Brenda Chamberlain - 'Sea Symphony'

Artist Name:

Brenda Chamberlain

Years:

1912-1971

Nationality:

Welsh

Painting Name:

Sea Symphony

Current Location:

The Big Sky Gallery, Usk, Monmouthshire

Signed & dated June 1966 lower left

Pencil on paper

98cm x 67cm

Price:

£ 2,475.00

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Available for sale from Big Sky Fine Art; this original drawing by Brenda Chamberlain dated June 1966.
The work is presented and supplied in a sympathetic and contrasting contemporary frame to suit the colouration of the graphite and the paper. Mounted using conservation materials and behind glass.

Brenda Chamberlain was an outstanding and spiritually inspirational Welsh artist and writer of prose and poetry.

She was born on 17th March 1912 in Bangor, North Wales and came back to live there several times in her life, eventually dying there too.

She was educated privately at the Bangor County School for Girls, where her artistic ability shone through, and then she was sent to the Royal Cambrian Academy in Conway. From 1931 she studied at the Royal Academy in London for five years, graduating in art, but simultaneously developing an interest in poetry. She also studied at the University College of North Wales, Bangor.

Just before the Second World War she moved in with the artist John Petts, who she subsequently married. During the War he was a conscientious objector and joined a field ambulance unit in Europe and the Middle East. Her own wartime efforts included pulling bodies from recovered aircraft and it has since been suggested that she developed posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of this.

From their home in Llanllechid, near Bethesda, Caern, Wales, Brenda Chamberlain and her husband set up the Caseg Press, in collaboration with the poet Alan Lewis. They produced cards and bookplates and a series of six broadsheets, which included poems by Dylan Thomas, Alan Lewis, Lynette Robert and Brenda herself as well as translations of early Welsh poems by H. Idris Bell.

Brenda’s marriage to John Petts ended in 1946 after three years of separation and she visited Germany for a while to stay with her friend Karl von Laer, to whom she dedicated her first collection of poems.

In 1947 she went to live on Bardsey Island where she remained until 1961, writing and painting. In 1961 she moved to the Greek island of Ydra, fleeing an unhappy relationship and what she perceived as the failed fleeting promises of the art world. She was obliged to leave during the coup of 1967 and returned to Bangor, now depressed and with financial problems.

Brenda Chamberlain was creative and gifted in several fields; she produced prose works, including a novel and a memoir of her life on Bardsey Island. Her most notable works were The Green Heart 1958, The Water Castle, 1963 and The Protagonist, a play performed in Bangor in 1970. She also worked with the dancer, Robertos Savagas, and the musician, Halin el Dabh.

Wherever she lived she wrote, painted and kept illustrated journals. The style of her work changed in response to her surroundings; for example, the work she produced on Ydra was often warm and flowing, but the work she produced from 1969 became increasingly stark, reflecting a human understanding of the dark times that people experience and her own feelings of despair at being outcast.

Brenda credits her inspiration and main artistic influence to Paul Gaugin. Her own work has a haunting quality; it is detailed and emotional, unpretentious and compelling. Some of her artistic methods were ground breaking in their time.

During her career Brenda Chamberlain enjoyed considerable critical success, participating in over thirty group shows, including Heal’s Mansard Gallery, 1948; The Influence of Wales in painting, Brighton, 1957, and Eisteddfod Gold Medalist, WAC, 1967. She had seven solo exhibitions, including at Gimpel Fils several times in the 1950S, Zwemmer Gallery, 1962. She also won the Eisteddfod Gold Medal in Fine Art in 1951 and 1953. Despite all of this she spent much of her life in virtual isolation and suffered increasingly from mental health problems. She eventually suffered a mental breakdown, which led to a month in a psychiatric hospital in 1969. In July 1971, she took an overdose and ended her own life. She is buried in Glanadda cemetery, Ffordd, Caernarfon in Bangor.

She wrote; “Emotionally, I was always tempted to drop the writing and concentrate in painting, because for some unknown reason writing has always been for me an unhappy activity: while painting almost inevitably makes me happy”.

There was a Memorial exhibition of her work at the National Museum of Wales in 1973 but the tragic nature of her death was kept largely private for some years and it is perhaps only recently that the full extent of her talent has been appreciated. She has been described as a “well kept secret of North Wales “. Since her death she has been re-assessed as a political artist, detached from popular styles

2012 marked her centenary and a full biography of her life was published by Jill Piercy, Brenda Chamberlain: An Artist’s Life.
The Gweynedd Museum and Art Gallery in Bangor held a special exhibition of her work and Bangor University re-named a lecture theatre in her honour.

Today the work of Brenda Chamberlain is widely held in Welsh collections, including the National Museum of Wales.

Perhaps the best epitaph comes from her own pen;

“There is never an end
Nothing ever finishes, we flow like wine,
Generation into generation, not dying.”

What does this pen on paper drawing show? To a great extent this depends on the interpretation of the viewer. It is a large and expansive view and there is a feeling of coordinated movement, of flow, of expansion. It has been suggested that the markings depict a longing, or an ocean current or a shoal of fish, twisting and turning in a migration in unison. The whole is certainly an uplifting and impressive sensation, which perhaps requires no further definition.

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