'High and Low' challenge for artist Anthony Garratt

By George Herd
BBC News

image copyrightRichard Broomhall

It's called the Miners' Track for a reason.

From the head of the Nant Peris valley it rises gently to 1,400ft above sea level, opening onto the majestic views of the lake, Llyn Llydaw.

This is where myth and legend are woven into the very fabric of the landscape, as the terrifying Crib Goch ridge, the blackened cliffs of Bwlch y Saethau and the majestic summit of Snowdon itself cast their long shadows on the green and blue tinged water of the lake below.

According to folklore, this is the spot where King Arthur's sword Excalibur was thrown back into the icy waters, returned by one of his knights to the Lady of the Lake.

media captionAnthony Garratt's High and Low installation in Snowdonia

But it was not that story that attracted artist Anthony Garratt to this spot.

It was the echoes of the industrial past right at the beating heart of the national park.

This was home to the 18th Century Britannia Copper Mines, where fortunes were invested and lost, and men lived and died digging out the metal ore to be carried back down the mountainside.

Today, the ruined remains of the ore crushing mill can still be seen on the shores of the lake - memories of what stood here haunting the rural idyll.

It is where 36-year-old Mr Garratt has chosen to paint one half of his installation project: High and Low.

image copyrightRichard Broomhall
image copyrightRichard Broomhall

"This is kind of a creative prompt to maybe investigate the geology and the history of the area - and there is so much here," explains the artist.

"It's stunning. It's somewhere I've explored more and more and I am beginning to paint more and more.

"I'm a big fan of Welsh painters such as Kyffin Williams and William Selwyn. I really admire the way they communicate the landscape and I think they have prompted me to really explore the area and become very attached to it."

A former student of Chelsea College of Art, his work has been included in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the Royal College of Arts Henry Moore Gallery.

Last year he embarked on a project to paint giant landscapes at four locations across Anglesey, garnering widespread acclaim from national newspapers and commentators.

This is his return to north Wales, and his tribute to its hidden industrial heritage.

Again - it has scale - and a sense of challenge.

"One of the premises of the project was that we carried everything up by hand, so it half replicates what the miners would have had to do with all their equipment up the Miners' Track," he said.

"So this enormous panel was carried up by 10 people, which took a couple of hours."

image copyrightRichard Broomhall

Carrying up the equipment might have been the least of his concerns.

On the first day of painting, half of his progress was simply washed away by the infamous Snowdon rain.

Garratt is philosophical about the battle with the elements: "It is quite a demanding way to paint, because the weather dictates you - but that is also a nice message really.

"We are continually reminded of the weather here - it is very volatile - very exciting."

Then comes the next stage of the challenge at Llyn Llydaw.

The painting is being floated out on the lake for all to see over the coming months - come rain or shine - calm or gales.

"We've had to design a structure that is safe first of all, so something that isn't going to blow around in the 80mph winds here.

"It's an amazing feat to be able to bring a boat, the panel and the structure it is going to be floating on up to the lake manually.

"This is a double-sided painting - one view towards the Miners' Track, the other view towards the summit - depending on which way the wind blows, that will be the direction you see on the painting."

But this is just one half of the project - the 'High'.

The 'Low' will take Mr Garratt underground to a former slate mine on the edge of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Today, Llechwedd Slate Caverns are a major adventure tourism centre, but that theme of history cuts through it - just as the seams of slate have been cut away over the centuries.

"It's the other extreme really. Here you have all this incredible space and beautiful vistas and it is open," he states.

"And then you've got the underground world and the society that existed in this generation of the slate mining industry.

"That painting is going to be in two halves. The top half is going to be about the beauty of the landscape from the top of the mines.

"The bottom half of the painting is going to be built with slate dust and iron oxides and copper, and it's going to be quite heavy and rusty.

"So over time in the mine, this painting will sort of decompose and crumble.

"It's a bit of a nod to the slate mining industry."

The High and Low installation will remain on show at Llechwedd and at Llyn Llydaw until the late autumn.

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