Review of Elfyn Lewis: Beautiful Mistake / Camgymeriad Hardd, gallery/ten, Cardiff

Review of Elfyn Lewis: Beautiful Mistake / Camgymeriad Hardd, gallery/ten, Cardiff

Follow the stairs to the first floor, and there, bathed in natural light, with crisp white walls and high ceilings, you’ll find the rooms of gallery/ten. The brainchild of curator Cat Gardiner, gallery/ten is an independent gallery with a focus on Welsh, contemporary fine art. Disillusioned with the lack of risk taken by most of Cardiff’s commercial galleries, and the safe, middle-of the-road work they tend to show, Gardiner slowly made her way from pop-up displays to the current location and has built an impressive catalogue of both emerging and established artist along the way. At the start of July audiences were met by the powerful explosions of colour, texture and physicality found within Elfyn Lewis’ paintings.

Beautiful Mistake/Camgymeriad Hardd is Lewis’ first solo exhibition in Cardiff in four years, and his first at gallery/ten. Having won the Gold Medal at the National Eisteddfod Wales in 2009, and the Welsh Artist of the Year Prize in 2010, Lewis is gradually establishing himself as one of Cardiff’s most interesting and distinctive artists. That rare and special combination of being unique in style, but still accessible, and feeding your imagination the way only abstract paintings can. His works are often described as abstract landscapes, but they appear far more complex and evocative than that. As well as beauty in the movements, shapes and tactility of the paintings, there is tangible aggression, determination and emotion. Lewis’ work is instantly recognisable, and with nods to Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock it leans heavily towards abstract expressionism and colour field.

The paint is layered, dripped, thrown, pushed, pulled and manipulated to reveal what emerges underneath. Sometimes shattered fragments, other times soft and framed glimpses of shape that hint at something subconscious. Like a dream within a dream. He may call them beautiful mistakes, but there is nothing accidental about them. The process it deliberate and methodical and the physical work is evident. Beautiful Mistake/Camgymeriad Hardd is a collection of new work, and people who have followed Lewis’ career will notice recent changes in his work. Usually painting on mdf board, this exhibition also includes a series of paintings on paper. Still instantly recognisable as Lewis’s work the effect is slightly different. Less aggressive, more defined and graphic. The result is often sharper than his other paintings, but no less striking.

Lewis, a first language Welsh speaker, names all his paintings in Welsh. Places, people, words, situations that mean something to him. Something that needs to be remembered. One of the most eye-catching pieces was Osgoi (2014); a painting on paper. The sharply contrasted red, white and black with touches of gold and yellow initially feels warm and inviting, but stay with it, and the invitation becomes a pull and the black an abyss, beautiful and haunting.

Cysgod is a stunning example of the layering, pull and reveal of the work on mdf. The effect is almost 3D and it takes a moment for the eye to make sense of the layers. What’s above, and what lies beneath. A coherent, beautiful, exciting end edgy exhibition, the energy of the paintings framed by the calmness of the gallery, giving an experience that draws you in and stays with you after you walk back down the stairs and onto the busy streets of Cardiff. A storm within the calm.

Beautiful Mistake/Camgymeriad Hardd ran 13 June – 12 July at gallery/ten, Windsor Place, Cardiff.

Sarah King

1. Osgoi (9.5 x 9.5 inches acrylic on paper 2014), Elfyn Lewis, courtesy of the artist.