September 29th, 2019

It’s been really exciting to see interest in my current exhibitions from areas of the media such as Dancing Times, Dance Europe, and Golwg.

In addition, the Welsh cultural magazine O’r Pedwar Gwynt recently invited me to write a short piece about the background to my current work, which I was very happy to do.

Please find the article here.

For non-Welsh speakers, please see English medium text below.

Very grateful to Sioned Puw Rowlands and Angharad Penrhyn Jones at O’r Pedwar Gwynt for the opportunity and for all their work on this.

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Painting Dance

Ffin y Parc Gallery, Llanrwst – Sept 15th to October 9th

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff – November 30th to Jan 5th

Painting Dance presents a selection of recent work made during my ongoing residency with Wales’s international dance company Ballet Cymru, including paintings and drawings created collaboratively with dancers, as well as responses to rehearsals of productions such as Romeo a Juliet, Celtic Concerto, and Divided We Stand. Supported by Arts Council of Wales, the exhibitions also reflect elements of the company’s wider education and training programme, including their intensive work with newly-graduated dancers, and the 2019 Wales International Ballet Summer School.

As a painter, my interest in dance began in 2013. Working on a series of portraits of stage performers – mostly comedians and actors – John Livingston, a dancer and old friend of mine, offered to sit for a painting. Looking to produce a picture which might reflect something of John’s sensibilities as a performer, we devised an approach in which he improvised slow, gestural sequences of movement around my studio, freezing periodically in dynamic poses as I sketched him in charcoal. Through this process we arrived at a pose for a much larger picture, which John then held for the rest of the session.

This experience changed the direction of my work.

My artistic practice has always centred around the human figure – for years working from the nude, and later in portraiture – but collaborating with a model in this way was unlike anything I had done before. It drew as much on John’s experience and creative concerns as my own, which was strangely liberating, and made me properly recognise for the first time some of the overlaps between dance as an art form and my interests as a painter.

Following this I was able to work with several members of the Cardiff dance company Earthfall, and in 2016 began working with Ballet Cymru.

Ballet Cymru’s artistic directors Darius James and Amy Doughty invited me to sketch at the company’s rehearsal studio in Newport as they were developing their production Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. I’d never been in a rehearsal space before, and was immediately struck by the energy and camaraderie of the dancers and choreographers, and by the discipline – physical and mental – that they brought to the process of creating a piece together. It was inspiring to see.

Drawing is difficult. And drawing in a rehearsal environment presents particular challenges. Subjects often fly about the dance floor, rarely staying still for more than a few seconds, and my sketches were necessarily cursory. Looking for ways I might produce more resolved images, after some time I began experimenting with film, recording dancers in rehearsal so particular moments could be watched and rewatched, played back on a loop in the painting studio.

During an artistic residence in Llandudno over the summer of 2016, I combined this looped film technique with the collaborative, improvisational approach I’d earlier employed with John Livingston and others in my studio, working with contemporary dancer Angharad Harrop to create a series of large canvases. This, together with a session Angharad did with her friend and Capoeira partner Deborah Lago, suggested further possibilities, which I picked up with Ballet Cymru dancers in the months that followed.

Three years on, I’ve spent a lot of time with Ballet Cymru in rehearsal rooms, theatres and my painting studio, and have got to know the company well. The wonderfully positive and inclusive ethos they bring to everything they do has been extended to me as Artist in Residence, and the relationship has become central to my practice.

I consider my dance pictures to be portraits (if sometimes blurring lines between the identities of dancers and roles they may be inhabiting), though informed by my background in figure painting and early studies of Classical and Renaissance sculpture. The interdisciplinary nature of my current work is still very fresh and exciting to me, and is something I hope to develop further.

Recent experiments, for example, have involved dancers taking moments or passages from pieces they are rehearsing, and using them as starting points for improvisations – moving away from the choreography they’re familiar with, but maintaining a connection with it as we explore ideas for paintings. One of these, the Montagues series, was made with dancers Miguel Fernandes, Maria Brunello and Andrea Battaggia moving responsively and reflexively together to develop compositions rooted in their roles as Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo in the company’s Romeo a Juliet. Ideas emerge like discoveries during these sessions, with only the small matter of painting the pictures to follow.

I’m looking forward to doing a lot more.

The exhibitions at Ffyn y Parc Gallery and Wales Millennium Centre will each feature audio/touch tours for visitors with visual impairments, and, as part of its December actives programme, the Wales Millennium Centre exhibition will be accompanied by a series of free drawing workshops, which I’ll be delivering with Ballet Cymru dancers.

Many thanks to Ballet Cymru, and to everyone else who has made this project possible.

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