George Chapman Etchings
The Rhondda Suite
In 1953 George Chapman made a journey through the coal-mining valleys of south Wales and discovered the Rhondda Valley where, he said, 'I realised that here I could find the material that would perhaps make me a painter at last.' He returned to the south Wales valleys over the next ten years and produced a large number of drawings, etchings and paintings; in particular the villages that comprise the Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach Valleys. There followed a period of considerable success-highly praised one-man exhibitions in London and Cambridge, extensive press coverage, in The Studio, Apollo, Art News and Review, The Times, The Guardian and television programmes for Anglia, BBC Wales and Huw Weldon's Monitor for the BBC in 1961.
Chapman's strong sense of graphic design is very much evident in his etchings; the deceptively simple freehand manner does not disguise an ordered compositional structure. He revelled in the patterns made by the telegraph poles and wires, the television aerials, the pit head winding gear and chimney stacks, the railway signals and the herringbone roofs of the steep terraced miners' houses. Compositions became more dynamic as he exaggerated the great sweeping curves of the terraces perched upon the hilltops. Precipitous rows of houses tear away in sharp perspective to draw the spectator quickly into his world. The dark foreboding mountains topped with slag-heaps, the heavy stationary clouds, the rain and the intense light over the horizon reflecting on the wet roads and slate roofs created a stark visual drama.
The people who inhabit this harsh environment are an integral part of its make up observed as they go about their daily routine; shopping, hanging out the washing, the children playing whilst their parents gossip on a street corner. Forty years on he was still painting the Rhondda, reflecting the changes that had occurred there since that first dark, wet day in 1953 which 'transformed his purpose'. Chapman's etchings, drawings and paintings of the Rhondda Valley are a record a particular place and time-not a topographical record but a mood inspired by the character of that place — a record of the people of the mining communities and their homes. They convey the spirit of an industrial community that has long since changed and as such are important historical records of the industrial face of Wales.