Writing from Suceava, Romania – close to the Ukrainian border – David Greenslade profiles artist and musician Wynford Vaughan Thomas, writing on Thomas’ journey into the visual arts, political work and artistic response to the war in Ukraine.
Wynford Vaughan Thomas – no not the famous BBC broadcaster, but the Rhondda born artist/musician living most of his adult life in the Medway area of Kent – has never lost his rich, Welsh accent. Why is this significant? Simply put, WVT is passionately interested in musical and visual ‘voice’. Many of his paintings depict musicians as well as people in the audience. Being a musician himself – WVT plays guitar and saxophone – helps. Wynford’s formal artistic training led him to notice the influence of jazz on painters such as Piet Mondrian, Hans Becker and Edward Burra. His paintings also reach back to art deco, and symbolism. Today, a large body of his work, shown in galleries, hotels and clubs between Canterbury, Margate and York, portray music enthusiasts through the lens of ‘jazz cubism’.
But contemporary bohemian pleasure is not WVT’s only subject matter. He’s no hedonist. The voice of the marginalised is also heard. For years, he served as a Labour Councillor in the City of Rochester. The economic crash of 1987 also forced a change of career direction. The experience of losing his livelihood and subsequent reinvention, threw WVT back onto his own creative resources. One son spread his wings and now runs a thriving business in Hong Kong (www.walk.japan). WVT himself noticed that his ability to paint, make music, organise, curate and even act could be the key to a new direction. He took the risk and became a full-time artist.
Currently Wynford is very involved in arts projects in Rochester. The Ukrainian crisis has prompted artists to auction works and raise money for refugees. Recently, in the middle of June 2022, he helped organise an Art for Ukraine exhibition at auction at Rochester Cathedral. Earlier, more personal themes – children playing, mother and child, people at work, people alone or overcrowded – had given WVT plenty of opportunities to depict the human form experiencing joy, struggle, suffering and hope. The Ukrainian trauma of being bombarded and displaced by the Russian war machine has prompted him to draw even deeper on the technical and emotional resources that make his work as confident and compelling as it is.
Wynford likes to be among the people – close contact as a councillor, club musician, family man and arts organiser puts him among the main themes and subject material of his art. Unusually among the contemporary arts, WVT paints people in close-up, fragments, head and shoulders, full figure as well as the infinite number of human gestures human interaction inspires. It is this background that gives the artist the skill and sympathy to convincingly capture the distress of fleeing refugees as well as safely-harboured refugees adjusting to their new environment in the west. The symbolism of the human figure is contextualised in WVT’s paintings most often among the objects and accoutrements of their current situation and experience. When it’s music, people are in the club or on stage, if they are travelling they have bags or are in the environment of a railway station. If they are fleeing war, they have all they can carry with them. The comfort of face-to-face contact in Wynford’s portraits challenge the desolation that the dispossessed are fearful they’ll face.
WVT has been involved in many significant projects in the greater Medway area. As a councillor he participated in local brownfield regeneration building projects. More importantly, the BBC TV feature programme, “W V Thomas and the Turner Trail” helped publicise Wynford’s belief in the importance of art history and contemporary art in general. He now regularly exhibits at galleries in Rochester and in Margate with a plan to find similar consistent openings in York. Speaking at the end of his BBC interview, Thomas comments: “There are not enough hours in the day… The only trouble is you get so knackered.”
You can see more of Wynford Vaughan Thomas’ work via his Instagram page.