Thursday, August 25, 2011

Evan Walters

Talking of Joe Dunthorne he is one of a number of contributors to a new art volume, Moments of Vision, in which contemporary writers and artists respond to the work of Llangyfelach painter, Evan Walters (1893-1951). Other contributors include Rowan Williams, Jan Morris, Peter Finch and Iwan Bala.

Flicking through the book I was struck by just how varied Walters’s output actually was. I’ve always associated him with portraits of colliers and his striking political painting, The Communist (1932) (see pic). It was these industrial-themed works that earned him an early reputation. But there are many surprises here. The Blind Pianist (1920) and Portrait of a Young Woman (1920) (which ought really to have been titled Portrait of a Young Woman with Extraordinary Hair) are both fine pieces.

And then there are his ‘double vision’ paintings in which he experimented with optical affects. They appear fascinating now but at the time they were a critical and commercial flop. A New Bond Street exhibition of these works held in 1936 bombed – the critics preferring his earlier pictures of miners. The best of his double vision oeuvre is the vividly coloured, The Stout Man With A Jug (1936).

One of the most interesting paintings featured in this book is Blackened Face With Reclining Nude (1945). The viewer sees a close-up of a collier, his mask-like face dusted with coal, and in the background a nude woman with orange hair. The miner’s voluptuous red mouth and the sexualised nature of the female completely overturn our usual expectations of what industrial art is meant to be. An excellent analysis of the transgressive qualities of this piece is provided by artist Peter Finnemore.

Evan Walters: Moments of Vision, published by Seren, is out now. Apparently all profits from this book go to a children’s charity which probably explains the otherwise strange choice of a foreword by Charlotte Church.