Arts & Culture
Emrys Parry lives in Great Yarmouth
Painting a picture of Emrys Parry
By David Keller
Emrys Parry, a 67-year-old professional narrative artist from Great Yarmouth, has been painting a picture of his Welsh upbringing since his school years.
The retired lecturer of 30 years from the Great Yarmouth College Of Art has been all around the UK, but by teaching art students in Norfolk, it has allowed him to intrinsically reflect upon his own background and upbringing.
"I've taught generations of students from Norfolk and got them to enthuse about their own backgrounds, which has made me very proud," said Emrys.
His latest work, based upon memories of his grandparents, comes to the Norwich Theatre Royal on 10 March – 10 May, 2009.
Emrys was born in the village of Nefyn, on the mainly Welsh-speaking Llyn Peninsula in Gwynedd.
"I'm a Welsh speaking Welshman; I come from a small village which has recently become famous, because the singer Duffy also comes from the same place!" he said.
Emrys always had an interest in creative arts and literature as a juvenile. Even though he did not know it at the time, his art teacher was to become a considerable influence on the rest of his career.
"I always enjoyed writing stories and poetry, it was a toss up between that and art really. I was taking Welsh Literature, History and Art at A Level and I gradually just veered towards the latter," he said.
"I went to grammar school and was taught by a very influential art teacher. I was one of the first Welsh-speaking working-class students from my neck of the woods to go to art college anywhere - a clutch of us went as a result of his influence," he added.
Emrys appeared on BBC Two
Far from the bright lights and mad rush of city life, Emrys drew his creativity and inspiration from the simple life of the countryside.
"Our teacher told us to use our environment as a source of inspiration and he made us believe that lads from a Welsh speaking village in the middle of nowhere could compete with anybody," he said.
"He died around five or six years ago and I wrote a tribute to him, which was published on a Welsh Arts Archive website. That article was picked up by an independent film editor and BBC Two Wales based a whole episode of a documentary around this very thing," he added.
The series titled Dragon's Tail, broadcast in 2008, aimed to reflect the life of people in the Llyn Peninsula and their struggle to maintain their Welsh culture and identity, from threats such as rich second-home buyers.
"The programme makers were very interested as to why I chose to live in East Anglia, but still paint about Wales and why it is still influencing my work to this very day. It wasn't until I was asked that question that it made me think long and hard about my work," he said.
"As we walked around the hills, the editor also posed the question of whether I could ever go back there to live in Nefyn. My answer was no – I've lived in East Anglia for so long now, I've become very attached," he added.
Great Yarmouth College Of Art
Emrys made the shift to Yarmouth in 1964, where he worked at the Great Yarmouth College Of Art.
"At the time, the college was quite small. I started teaching as a lecturer in drawing and colour," he said.
"In 1988, it amalgamated with the Norwich School Of Art and I became head of the foundation course in Norwich," he added.
'Taid on Grey' is at the Theatre Royal
During his teaching days, Emrys gained huge inspiration from the students around him.
"I always wanted to teach - I loved the discipline and creativity of it. In those days you could be creative about what you taught, it wasn't so prescribed," he said.
"It was really up to me what I thought was important and I was able to shape mine and other student's paths.
"When Yarmouth joined with Norwich, I think it became one of the best foundation courses in the country, even if I do say so myself! We used to draw in people from every secondary school in Norfolk.
"There were many success stories too - the bloke who did Bob The Builder was on the graphic design course at Yarmouth."
Emrys often advised his plethora of budding Norfolk artists to draw upon their background influences of living in the county, but he found it hard to relate that to himself.
"When most people think of Norfolk artists, they think of Norfolk landscape painters. I've done some work based on the county's landscape and so on, but it didn't have the same kind of feeling for me as it did my students," he said.
"I need to know who made the field, who built the wall, I need that sort of connection with people. I still feel very Welsh - I talk to my mother every day in Welsh and I go home to Wales quite a lot and I still draw on that for the background of my work, as you will see in my latest exhibition," he added.
Emrys' latest gallery, based around his grandparents, recollects his childhood memories and fondness for what in his heart is 'home'.
Emrys depicts his childhood memories
"My latest work will show people a greater understanding about me. My work is very personal - they are portraits of me in an indirect kind of way," he said.
"I started most of the pieces in 2008 calling from photographs and memories about my family.
"I have a huge amount of nostalgia related to where I'm from and the working-class people that helped me get to where I am now."
As for the future, Emrys has no plans to stop yet.
"I'm going to carry on painting, hopefully in Yarmouth, until I die. This is the privilege of being a painter - as long as I have the strength to do it, then I can't see any reason to stop," he said.
Emrys Parry's latest art exhibition can be viewed at the Norwich Theatre Royal between 10 March – 10 May, 2009.
last updated: 06/03/2009 at 18:42