In the latest in our new series, The Artist Q&A, exploring the work, influences and lives of some of Wales’ most prominent contemporary artists and writers, we ask artist Elfyn Lewis about life and the things which have influenced his work.
Where are you from and how does it influence your work?
I’m from Porthmadog in Gwynedd. The town, the people, language and the landscape have totally shaped me as a person and my work.
Where are you while you answer these questions, and what can you see when you look up from the page/screen?
I’m in a terraced house in Grangetown, Cardiff where I’ve been living since 2002. If I look up from my screen I see a painting that I did a few years ago of the mountains back home. I can also see the front and back of the house. So, terraced houses in the front and garden with flowers and trees.
What motivates you to create?
Enjoyment would be a good way to describe it but I think it’s more to do with me finding my own voice/way that I could do without any involvement of others. I like the solitude of painting.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve got a solo show at The Gallery, Edinburgh in September so busy trying to get everything ready. Excited and worried. It’s always the same before shows which shows you still care.
When do you work?
Mostly morning until about 2ish then back home to do some admin work or whatever needs doing. Painting is always on my mind especially when I’m not at the studio.
How important is collaboration to you?
Not at all to be honest.
Who has had the biggest impact on your work?
Think I’ve been lucky having art teachers/friends and family who have just helped me. It’s a long list.
How would you describe your oeuvre?
Not sure to be honest as I’m still working on it..
Hopefully I’ve created a body of work that has pushed painting and highlighted Cymru the country and the language.
What was the first book you remember reading?
As a child think it would be something like Llyfr Mawr y Plant.
What was the last book you read?
Decisive Moments in History – Stefan Zweig
Is there a painting/sculpture you struggle to turn away from?
Seen a few Turner/Rothko/Monet/Richter’s etc over the years which have had that effect.
Few years ago Mark Bradford show at Hauser & Worth in London. Amazing body of work.
Who is the musical artist you know you can always return to?
Can’t pick just one…having been brought up literally a few doors down from Cob Records in Porthmadog my musical tastes have been varied to say the least but would struggle to be without Bob Marley, The Pixies, The Who, Nina Simone – current favourite is Congo Natty. Elfyn Lewis
During the working process of your last work, in those quiet moments, who was closest to your thoughts?
To be honest I don’t tend to think of others while painting, not even myself. You try and work out if the painting is working so your relationship or train of thought is always about that. Thinking about other things can distract from the work/problem in front of you. Even in quiet moments your reflecting or thinking have I done that right. It’s always a fine balance of what if I do this or that or just leave it. Then you come in the next day and repeat or destroy what you have done. It has a rhythm of sorts.
Do you believe in God?
This could go on, so short answer is not really. Prefer to believe in humans and what we can do to help/benefit each other. A religious socialism, if there is such a thing?
Do you believe in the power of art to change society?
Yes totally and it does.
Which artist working in your area, alive and working today, do you most admire and why?
As a painter I admire many just for the fact of what they are doing. Trying to do what they do and have the belief to keep on going can be difficult. Family, finances and just finding the time/space are always tricky to juggle.
What is your relationship with social media?
I have one and it’s good and bad. Helps to get the work out and be seen but it can be overwhelming.
What has been/is your greatest challenge as an artist?
Coming from a working class background its always been a challenge; it still is.
Do you have any words of advice for your younger self?
Not to worry too much and keep painting, everything else is just noise.
What does the future hold for you?
Hopefully I can carry on painting and to make work that challenges and pushes me forward. Ymlaen.