Elfyn Lewis is a Welsh artist who creates stunning abstract pieces using experimental painting techniques. Thick layers of impasto paint are built up layer after layer before being pulled by hand using various tools and implements to reveal cascades of colour beneath. For decades depictions of the Welsh landscape have been dominated by narratives surrounding our industrial past, Lewis's work brings us out of the doldrums and into the light.
Elfyn is currently exhibiting his work at Oriel Canfas in Cardiff - I dropped by yesterday and was captivated by his pieces, new and old. While chatting I had the idea of putting this post together; Elfyn kindly agreed to letting me show some of his work as well as answering a few questions.
Questions by Huw Roberts (HR), answers by Elfyn Lewis (EL).
HR: What is the spark that gives rise to beginning a new piece and do you have the painting title in mind from the start?
EL: Not to sound too boring, but mostly its going to my studio and just starting to paint. I've been painting for nearly thirty years now, so routine is important. I'm a process based painter who tends to work predominantly in the studio. I obviously go out into the landscape a bit, but I very rarely paint there.
Cwm Cneifion - 9x9 inches, acrylic on paper & mdf 2017
When i was younger I would sit and draw in the environment but now I find I work better in my studio. Although saying that, I'm looking to change that. Regarding the titles, they are names of places, people or just words that bring some kind of feeling to the work. They are always in Welsh as that's my first language. They hopefully convey a sense of somewhere or of a feeling. So the names are added after completing the work, but collected before.
HR: Your work is deeply linked with Wales and the Welsh language. All of your pieces have Welsh titles and many are named after real places. How has growing up and living in Wales affected and informed your art?
EL: Growing up in Porthmadog, in the heartland of Eryri, I was always drawn to its landscape - the sea and the mountains cradle the town and most of the people speak Welsh predominantly. Obviously growing up there it seemed like nowhere else and the people and the town have totally shaped me. I hope that I don't over-romanticise the time and place, but inevitably it is special to me and many others.
The sea and the mountains cradle the town and most of the people speak Welsh
If I did not speak Welsh I would not exist; it's as simple as that. We are what we are and through luck and fortune I was brought up in this beautiful part of Wales. So for me not to use the Welsh language would be impossible.
Bywiog - 6.5x7 inches, acrylic on paper & mdf 2017
Regarding my art, I feel for sure that having the room to breathe and experience life in a small place left me open to grow and mature as an artist without too much pressure. I was also very lucky in having a network of supportive family and friends as well as a teacher (Rob Piercy) who lit the fuse/spark of creativity.
HR: A lot of your work feels very optimistic - it's vibrant and alive. Is this a deliberate rebellion against the dour depictions of Wales we've grown up with?
EL: I think so. I feel in Wales that we are far more colourful and more optimistic than we used to be. Maybe this is to with a cultural re-awakening or that we are being given the room to show what we can do.
Elan - 9x9 inches, acrylic on paper & mdf 2017
We are far more colourful and more optimistic than we used to be
I believe strongly in what I do and hopefully this can help the next generation of artists coming through to change things even further. Confidence is knowing yourself and knowing what we can change and improve. Rebellion is always a good way of shaking up the status quo of mediocrity that has existed. This can also be down to confidence which I believe we're hopefully changing for the good.
HR: How has your process changed since you began your careeer, and where do you see it heading in the next few years?
EL: As an artist, you're always challenging yourself and trying out new methods of working that hopefully better your practice. Painting can be a slow, laborious and lonely way of working. Things take time to change and develop. By going to your studio one can look and change aspects of work without noticing the leaps and bounds you make.
Craig Y Nôs - 5.5x7 inches, acrylic on paper& mdf 2017
You keep looking at life and work to keep looking
This day to day experience can turn to months and years where the work has changed slowly but it has developed. The journey of an artist is to keep on moving, to push boundaries - develop and fail. From failure you learn and gather information - if you'd done the same work day in day out, you'd have moved nowhere.
Hopefully I'm changing and the works keep progressing. You keep looking at life and work to keep looking.
Golwg - 9x9 inches, acrylic on paper & mdf 2017
Hen Gyfaill - 6x9 inches, acrylic on paper & mdf 2017
Brynhyfryd exhibition at Oriel Canfas
Be sure to check out Elfyn's personal site and to drop by by the exhibition if you're local to Cardiff.