Leaving the 20th century

Friday 18 March 2011, 12:00

Kim Howells Kim Howells

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The fourth and final film in the Framing Wales series has been the most problematic. Who to put in and who to leave out? It's impossible to decide in terms of worth or quality or reputation. There are so many fine artists working the length and breadth of Wales.

When I bump into friends in the street they say, 'Now make sure you include so-and-so... She's such a wonderful painter of landscapes.'

When I interview artists in their studios they say, 'You must feature so-and-so... He continues to be such a powerful influence on all of us...'

When I attend exhibition openings I interpret looks of incomprehension from artists who cannot believe that we have left them out of any series that purports to tell the story of Welsh art over the last 100 years or so.

And who can blame them? I feel, some days, as guilty as the Turner Prize Committee should feel every day for seeming to ignore so much that is brilliant in contemporary British art.

Recently, I watched a programme about the impact of artists who worked in St Ives in Cornwall from the 1940s. Some were born and raised in Cornwall; some relocated there. All of them contributed to creating a widespread acceptance that the paintings and sculpture that emerged from St Ives were the equal of art created in New York, Paris, London or any other creative powerhouse. Their work is housed in museums and galleries across the country but especially in one gallery that opened in 1993, Tate St Ives.

The refurbishment of National Museum Wales' existing galleries and the construction of its new West Wing Gallery in Cardiff will help to exhibit some of the finest art produced in Wales, alongside magnificent international collections like the Davies Bequest. Hopefully, the much-longed-for refurbishment of Swansea's Glynn Vivian Gallery and the modifications to galleries like Oriel Mostyn in Llandudno will assist in this task.

However, if the world is going to talk about art produced in Wales as it has talked about art produced in St Ives, it will require proof that the last century of creativity in Wales has been as vibrant and abundant in the principality as it has been in any part of Britain, including St Ives.

That proof exists, locked away in the vaults of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. We must devise or build the means to exhibit that wonderful proof for the world to see.

Past entries from the Framing Wales series can be seen on BBC iPlayer.

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