Gary Raymond ~ What I Learned At The Gallery

GARY RAYMOND

~Portrait by Dean Lewis~

The Gull is privileged and delighted to be able to bring you the work of one of Wales’ most familiar  literary figures. Gary Raymond is a novelist, short story writer, critic, and lecturer in English and Creative Writing. Many of you will already be familiar with his creative work or as a regular voice in Wales Arts Review, Gary has written for The Guardian, Rolling Stone Magazine, is a theatre critic for The Arts Desk, and is a regular commentator on arts and culture for BBC Wales. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, and a PGCE in higher education. In 2013, Gary published 3 Minute JRR Tolkien: A Visual Biography of Fantasy’s Most Revered Writer with Ivy Press, and his novel, For Those Who Come After, is available now from Parthian Books.

‘What I Learned At The Gallery’ is a beautifully articulate piece, over-brimming with character, erudition and observational flair.

 

What I Learned At The Gallery

…And so as you can see from our next artist the progression to a more earthy, urbane, circumspect, diaphanous, kinetic drop to the canvass. This first painting, for example, uses far bolder, broader strokes, representing arguably a more fractured connection between artist and landscape, a relationship of much friction, one that is striving for understanding from a position of concerned concealment and brooding disapproval. Here, Jakeway’s ‘I Heard It At The Bus Stop’ seems to almost carve the two main figures out of the grey, damning concrete that forms the urban backdrop. The dark green of the hills, you can see, are little more than trim to the eye. How, you may ask, does the artist manage to draw so much colour from so drab a scene, such a monochrome pallet? It is a reasonable question. It has been suggested that the colour comes from the power of the two characters. They are the stuff of life. The old woman is built from the bottom up, and the young man is flapping in the wind. She is sturdy, weathered, an Easter Island monolith, whereas the boy is wide-eyed, addled with the greyscale of his environment, terrified not only of what the old 53 lady symbolises – the incoherence of the ignored which is the destiny of us all – but also terrified of the part he himself plays in that symbolisation. And he is also terrified of the fact he is consciously unaware of these unconscious impulses. What is she saying to him? Is he shocked that he agrees? Or that he finds sentiments in the old lady’s bile with which he disagrees? Is the boy repulsed and confused by his awakening to the fact old and young are but the same species spread thin? Are we to believe that Jakeway is placing in the mouth of the old lady the words of an atypical bigot? It wasn’t like this in my day. Or that she is subverting this stereotype? Jakeway, as we can see from his unpublished diaries that we also have here in the museum’s archive, did not wish to be the documenter of the humble peasant or the comforter of the uneasy consciences of those who bore everything with fortitude. As you can see from this painting, ‘Election Day in the Rhondda’ we are seeing Michelangelo, Poussin, Fragonard, Daumier, Degas, but we are seeing them as cynics. We are drawn to wonder – and perhaps even conclude – the voting intentions of these figures with their collars pulled up turret-like, as they queue before the boarded-up windows and the redbrick totems of a rose-tinted socially democratic past. I will complain no matter who gets in, this man seems to say, even if it is the person to whom I loaned my vote. These men on the end of the queue do not even proclaim to have had such glorious childhoods, but they know 54 their fathers and grandfathers were men’s men. These youths, not even in the queue, too young to vote, cannot even proclaim to understand that much. Jakeway had a remarkable gift for instilling history into the eyeball. We are meant to believe that these sorry folks in the impoverished Welsh Valleys town are ennobled by the mere notion of democracy, when in actuality the tonal suggestions and the bric-a-brac of the composition persuades us that this is a construct, as much a construct as any prison, and just as noble. Of course in this next painting, ‘How To Assemble a Picket Line’, we are again brought to the dinner plate of the idea of nobility as mask, as toy, and as weapon. Here the mounted police are Knights Templar, and the miners the grounded Saracen hordes. Two ideas of nobleness, indeed, but only one winner. What Jakeway is very clearly stating here is that the Welsh have a selfdestructive notion of exaltation, as it is vehemently attached to their fondness for the underdog. See in the corner Jakeway has even painted a dog, as if to hammer home the point; and not just a dog, but a dog who doesn’t really seem to know which side he should be on. Is that a plaintive expression, or an expression of denial of plaintiveness? Jakeway asks us to decide the inevitable conclusion. A dog is not capable of betrayal of course, and Jakeway knew this, as demonstrated when he famously responded to his first wife’s divorce request that his bigamy had been little more than the act of a mutt. His 55 work indeed did become quite strongly informed by the traumatic turns of his personal life – trauma with which he always dealt with a shrug. You can indeed see something of the shrug in the way the streetlight falls down upon the flagstones of his mid-period masterpiece, which we are very lucky to have here at the gallery, ‘Why Don’t We Take This Outside’. There is a genteelness to the title, even; a genteelness that could be interpreted as mockery. Jakeway, we know, was no stranger to the drunken brawl. The two men who are fist fighting are not the centre of attention, even though they are at the centre of the frame. We can talk of them both for a moment, however. The ‘gentleman’ – for this is almost certainly how Jakeway would have referred to him at the time – to the left has tears to his jacket, but we are quite unsure as to whether they are a result of the fight or whether he was just accustomed to wearing torn garments. His opponent looks more determined, which we can interpret as less-experienced. We have here a generational confrontation, then. And not just father and son, but rather modernism versus post-modernism, which is why the old man in the torn blazer has skin turned blue by the moon, and the young man has a head of too many right angles. We are disgusted by this scene, but we are invested. Our future depends on who wins. The pub behind, from whence the pugilists and audience have just spilled, is to all intents and purposes the Welsh mountains, it is the banquet halls of the 56 gods, it is the history of Wales, it is the mouth of the pit. When blood has been spilled, for which that grate-grey pavement is glutinously waiting, they will go back inside, drink, forget why they fought in the first place, and it will be left to the power of time to change everything. And by the time of his late period, as you can see here from this final painting in the sequence that we have, Jakeway is obsessed with time as a notion. How many timepieces can you see? This gentleman leaning like a laggard on the line post, is wearing two watches, and seems to still be asking his companion what hour it is. We are being asked: is it only artists who deserve more time? This painting, entitled ‘The Decline of the Untitled Painting’, is perhaps the defining moment of Jakeway’s later period, and his last great work. Once again, the focus of the eye should be – and it is at first – the bishop here on the hilltop in the process of nailing Christ to the cross – a cross, it seems, of crocodile skin – but once that shock has settled, we see that the focus, for Jakeway, at least, is this man at the far left of the painting. Anybody…? Anybody…? That’s quite right; Jakeway painted himself into the scene, watching the Nazarene take away the sins of the Valleys, the sins of the chosen people. All he can do is watch. Yes. He is the only figure without a timepiece. Even Jesus is wearing a Seiko. 57 And if we now move into the next room we can see the marvellous fruit bowls of Gwenllian Pontcanna – not her real name of course…

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