David Jones and the essence of Welshness

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I may not be the greatest admirer of his work, but we couldn't leave the artist David Jones out of our second film. He was the kind of semi-detached Welshman, born in England, partly of Welsh parentage, who becomes a disciple of what he imagines to be the essence of Welshness.

So, in his enthusiasm to do his bit in World War One, he joins a regiment that has a Welsh name but discovers that it contains as many Cockneys as it does Taffs. He survives the horrors of the trenches and returns to Britain, his knapsack full of wonderful drawings of his comrades from the Western Front.

He is determined to make his living as an artist but does so in the oddest way: he heads for an abandoned monastery on the steep flanks of a tiny, remote hamlet, called Capel y Ffin, in the eastern Black Mountains of Wales. There, he joins an artistic community, led by the distinguished (and, it turns out, disturbingly odd) sculptor, Eric Gill, who had moved from gentler Sussex to the monastery with his religious cohorts and extended family.

As David Jones expert Dr Anne Price Owen explained to us on a grey, freezing morning in Capel y Ffin, this was a turning point for Jones. The simple, Spartan existence he found at the monastery, steeped in religious mysticism and guided by Gill's quirky creativity, helped Jones break loose of the artistic conventions that had governed his approach to painting up to that point.

Our cameraman, Tudor Evans, framed the monastery against the hillside - a panorama complete with what appeared to be the very same horses that Jones included in his drawings and paintings back in 1925.

In reverential, hushed tones, Tudor, with one eye glued to the viewfinder, said, 'Superb. What absolute peace. It looks as if nothing's changed in 85 years...' A moment later, he leapt back and pointed, his finger quivering, outraged that his cameraman's nirvana had been shattered by the sudden, howling appearance of a quad bike, charging towards the horses, driven by a farmer intent on rounding-up his livestock and caring nothing for Tudor's artistic sensibilities.

Our director, Steven Freer, the very essence of diplomacy, consoles Tudor. 'It's OK,' he says, in words as soothing as the British Ambassador might use in a nuclear missile bunker in Pyongyang, 'you've shot some wonderful stuff for us already. We've got more than enough...'

Tudor doesn't look convinced but we pack up, the quad-bike's vile whine still echoing off both sides of the valley, and head west to the jewel that is the Glynn Vivian gallery in Swansea. I know I'm going to feel more at home there, in Dylan Thomas's ugly lovely town, full of glorious pictures, painted by the very same pals Dylan argued with over milky coffee at the Kardomah. Evan Walters, Ceri Richards, Alfred Janes, Vincent Evans and a host more of west Wales' best. What a treat!

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

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