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On being an artist in Wales: Paul Edwards

02 Mar 2024 6 minute read
‘Self portrait with reflection of self’ by Paul Edwards (1975)

Paul Edwards

It’s 1975 and I’m in Newport, a guitar-playing longhaired student at Newport College of Art, I’m making a drawing, a self portrait.

I remember how intoxicating it felt, being at art school, that you could draw and paint all day every day – who knew! – and I remember making the drawing ‘Self Portrait with Photograph of Self’.

Later in 1976 this drawing would be selected for the Northern Young Contemporaries and hung in the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. At that time, in Newport I was interested in working from life and from photographic sources, I recall the urgency and desire to record everything all at once.

Forty-eight years later another self-portrait in Cardiff, high above Mill Lane in my studio. This time a painting and I want to simply record the facts in front of me, I want the painting to be somehow art-less and I want the subject to be the idea.!

This month I am curating an exhibition at Queen Street Gallery in Neath, a short distance from my home town of Swansea, of course a city since 1969, but I still think of it as Swansea town, where I’m from.

I will be showing with four other artists: Jennifer Allan, Philip Watkins, Pip Woolf and Dilys Jackson.


My part in this exhibition will be a group of self-portraits bracketed by the pencil drawing from 1975 and the last self-portrait from January 2024.

This will be the first time that I show work from the project that I started back then in the seventies and has continued to the present day and will continue into the future.

Back in 1975 I decided that whatever else I did, I’d continue to make a self-portrait every year. Bob Dylan said “The purpose of Art is to stop time.” And this is a project about time.

‘Self Portrait’ by Paul Edwards, 2024

These drawings and paintings contain time: drawings and paintings are made over time, maybe minutes, hours, days or months.

They also are of their time, made over six decades, reflecting societal changes, physical and psychological changes and my changing circumstances.

They were made in different locations: at Newport College of Art, out of my studio in Swansea, London, Lincoln and Cardiff, and at residencies in Germany, Ireland and the United States. This is also a project about place.


Until around eight years ago I had two jobs and lived in two places. I had moved back to Wales where my family still live, but I continued to work as an academic at University of Lincoln, my other job – a visual artist working out of my studio in Cardiff.

As well as two jobs, I had two lives, my Lincoln life with my Lincoln friends and my Cardiff life. I don’t miss the long distance commute but I do miss having two lives.

At key times throughout my career as an artist I have had an association with communities of artists: when I returned to Swansea in the eighties with ‘Artists and Designers in Wales,’ more recently with ‘The Welsh Group’ and in the United States from the year 2000 onwards with the ‘Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.’

Painting and drawing is a solitary activity and what these artists collectives have given me is a community and through them I’ve found comrades.

Since I have come home to Wales, and together with my partner Carole Burns, I have met and now have a rich association with a number of writers and poets in Cardiff. Shortly after moving here I co-curated a project ‘Imagistic’ where Welsh writers collaborated with Welsh visual artists by writing pieces of flash fiction.

My experience of residencies and artists communities and the connections and associations arising from working and talking with writers as well as visual artists at residencies suggests new directions and departures and has nudged me toward a more cooperative and collaborative way of working.

I remember Artists and Designers in Wales, the idea of organising from the ground up, a more authentic and less corporate way to manage the visual arts.

It occurs to me that I have had more opportunities to be involved in artist-run initiatives in Wales, and that maybe this is because of a long history of DIY radicalism here.

Art and Life

I am a visual artist who responds to place; the crisp, hard light in the woods of Virginia, the presence of a sitter in a studio or in domestic spaces. Until quite recently I thought of life and art as quite separate, light into colour, into the substance of paint on a palette, yes connected, but not within touching distance.

Recently I’ve become interested in how close life is to visual art. I am reminded of St Paul writing to the Corinthians “Now we see through a glass darkly but then face to face” and I read that to mean the separation between art and life becomes smaller to become a gossamer veil and increasingly the projects I have become interested in reflect this.

More than painting, drawing has always had that immediacy and lack of separation for me, how a drawing is a subject but also a picture of the artist working – a gesture made permanent – a mark biting into the paper surface or the pace of a line, quick or slow and deliberate.

In an oblique way my Cardiff friends have become an inspiration for me, my writer friends, the painters I’ve come to know, but also my friends who are not part of that world, my friend Zhiwen’s tai chi regime in her small flat in Ely.

My map of Cardiff is Zhiwen in Ely, Kevin and Amy, Jim and Sue in Canton, Terry in Riverside; not really place but the people.

‘About Time’ opens today, March 2nd  at Queens Street Gallery, Neath and runs until 30th March. 2024. It features the work of Paul Edwards, Jennifer Allan, Philip Watkins, Pip Wool and Dilys Jackson.

For more information, visit the Welsh Group website.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago

Of course, Bob Dylan called one of his recordings Self Portrait…

Your 2024 work is a grim reminder of the ageing process we all share, but a splendid piece none the less…

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