Portrait by Roy Guy unveiled in Merthyr.
On Friday February 10th at 7pm, a reception took place at Canolfan Soar in Merthyr Tydfil to mark the unveiling of a new painting by the artist Roy Guy inspired by the work of the poet Grahame Davies, who was for many years a resident of Merthyr.
Roy Guy, from Newbridge, has painted many prominent figures from Welsh history and culture, and has commemorated many historic events such as the drowning of the village of Capel Celyn and the disaster at the Prince of Wales Colliery at Abercarn in 1878.
It was while creating the painting to commemorate the Abercarn disaster that Roy Guy first worked with Grahame Davies, who provided a poem to accompany the painting – a poem which was later used by the Hollywood actor Michael Sheen to conclude his television history of the Chartist movement, A Valleys Rebellion, which aired in February 2015.
Roy has now produced a painting illustrating the work of Grahame Davies, who began his literary career in Merthyr Tydfil, where he lived from 1986 until 1997. His first book of poetry Adennill Tir (“Reclaiming Land”), which won a prize named after another writer with strong Merthyr connections, the Harri Webb Memorial Prize, was launched in Canolfan Soar in 1997. Twenty years on, Roy Guy’s painting was unveiled as a permanent feature of the very room where that launch took place.
The reception at Canolfan Soar featured an explanation by Roy Guy of the vision and methods behind his artwork, and a reading in Welsh and English by Grahame Davies, featuring poems which are included in the painting.
Two of Roy Guy’s paintings are already on show in Merthyr. His painting of the Historian Gwyn Alf Williams is in Dowlais Library, and his painting of the actor Philip Madoc is in the Central Library.
The collaboration with Roy Guy is the latest of many joint artistic projects in which Grahame Davies’s work is featured in Merthyr Tydfil. His poetry appears on the pink granite benches in the town centre, and in several sculptures by the artist Nigel Talbot along the Taff Trail, including at Cefn Coed y Cymmer and Aberfan, while work he produced in conjunction with local people in creative writing workshops appears in sculptures on the Tramroadside, and will soon be incorporated in artworks in the new Castle Square development.
In addition, in October last year, together with the poet Tony Curtis, Grahame Davies was commissioned to write a sequence of poems to commemorate the Aberfan disaster, to accompany an exhibition of photographs by Chuck Rappaport, which was displayed at The Red House in Merthyr.
This is an explanation of the imagery in Roy Guy's painting.
The central figure of the poet divides the canvas, with Welsh-language culture represented primarily on the right (from the perspective of the viewer) and English on the left.
Clockwise from the figure’s head, can be seen: a background of hills showing the landscape of the poet’s home village of Coedpoeth in the former coal-mining district of north-east Wales; next, enclosed within a circle, a dragon protects a pile of books symbolising the poet’s work in Welsh, and the need to safeguard the Welsh language; next is a church tower denoting his Anglican faith.
At the top right is the Welsh daffodil, while the male figures on the right and bottom right show the continuity of successive generations; they are combined with an embryonic image suggesting the future poem, and a view of gravestones indicating both extremes of life as reflected in the author’s work, particularly the poem ‘Departed’.
At the figure’s foot is a blue panel with a suggestion of the figure of the legendary whale Moby Dick, which inspired the title poem of the volume Lightning Beneath the Sea.
To the immediate left of the figure is a woman reading a book, viewed from behind through a window, as in the poem ‘Reader’. To her left, after the Greek Sigma symbol, is a pianist, inspired by the poem ‘Piano Solo’.
Above him, on a curving stair, stands the mysterious dark female figure found in the poem ‘Plas Power’. Next to her, encircled, and surmounted by a burning candle, is a pile of books, larger than its counterpart on the other side of the canvas, and thereby indicating the relative strength of the English language. Above that, and balancing the daffodil on the right of the canvas, is the rose of England, although this is a Tudor rose, uniting Welsh and English history.
At the top of the canvas, a coal mine represents the mining heritage of the poet’s family. This also depicts the Prince of Wales Colliery of Abercarn, which was the scene of a terrible mining disaster in 1878. It was in producing an artwork to commemorate that accident that Grahame Davies and Roy Guy first met.
Finally, the young woman in red immediately behind the poet, is the figure found in the poem ‘Crossroads’.
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