When, in 1994, I was voluntarily exiled from central London to south Wales, it was my great good fortune that I wound up for some years on the Gower Peninsula. Renowned internationally for its outstanding natural beauty, the Gower is even so only one part of Wales stunning in its loveliness. Filled with green valleys, such as those near Neath and more famously the Afan valley, Wales has become beloved to me and many others for whom it is their adopted home, not least for these features. Dylan Williams, a young Welsh landscape painter from the Neath area, it was a privilege of mine to encounter when, years after my arrival in Wales, as a (very) mature student pursuing my Fine Art MA at Swansea College of Art. As a fellow student, I witnessed the practice progress of many young artists. Among the most promising was Dylan, whose unusual, impressionistic landscapes spoke to the canon and particularly the Sublime, but expanding that legacy out of shape to fit a new era in abstract art. Dylan has meanwhile made a quantum leap in his practice, producing singular, often stunning landscape work, a feat acknowledged by the offer of a solo show from New York's Fortnight Institute that opened recently. I caught up with this emergent art star to find out more about his life and practice.
OL Your journey has now taken you to New York for a major exhibition of your extraordinary work. It must seem somewhat unreal?
DW (Dylan Williams) It definitely does, it feels even more unreal as wasn’t able to attend the show in person due to concerns about Covid. A few weeks before this show I had my first solo show in England and prior to that had only really shown in group shows across England and Wales, so to make that jump to showing with a gallery in New York was unbelievable. I suppose also showing in a gallery on the other side of the world has given me a new-found confidence in my work and what I am doing.
OL Tell us about the role your degree course at Swansea College of Art has played in the development of your practice?
DW It’s very hard to put into words how important the degree courses was for me; I’m constantly thinking back to advice given to me on a daily basis, the knowledge of how to balance work for various deadlines is particularly useful as a freelance artist now. The MA course felt a lot more solitary and gave me time alone in my studio at Elysium Gallery to really figure out what I really wanted to make work about and to experiment with different ways of painting and image making.
OL How did the Fortnight Institute discover you and what train of events took your work to the exhibition with them in New York?
DW They found my work on Instagram in January and quickly arranged an online studio visit after which they asked me to show with them in a free slot in their programme two and a half months away. As I already had a solo show in Chichester planned for February, I had to make an entire new body of work to show with them in a very short time, which was stressful and also exhilarating; as I feel the best work comes out of these stressful moments close to a deadline. I very much hope I am able to show with them again in the future.
OL Your work tells a story - through visual poetry - of growing up in Wales and what it meant and continues to mean to you?
DW Indeed. I feel very blessed to have grown up in such a beautiful, interesting environment, going out for walks in the landscape has been a big part of my life, from my parents taking me for long walks over hills and forests to exploring the area around the Neath and Afan valleys as a teenager on a bike with friends and to walking and drawing for miles as an artist as an adult. My ancestors all worked as miners going back quite a few generations so I feel as though a closeness and a need to work with the landscape is inherited and almost part of my DNA.
OL From your work is appears you want and need time with landscape and engage it very deeply. Has the landscape of Wales always been an important part of you and how did it become your practice as an artist?
DW With my family coming from a remote village in the valleys, its hard not get away from the profound effect the impact the of the memories of exploring as a child has had on me as an artist. I suppose since my time at university on my degree at Swansea College of Art my work has always been intertwined with going outside and working from things I see. During my time on my MA, I returned to the landscapes and environments from my childhood and from where my family come from as the most honest truthful to myself work I could make. This was also exacerbated by the lockdowns and very long walks though the valleys and the hills and forests sketching and drawing became my routine instead of going to my studio at Elysium in Swansea.
OL There is a meditative quality to your work, an intimacy that seems to suggest a place in yourself that meets a place outside yourself that meets in your work?
DW I think walking and being connected with nature is such a meditative practice, occasionally I meditate outside with the ground and trees and perform other rituals outside in the wild. As the various components of painting practice take a long time, I try to limit myself to one very long 15-20 mile walk every fortnight but with lots of deadlines this becomes less frequent; this journey spending all day and night outside nourishes my work for a few weeks at a time.
OL What does the future hold short and longer-term?
DW Short term I have a painting in the BEEP painting biennial at Elysium Gallery in Swansea and a few paintings in a satellite exhibition at Volcano, also an exhibition with two of my studio colleagues as a landscape painting exhibition in Elysium College Street Gallery. After this I’ll be preparing for a solo show in Madrid later on in the year.
Dylan Williams (b. 1995, Wales) lives and works in Swansea, Wales. Williams received his BA and MA Fine Arts degree from the Swansea College of Art.
Dylan Williams at The Fortnight Institute including the press release written by Prof. Catrin Webster, formerly Head of Department, Fine Art, Swansea College of Art.
Dylan Williams on Instagram (@dylanwil1iams)