The ghosts of Cardiff

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Very spooky feeling. Wandering, alone, around the beautifully refurbished art galleries of the National Museum of Wales. In one of the huge rooms, our director, Steve Freer and the crew are setting up to film paintings by Ceri Richards and Graham Sutherland for the second programme in our series on the history of art in Wales over the last century.

Alone, in the galleries where pictures collected by the Davies sisters hang, I find myself spooked by spectral images reflecting from the framed glass. They are not of me, now well into my sixties, but of me at 16 with my pals from Mountain Ash Grammar School, arguing the merits of this painter against that one, of Van Gogh's wonderful, rain-streaked landscape at Auvers and Cezanne's Provencal Landscape.

I knew, always, that I was so lucky to live within 30 miles of such pictures. Almost half a century has passed since the days when I stuck out my thumb at the top of Penywaun hill, between Hirwaun and Aberdare, hoping for a lift down the valley. Once in the big city, the first stop was Spillers record shop in the Hayes to hear the latest jazz releases. I remember walking from Spillers to the National Museum, clutching Miles Davis' album Milestones. I'd just blown my accumulated pocket-money on buying it. The album cover was a work of art in itself: a stunning photograph of Davis, sporting a shirt so deliciously green that I searched for years, unsuccessfully, to find one like it.

Cardiff, jazz, the impressionist and post-impressionist paintings of the Davies Sisters' Bequest: music and paintings that linked Aberdare and Mountain Ash to New York, Paris and Provence. The combination and links generated energy of such intensity that, a half century later, it still sparked and leapt around those pictures in the National Museum.

Just before we start filming, I try to communicate a little of this, without appearing to be entirely certifiable, to a young art expert who works at the Museum, researching and writing about the paintings. She listens, politely, but I know I'm not getting through. Her incomprehension at much of my babbling makes me begin to wonder how far I should go in front of the camera in trying to explain what this place meant to me as a kid in 1964, hungry for great art.

In the nick of time, I tell myself, 'Hang on, you raving egomaniac, this is about explaining how Ceri Richards, not Kim Howells, was thrilled and inspired when he first saw the Davies Sisters' pictures. This is about how Ceri Richards, in turn, inspired a new generation of artists and how, in turn, that generation passed on the torch to painters and sculptors in Wales.'

Saved then. But even as I did my pieces to camera, out of the corner of my eye I could see those ghosts, arguing and buzzing across the magic glass of those sublime pictures.

Episode two of Framing Wales can be seen tonight, Thursday 3 March, at 7.30pm on BBC Two Wales, or afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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