BLOG Hayley Dolby

NWR Issue 112

Iwan Bala: Dyma Gariad (fel y moroedd) / Here is a Love (deep as oceans)

An exhibition of Iwan Bala’s newest works at Penarth Pier Pavilion, open daily from 10am, is being held from 4 – 30 November 2016. A free ‘Walk and Talk’ event is being held there on 30 November at 2pm.

The pavilion seems to be fading into the sky behind, like a photograph taken through a fish-eye lens: dissolving at the edges, losing focus. To the left there is an ice cream shop, not that anyone would need an ice cream on a day like this. A chalkboard outside advertises the café: ‘HOT AND COLD FOOD AVAILABLE.’

To the right stands ‘The Old Fashioned Sweet Shop’. Its animated window display catches my eye for a moment, but I continue through the glass doors in front of me. The woman at the front desk keeps her eyes down, not responding to the sound of my entrance. Her short brown hair, neatly bobbed, has fallen in front of her eyes, yet she makes no attempt to move it. I walk through to the exhibition room without comment.

One of the smallest paintings in the room immediately draws my focus. ‘SELF HARMING IS A PSYCHOLOGICAL DISEASE.’ The words are painted with thick brushstrokes. They seem hurried, angry even. The map at the centre of the painting is flesh coloured, scarred with red. I look closer and recognise it as the United Kingdom, or rather, the United Kingdom sans Scotland. Well, this is going to be political, I think to myself.

I soon find my hunch to be correct as I peruse a section of paintings featuring highly politicised maps, one of which depicts Scotland literally waving goodbye to the rest of the United Kingdom. The far wall is lined with caricatures of politicians and public figures, their names incorporated into puns: ‘NIGEL same FORAGE’, ‘BOREASS (Johnson) DOES A TRUMP’, ‘GOV.E’, ‘WE MAY OR WE MAY NOT’, ‘CORBYFIXTION.’

The windows that flank the room cast a square of light on the wall. It blinds me as I turn to look at the next piece. As my eyes recover from the shock, I can’t help wondering why no one had thought to put up blinds. It is rather difficult to fully appreciate artwork when one is partially unable to see.

Finally getting my mind on track, I turn back to the painting and feel a faint sense of recognition. It is as though I am reminded of a poem I read in school, the lines rushed, smudged, uneven, as if it were a poet’s first draft, a hasty attempt to turn a fleeting thought into something tangible.

It appears the rest of the paintings exhibited are in this vein. Iwan Bala seems to have a preoccupation with words and the spontaneity of writing. The rolling screens in the centre of the room are home to a combination of Welsh and English vocabulary, intertwined within the paintings. Later, while researching the artist, I will discover that much of Bala’s work has centred around the culture of the Welsh language, with its literature, poetry, hymns and anthems taking centre stage.

Absentmindedly checking my watch, I suddenly realise I’m five minutes late for my meeting in the café. I turn my head sharply to face the archway and lock eyes with the woman I was intending to meet.

“Ah, there you are!” I hear her say. “Have you been looking at the exhibit? What do you think? Is it any good?”

I fumble for an answer as I walk over. Not yet having had time to collect my thoughts, I feel as though I have become one of Iwan Bala’s paintings.

“Yes… He’s quite funny, isn’t he?” I finally reply.

Hayley Dolby is a Cardiff-based blogger undertaking an internship with New Welsh Review.


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