and then working the sketch up in oils.

“Most of my other works use photography because extra details are brought to my attention which can be overlooked when painting entirely from life.”

Kettle with Oranges. Image: Michael de Bono

Michael added: “I’ve been painting for 26 years, initially I could only paint when I had spare time but fortunately, after a painting was brought to public attention at the Royal Academy in London, I’ve been able to focus solely on painting for the last 16 years, one exhibition at a time.

“I paint for nine to ten hours a day, it’s my passion in life.

“I paint with tremendous precision but realism for me is merely a tool to reach beauty and through beauty the transcendent.”

Michael’s work has been shown in over 50 exhibitions including juried selections by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal West of England Academy.

His work is held in private collections throughout the UK and abroad.

Michael de Bono and Russ Chester at Albany Galley can be viewed in person from 3 May – 25 May.

All artworks are also available to view or purchase online now.

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5 days ago

Why portray Welshness with a herd of sheep (main photo). We need to move away from this. 99% of Cymry have absolutely nothing to do with sheep only to eat them. The ones we do eat are usually from New Zealand as most of us cannot afford Welsh lamb. Who can afford Welsh lamb? Who buys it? If other countries can afford it why isn’t it affordable here?

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
5 days ago
Reply to  Frank

You have failed to include the thousands of fussy eaters, veggies and vegans in your subtraction said a voice from Gogledd Cymru…

5 days ago
Reply to  Frank

“flock” of sheep. This hot weather is playing hell with my brain!!

5 days ago

As passionate as I am about Wales, I do everything I can not call myself “Welsh”, it’s a derogatory and highly misleading term. Fully designed to replace a native population with another identity while others take ours. We are Cymric, we are Britons, we are British. We are not Welsh (foreigners) on our own island! I know many people will believe this is some sort of attack on Welshness, it isn’t, it’s an attempt at educating people as to why they are called Welsh. And why they wrongly may not like calling themselves British.

4 days ago
Reply to  Riki

Of course, you are dead right. To be called foreigners in our own country is a huge insult but many, unfortunately, couldn’t give two hoots. Very sad. People have forgotten or don’t know that our neighbours are the foreigners and were the immigrants of the time. I wonder if today’s immigrants will repeat history and end up in charge!!

4 days ago

These artists look very interesting. Some lovely figurative work. Let’s hope the exhibition helps Welsh art receive wider recognition.

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