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Home / Latest News / Capturing Wales: One of our best-loved artists is celebrated with a new book and major exhibition

Capturing Wales: One of our best-loved artists is celebrated with a new book and major exhibition

Generations have admired Gwilym Prichard for his depictions of his beloved Wales.

From the foothills of Snowdonia to the Pembrokeshire coast, he has painted the landscape countless times, capturing the changing seasons and the beauty of his native land.

But a new book shows how his travels have also shaped his work.

Gwilym Prichard: A Lifetime’s Grazing features scenes he painted after embarking on a new life in the Greek Islands during middle age.

It reveals how, along the way, he set up studios in Brittany and Provence, moving house some two dozen times. And it also shows the results of expeditions to Tunisia.

Many of the paintings featured in the book are now on show as part of a major retrospective at Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff.

Both the glossy hardback book and exhibition illustrate the range of painting styles adopted by Prichard – who is married to fellow artist Claudia Williams – throughout the decades.

Readers will learn that from the mid ’50s to the present day, parts of Prichard’s native Wales have remained an inexhaustible source of subjects for his compositions in oil, gouache, watercolour, pastel and mixed media – remote farmsteads and sandy covers, dry stone walls and sinuous roads, lichen-dappled rocks and snow-mantled fields.

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Working for most of his life on Anglesey and in the foothills of Snowdonia, where he grew up, and in Pembrokeshire, where he lives now, he spent time reconciling his life as an artist with the need to make a living as a teacher, providing a home for his four children without ever settling down for good.

During the mid ’80s, Prichard and Williams embarked on a trip to Greece, which was certainly no holiday in the sun.

Departing in early December, Williams wrote in her diary that it marked the “start of a 17-year absence from Wales” that was to “push our painting in new directions and change our outlook on life”.

It was the couple’s eldest son, artist Ceri Prichard, who suggested they head towards the Greek islands, which neither of them had set foot on before. At the time, Williams had been suffering from arthritic hands which were particularly painful during the long winters and took a toll on her painting.

The couple sold their home and studio for a peripatetic, uncertain existence and as they sorted through their possessions, Prichard destroyed a great many of his canvases.

On their journey through Germany and Austria, they decided to change their route and call at Venice, where they delighted in “the amazing facade” of St Mark’s.

Two evocative watercolours in the book by Prichard capture the shadowy outline of the buildings in Venice at dawn and again at dusk, showing how the details change with the light.

When they eventually arrived in Skiathos, their home for the winter, apart from their splendid view of the sea, their immediate surroundings were bleak. But Prichard responded enthusiastically to the rough terrain of pine forests pierced by rocky outcrops, remote settlements surrounded by farmland and a coastline of sandy beaches, coves and peninsulas.

On Christmas Day, he painted several watercolours of Skiathos town. On Boxing Day he set out to paint the dark, wedge-shaped islands.

In his sketchbooks he would make a record of what caught his eye – the bark of a pine tree, a spring blossom, a rock formation – and weather conditions, colours and light.

Prichard was intrigued by the indigenous architecture of Skiathos and the way in which inhabitants had dug themselves into the land.

In his sketchbook he noted: “It’s amazing that a village can become part of the landscape.”

The couple made acquaintances with a number of artists and writers and also received commissions from local businesses and fellow e-pats.

After leaving Skiathos, their journey took them on to Santorini, where Prichard drew the windmills and terraced vineyards at Perissa. At Oia, he made studies of the hillside settlements.

From Greece, they set out on a journey through Italy and southern France and as they had no home to return to, they camped en route to paint for days at a time. In Brittany, they bought a small house near the sea where they lived and worked for four years before they “completely lost (their) hearts” to the nearby Breton village of Rochefort-en-Terre where they spent a decade.

During their time in Brittany, Prichard made expeditions to Tunisia where he took a completely different approach to the scenes before him in his mixed media paintings of mosques, souks and street cafes.

Having moved house some two dozen times, the couple now live in Pembrokeshire where they continue to soak up and paint their surroundings.

Gwilym Prichard: A Lifetime’s Gazing by Harry Hauser and Robert Meyrick is published by Sansom Co, £25. The exhibition is at Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff until May 4

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