On Being a Writer in Wales: Christine Kinsey
Christine Kinsey considers her life now it’s set down in print and recalls the creation of Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre.
Creating my book Truth, Lies & Alibis in images and words has been a way of gathering the diverse threads that have influenced my work which has its roots in my early years.
I grew up in a single parent working class family in Pont y moel, an industrial area of Monmouthshire, which was not part of Wales or England, it was referred to as Wales and Monmouthshire.
During my time in secondary school, there was no opportunity to learn Welsh and we were not taught the history of Wales. I became intrigued by this mysterious country in the west whose people spoke another language and so I decided as a teenager I would be Welsh.
This experience has been a crucial aspect of my exploration of identity and Cymreictod has been a central tenet of my work.
When my father died there were very few jobs for women in the Valleys, my mother found a job in the British Nylon Spinners factory in Mamhilad, she was one of the first women to be employed working shifts and burning nylon off spindles.
She did the same job as the men but was paid a fraction of what the men were paid.
This economic discrimination and the poverty this injustice caused my family has been the basis for my bearing witness to the way women have been socially, economically and sexually exploited and it continues to have an impact on my work.
At the age of fifteen, I managed to achieve a place in a Grammar School and it was there I found the Art room, which made all the difference.
The teacher encouraged me to apply for a place in Newport Art College, Gwent and I was accepted on the National Diploma in Design course which followed a traditional form of art education.
Working in drawing books and recording our environment was an important part of our training and as the students were mostly from the industrial valleys of south east Wales it was this landscape, influenced by the paintings of Joseph Herman, that dominated the subject matter.
The discrimination against women continued in the art college, when women were discouraged to enrol on the fine art painting and sculpture courses but were directed towards the crafts. I was resolved to join the fine art painting course as I knew my work followed a different path.
I was very interested in the personality and writing of August Strindberg and the symbolism of Russian Icons, both of which remain an influence.
During this time I met Bryan Jones who came from Rhymney near Merthyr Tydfil, he became my life partner and we co-founded with Mik Flood Chapter Arts Centre in Canton, Cardiff.
A new Chapter
Bryan and I had often discussed the lack of facilities for all the Arts in Cardiff and Wales generally and when we met Mik in December 1968 we discussed a way of resolving this situation.
We called ourselves the Art Centre Project Group and decided to advertise in the International Times (IT) an underground newspaper to invite other people to join us. The only reply we received was from Peter Jones the Visual Art Director of the Arts Council of Wales, whose support became crucial to the development of Chapter.
Throughout 1969 Bryan, Mik and I organised events around Cardiff to assess the response to our proposal of an Arts Centre in Cardiff for Wales.
These events included a 12 hour Pop Festival in Sophia Gardens which included the Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, renting an empty shop on Queens Street to present the visual arts and performance as well as Pavilions in the Parks which provided free space for artists and visitors.
With a plan that the centre should include spaces for artists from all disciplines to be able to produce and present work under one roof we approached Cardiff City Council about renting a building.
The building we were offered in 1970 was the 42,000sq ft of the derelict and condemned old Canton High School.
The first time we walked into the building we ‘fell in love with it’ and could immediately see how the classrooms could become studios, workshops and rehearsal spaces and how the cloakroom and school halls could become cinemas and theatres; with a great deal of help from friends and supporters we accomplished these aims and Bryan named the enterprise ‘Chapter’.
In the early years Chapter supported some of the most innovative and radical creative developments in the arts in Britain, but we were always aware that Chapter also belonged to the Canton Community and supporting local communities was crucial to the development of the Arts Centre.
Chapter has grown beyond our wildest dreams over the past 50+ years this is the result of the continuing innovative and inspiring work by artists from all disciplines, the dedication of the people working in the Centre as well as the commitment that Chapter serves people from all backgrounds.
When Bryan and I left Chapter we went work on the island of Sint Maarten in the Caribbean for four years to support and teach underprivileged children.
My time on the island made me acutely aware of the history of exploitation of all the people on all the islands and how children were continuing to suffer through lack of remuneration for the injustices of slavery, I was particularly conscious of the way in which women were exploited.
During this time my sense of Cymreictod grew and I knew to develop my own creativity I needed to be in Wales.
Returning to Wales my first exhibition was called Menywod Cymru/ Women of Wales in which I wanted celebrate ordinary women who lived extraordinary lives, especially from the South Wales Valleys.
These women are reflected in group of characters I have developed and who have accompanied me on the creative odyssey I’ve taken through my pictorial imagery.
The eight chapters in my book Truth, Lies & Alibis explore through the text my exterior physical journey and my drawings, paintings and film follow an interior, psychological, emotional, spiritual odyssey. Each of the images is a fragment of one ongoing picture of a journey of becoming.
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