Wales

Artist Claudia Williams on turning 80, a new exhibition and a book about her life

There is an intimacy about Claudia Williams' paintings that draws the viewer right into the very thick of the scene she is depicting.

Whether it's a family relaxing on the beach or a couple engrossed in a chess game as their children read a bedtime story in the background, her pictures immediately establish empathy with their subject matter, capturing gestures expertly in the way only a true observer of life can.

Claudia turned 80 in August and a show of 70 of her paintings, with several new works included, has just opened at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff.

Detail of Three and the Dog. Image copyright: Claudia Williams/Martin Tinney Gallery

It coincides with the publication of a new illustrated book about her life and work, An Intimate Acquaintance, written by Harry Hauser and Robert Meyrick.

The exhibition of the same name acts as a sort of retrospective but also reveals a confidence not as apparent in her early paintings, which has grown far stronger and more evident over the years.

An only child, Claudia's aptitude for drawing was encouraged from a young age and led to her winning a scholarship to attend Chelsea School of Art at the age of 16.

In 1954 she moved to north Wales and married the artist Gwilym Prichard. In the early 1980s, when their three sons and adopted daughter had left home, they travelled through Europe. They settled in France in 1985, where they lived for 15 years and where Claudia won huge acclaim for her work.

In 1995 she was awarded the Silver Medal by the Academy of Arts, Sciences and Letters in Paris, in recognition of her contribution to the arts in France.

The couple returned to Wales in 2000 to be closer to their seven grandchildren and settled in Tenby, as Claudia has always felt the need to be near the sea and it wasn’t too far from the mountainous landscapes so loved by Gwilym.

Detail of The Family, Chess. Image copyright: Claudia Williams/Martin Tinney Gallery

Claudia told me how she believes her power of observation comes from having always felt like something of an outsider.

"After the war my parents wanted to move further away from London. They bought a cottage in Criccieth and moved to this area that was Welsh speaking, but we couldn’t speak Welsh.

"Eventually I met and married a Welsh-speaking man but I never mastered the language.

"I think I have always been an observer and am obsessed with different gestures and attitudes. People have said that helps them build a rapport with the people in my paintings.

"It's nice when people say they feel they can make up stories about the characters in my paintings because they feel at home with them."

Claudia was elected to the Royal Cambrian Academy in 1979 and she is an Honorary Fellow of Bangor University.

Claudia Williams' By the Pool. Image copyright: Claudia Williams/Martin Tinney Gallery

A hugely popular retrospective was held at the National Library of Wales in 2000, and an exhibition of her powerful Tryweryn paintings was shown there in 2010.

The National Museum Wales recently acquired her painting Mother and Child for the National Collection.

Despite her years of experience and success, Claudia still attends life drawing classes whenever she can as she believes in practising her technique as much as possible.

"Art started as a habit when I was young and I always painted whenever I could. Now, whenever I stop, things start to feel strange.

"Even now I love to have the rhythm of working, of going into the studio in the morning even if I don’t have any new ideas the smell of the oil paint and the sight of the paper always inspires me."

Claudia's paintings and drawings are striking in that they often feature an assortment of children, grandchildren and families in various chaotic and candid situations and gatherings.

A noticeable proportion of them focus on trips to the seaside, a place where Claudia feels free to observe humanity and those precious moments of interaction she captures so aptly.

Detail of La Coiffeuse et moi. Image copyright: Claudia Williams/Martin Tinney Gallery

Out of the collection of paintings on show in Cardiff, Claudia said she is most fond of By the Pool and La Coiffeuse et moi. The latter shows her reflection in the mirror as she is pointing to a photograph of a woman in a magazine held in her lap and reminds her fondly of her time spent living in France.

She said: "It's very complicated and one of my larger pieces.

"People always ask me how long it takes to complete a painting and I have to say a lifetime, because it takes a lifetime of experiences. I think this painting really captures that."

Gwilym celebrated his 82nd birthday earlier this year, and Robert Meyrick and Harry Hauser have also written a new book, Gwilym Prichard: A Lifetime's Grazing, about his work.

Claudia says neither have any plans to stop painting while they are still able and enjoying it.

Her next project is developing some drawings she made when enjoying a celebratory birthday lunch punting on the River Cherwell in Oxford.

"I spotted some really interesting composition while I was there and I am really keen to get into the studio and work on it."

Claudia Williams: An Intimate Acquaintance runs at the Martin Tinney Gallery until 19 October 2013.

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