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Watercolour Society of Wales in Swansea

Wales Online article by Jenny White on the Watercolour Society of Wales exhibition in the Attic Gallery, Swansea.

The Watercolour Society of Wales was founded in 1959 and is still going strong today. Jenny White reports on the group’s latest exhibition at the Attic Gallery in Swansea

WATERCOLOUR is sometimes mistakenly seen as a beginner’s medium. Many artists, however, would say that it is the most challenging medium they have tackled. For a lot of them it also becomes the most rewarding.

Judy Linnell is one such painter; watercolours have been her reigning passion for more than 40 years.

“I got a degree in fine art from Leeds University in the 1960s and I was working in oils at the time,” she recalls. “Afterwards I got a job teaching watercolours and I became hooked and quite obsessive about it. I love the fluid nature of watercolour – you can get extraordinary washes of beautiful colour that’s very translucent and when the colours collide and clash together you get all sorts of magical effects almost without having to try.

“Oils are lovely but they don’t have the same vibrancy and translucency as watercolour. With watercolour you can get those beautiful Turner-esque veils of colour. I always come back to watercolour; I even tried pastels but found that I needed to add water to them because they were just too dry!”

In particular, Linnell loves to paint the coastline near her Pembrokeshire home.

“The sea is crying out to be painted and watercolour is very conducive to painting the sea and the skies. I just love the way it moves about. I’ve found that if I throw paint about like the sea, that seems to capture it.”

Several of Linnell’s sea paintings will go on show this weekend at Swansea’s Attic Gallery as part of a new exhibition by the Watercolour Society of Wales. The society was founded in 1959 by six like-minded artists including Eric Malthouse, Arthur Miles and Leslie Moore. Its aim was to recognise and encourage the specific heritage of watercolour painting in Wales – a tradition that can be traced back to the late 18th century.

Initially, the group’s members were based in and around Cardiff, but the society spread its wings in the ’70s and ’80s to attract artists from all over Wales. Today the Prince of Wales is its patron and occasionally takes part in its exhibitions.

In total the society has around 40 members, all of them talented painters living and working in Wales. A total of 18 of them are participating in the Swansea exhibition, one of several shows held by the society each year.

“For me, part of the appeal of joining the society was that I wanted to exhibit in galleries beyond Pembrokeshire,” says Linnell. “I also wanted to meet other interesting like- minded artists who enjoy watercolour.”

The society has kept pace with the newer types of water-soluble media now being used, so that traditional watercolour stands alongside new media like acrylics and mixed media in this latest exhibition.

Gower-based Philip Davies, for example, uses gouache along with watercolour paint in his work.

“I’m not a purist,” he says. “I find that if you add a little gouache then it frees the medium up – you can make a mistake but you can work on top of it and pull it back again.”

One of several Swansea members of the society, Davies will be exhibiting alongside George Little, who lives near Caswell and has an enduring fascination with South Wales’ industrial past. He has contributed several paintings of the old Ystalyfera iron works, recently uncovered during the building of a supermarket.

“They stopped the digging and opened it for one day so I went up and I made a number of paintings and drawings,” he says. “I’m very interested in images of the past, the old buildings or what is remaining of them now and the engines and pieces of scrap metal that are left hanging about; that’s what I make paintings from.”

Like most members of the Watercolour Society of Wales, Little does not work exclusively in watercolour, but has an enduring fondness for the medium.

“I like the glow that it gives, the clarity of it, and the jewel-like qualities that you get,” he says.

From Little’s intensely coloured, geometric paintings to Andrea Kelland’s dramatic, fluid paintings of the sea off the Pembrokeshire coastline, this exhibition celebrates the diversity and talent of watercolour painters working in Wales. The show is being held in memory of the society’s former chairman Stanley Owen Jones who no doubt would have been delighted with the variety of work on show.

“What is interesting is that there’s an extraordinary range of techniques from traditional watercolours to things that really hit you,” says current chairman Henry Stephens. “It’s a very exciting show.”

The exhibition is at Attic Gallery, Swansea from tomorrow until April 14.

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