Peregrination, Peter Davies’ first solo exhibition in Wales, conveys the spirit and the story of the Welsh people, juxtaposing a lively and colourful presence whilst dealing with themes of inequality, hardship and hierarchy. Davies has a visual voice all of his own. This is utilitarian fine art; its purpose is to communicate with you, inform, educate, but also to document. Titles and words are found within the art itself – often the case in Davies’ work – and are key as guidelines for further research on its contents and purpose. This is an exhibition of the people by one of the people, and he is expressing uncomfortable truths and realities.
At the entrance are two lithographs, one black and one white, inscribed with the word “Beca”. Beca was an influential group of Welsh artists from across Wales, active from the 1970s up through the 1990s, founded by Davies and his late brother Paul (1947-1993). It soon developed stature and influence with the addition of new members. The key figures included Ifor Davies, Iwan Bala, Peter Telfer and Tim Davies. Each artist brought a different stance and distinct contribution, engaging in dialogues and collaborative ventures, creating art that critically communicated with the public through their shared belief in addressing Welsh issues.
The ethos of the Beca group continues throughout Peregrination. The aesthetics of Davies’ art resembles a type of tribal dance captured in collages of found and recycled material. The construction of image develops through creative play and holds the spirit of folk art. Davies’ great concern and fear for the human condition are expressed through his explorations of history, politics, and a keen engagement with social issues. The process reflects an emotionally charged engagement with Davies’ own experience of growing up in Wales and being Welsh.
‘Ty Haf/Summer House’, from 1984, is an iconic painting; a burning summerhouse engulfs the canvas, in the corner we see a small image of the Union flag. It created much controversy at the time of its creation, a time when nationalist extremists were actively burning summerhouses in protest against the housing crisis that was perceived as enhanced by second-home buyers coming from outside Wales. As a result of the timing, this image was censored for being too political. The painting, arguably one of the most important art works in Wales, can be seen here for the first time in thirty-odd years.
‘Internal Colonisation’ is another particularly arresting sight. The work expresses Davies’ heartfelt regret of being deprived of the Welsh language in his childhood. It understands and empathises with the extent of the complexities surrounding a language of the minority, it relives the constant threat and attempts to wipe it out. But Davies’ work is subtly layered, intertwining the pressures on the language with the unforeseen negative effects of the great efforts made in defending it. Davies’ touchstone is the Treachery of the Blue Books, and he is constantly preoccupied with the tragedy of its continuing legacy.
Davies’ art suggests there is a visual dialogue in the efforts to break down barriers between the languages. His work reveals similarities and encourages debate on overlooked issues. This is an inspiring and unifying exhibition of work.
Peregrination is at the School of Art Gallery at Aberystwyth University until February 2nd. More details here.
The header image is a close up of ‘Welsh Not’. All images used with kind permission.