As the centenary of Dylan Thomas’ birth is being celebrated across Wales throughout 2014, some of the events dedicated to Swansea’s favourite alcoholic are interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring… some less so. The Martin Tinney Gallery’s exhibition of Ceri Richard’s work inspired by the writing of Thomas falls firmly in the former category. The gallery has been collecting Ceri Richard’s work for over twenty years, and his haunting, dark musings on the works of Dylan Thomas are among his finest.
The work seems, generally, to be in three categories: the oil paintings and drawings Richards produced through the ’50s and ’60s, and two series of lithographs. One inspired by Thomas’ poetry, and the other a series of portraits of characters from Under Milk Wood. In the early ’40s, inspired by the works of Picasso and Kandinsky, and as an emotional response to the Second World War, Richards started exploring surrealism. His recurring themes of death, darkness and the cyclical essence of the natural world became metaphors for humanity and the human condition. In 1943, inspired by the poems of Dylan Thomas, he started working on a series of paintings. Work that he would return to off and on until his death in 1971.
The majority of the work at this exhibition is from the mid ’60s through to 1971, and at the heart is the large oil painting ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’. A brighter, less intricate painting than some of the others he did around this time, but no less stunning. At the measly price of £85,000 it is definitely one to consider for the Christmas list.
Dylan Thomas’ Collected Poems inspired a series of lithographs entitled ‘Twelve Lithographs for Six Poems by Dylan Thomas’, and they can without doubt be viewed as one of the highlights of Ceri Richards’ career. Seventy sets of the lithographs were originally printed by the Curwen Studio, but over time the sets have mostly been split up, with prints sold separately. The Gallery has all twelve lithographs on display, and this could possibly be one of the last times these prints will be viewed as a complete set.
Dark and apocalyptic, the lithographs show the brutality and force of nature. Bodies and limbs are twisted shapes reaching towards light and beauty, and roses, skulls and birds are recurring images throughout the pieces. Metaphors for the cyclical nature of life and death. Beautiful and haunting depictions of some of Dylan Thomas’ most bleak, but stunning poems.
The highlight of the exhibition is the nine lithographs of characters from Under Milk Wood. Printed in 1971, just before Richards’ death; the mood of these pieces are in stark contrast to the rest of the exhibition. As Dylan’s mood lifted, and with the writing of Under Milk Wood, he wanted to portray the beauty and endurance of humanity: so does Richards’ prints show a positivity and openness. The portraits are playful, tender and light, and the essence of the characters are brought to life.
The exhibition will run until 5 April at The Martin Tinney Gallery, St. Andrew’s Crescent, in Cardiff. All work is for sale, and prices vary from £495 to £85,000. Probably not within the price range of most people, but the exhibition is worth a visit to see the beautiful words of one of Wales’ finest poets through the eyes of one of Wales’ premier modern artists.