Sunday, June 27, 2010

'Scribblings from the Surf' - Devon Life 7/10: Modern Artists in North Devon

The thirteenth in a series entitled 'Scribblings from the Surf'. For more information on Devon Life, click here. To read the article, see the text below or click to enlarge the pictures of the original article below that. To see the whole series, click here.

Two groundbreaking and highly collectable artists have chosen North Devon as their base, writes Tim Kevan
Modern art is often seen as something which is perhaps only understood by a small clique in the big cities and inaccessible to the rest of us. Whatever the truth, Conor Wilson and Gethin Wyn Jones are two such artists in North Devon who defy this stereotype by embodying a synergy between pushing forward the creative boundaries and gaining their inspiration from among other things, the natural world.
Conor Wilson 
Conor Wilson was born on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, two degrees south of the equator. He lived there until he was three in a house on stilts that would rock with the earthquakes. The beaches were volcanic black sand and when his parents were at work the local villagers would look after him and his sister. After this they spent several years living in the Middle Eastern states of Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Oman before coming to the UK to be schooled from the age of eight. This upbringing has instilled a passion for travel which has led him on many a wild trip through the backwaters of India, Thailand and Indonesia, providing a rich source of sensory experience that has been channeled into his creative life. 
But after such a varied upbringing, he ended up studying in Birmingham. He spent his time skateboarding, sketching, painting and learning. Having built up a collection of drawings he then needed a medium by which he could paint on the scale that he wanted and a local graffiti artist friend lent him an airbrush and compressor. He took to this quickly and in the Summer of 1996 some friends set up a groundbreaking street art exhibition at The Custard Factory Arts Center. It was an ambitious event and was planned alongside Ideal Skateboards’ fifth anniversary and Conor’s work was exhibited alongside thirteen other of the finest graffiti artists in the country. This led to huge interest in his work. However, on the second weekend of the show he had an accident in the exhibition space that left him needing surgery on my right arm and at the time the consultant thought it unlikely he would regain movement in his fingers and wrist. Yet whilst he was in hospital and facing the very real possibility that he might never paint again he was contacted by Uri Geller of spoon-bending fame. He had chanced on the exhibition and wanted to buy all of Conor’s paintings. Thankfully Conor recovered and for the next couple of years Uri acted as his agent, securing commissions with British Airways, introducing him to the people that mattered and setting up a show in New York.
By 1998 he decided to go it alone and has since established a successful creative career that has flowered in many different directions. A passionate surfer, snowboarder and skateboarder he also decided to move to North Devon for the surf and now exhibits not only at the JC gallery in Braunton but also has a permanent exhibition space at the Blue Groove restaurant in Croyde. He paints in a variety of mediums and styles, with subject matter ranging from acrylic airbrush portraiture, to landscapes in oil. He is also well known for his popular 2-d sand relief work. He has painted many interior and exterior murals from cable cars in the French Alps, to shops, bars, and restaurant interiors throughout Europe. His deepening passion for oil painting also led to a series of landscapes based upon sketches, plein air studies and photographs of the North Devon coastline in which he hopes to capture the mood of the moment in a looser, freer style.

Gethin Wyn Jones
Think modern art and one of the first names to spring to mind is that of North Devon resident Damian Hirst, officially the most expensive living artist in the world. So it’s a huge honour to be working for the great man, particularly when that work involves painting. That is exactly what Gethin Wyn Jones does in his day job. Not that it’s a particular surprise given that in 2006 whilst he was studying fine art and painting at Bath University he won the prestigious Nationwide Mercury Prize Art Competition. This was basically one of the leading student art competitions in the country and led to Gethin not only being presented with his prize at the Mercury Music Awards ad hob-nobbing with rock stars but also to his artwork appearing on the cover of the album for those awards. All of which is not too shabby for a lad who hails from Bangor in North Wales.
His own work explores the relationship between colours and different systems or situations and he has been using a computer to study the interaction of colour. In other words he’s taking a scientific approach to how each colour reacts to another one as they sit alongside each other. This has gradually led him to study the construction of a virtual two dimensional space. His intention is to make this ‘virtual two dimensional space’ seem vast and is fascinated with how he should present this space on a computer screen. One way of doing this is through geometric landscapes whose hard edges he not only finds to be clean and perfect but which also allow him to differentiate very clearly between the colours. They also allow him to play with how the eye looks at things, sometimes providing the appearance of an optical illusion.
He’s driven by a passion to make the world look a little bit better, a little less drab and though he hesitates to say it, even a more beautiful place. For this he takes his inspiration from a huge range of sources including architecture, computer games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Sim City and Command and Conquer and the mountains of his native Welsh homeland. He also finds particular inspiration in the countryside and sea of North Devon. He’s inspiring to listen to and you get the feeling that he’s ambitious at some point in the future to really change the way people look at things through work that might even be considered seminal. What this means in practical terms is spending hour upon hour experimenting with his art and creating some wonderful pieces in the process.

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