The final death toll from the Senghenydd mining disaster on Tuesday 14th October 1913 was 439 men. It was a massive disaster of major proportions. The explosion and subsequent release of poisonous gasses made this pit disaster the most lethal and tragic mining disaster in British history.
Without doubt nearly everyone in this close knit valley community and surrounding valleys would have been massively affected by the impact. One hundred years on and commemorations are being held across the country to mark the loss of victims of mining disasters not only from Senghenydd but also in recognition of all the miners who lost their lives because of the coal industry.
Y Galeri, Caerphilly will be participating in this National Memorial with an exhibition opening on Tuesday 8th October. The Price of Coal comprises of work inspired by mining and mining communities by four artists, David Carpanini, The late Nicholas Evans, Valerie Ganz and Osi Rhys Osmond.
David Carpanini PPRE is one of Wales’ most well known and respected artists. His work is almost entirely devoted to the presentation of the industrial landscape of South Wales. Lonely figures, scarred landscapes, perching terraces of houses and ragged roadside sheep are the images to which he is faithful and to which heattributes the development of his creative imagination. Although solidly representational, his work speaks eloquently of abstracts – fear, isolation and survival. They are set in Wales but the statements he makes are not confined to the Welsh Valleys, the feelings they evoke are international.
David Carpanini was trained at Gloucestershire College of Art, The Royal College of Art and The University of Reading. He held the post of Professor of Art at the University of Wolverhampton from 1992 – 2000. His work has been the subject of several television documentaries and is represented by numerous public, corporate and private collections worldwide.
The late Nicholas Evans RCA was a remarkable painter who interpreted in his work the uphill struggles of mining communities. He was born in Aberdare and despite being entirely self taught, is considered to be one of Wales’ foremost artists and was acclaimed a genius and described as a phenomenen. He began working as a miner on his 14th birthday at Nantymelyn Colliery, Aberdare. From the age of 17, after his father was killed in a mining accident, Nicholas left to work for the Great Western Railway and became a train driver of coal and passenger trains.
It was not until his retirement that he began painting. The terrible industry stayed with him all his life and he felt a strange compelling urge to record the industry for posterity. Working on large boards he painted with his fingers and a rag using blue-black paint. His work evokes the sufferings in the lives of miners and the mining communities and depicts the grim reality and visions that he remembered from his days underground. With claustrophobic effect he painted jumbled bodies and pinched faces ravaged by grief. He continued to paint almost daily until his death in 2004.
His work is in numerous Collections including The National Museum of Wales, The National Library of Wales, The Arts Council of Wales and The Tate Gallery.
Swansea based artist Valerie Ganz RCA spent many years studying mining art in the mining industry. After attending Swansea College of Art where she studied painting, sculpture and stained glass, she remained there as a tutor until the early 70’s when she began painting full time. As her interest in the landscape of South Wales grew, her attention was drawn to the landscape and in particular, the mining industry.
She worked at 14 different collieries, drawing and painting the miners as they worked and this work formed the basis of many exhibitions. In the mid 80’s Valerie worked atthe Six Bells Colliery alongside the miners both above ground and at the coalface to create a unique record of their lives. After her time at Six Bells, a commission from British Coal led to 12 months working at three open cast sites culminating in a large exhibition. Her work is in many private and public collections in the UK and around the world.
Osi Rhys Osmond originated from the mining community of Wattsville where his father, uncles and grandfathers on both sides worked as miners. As an art student Osi resisted the vogue for a certain kind of image of the mining industry and sought to create something that spoke more about the eternal qualities of the landscape in which he found himself. The more sentimental view of mining life that had become the accepted norm in the visual arts was something that he felt had been done and added little to any understanding of how that community lived, worked and socialised. The enormous, long drawn out period of geological activity that saw the laying down of the South Wales coalfield dwarfed the lives of three generations who came, settled and mined the coal. The Valleys are green, nature heals, but for this artist there remains a sense of loss, of bewilderment, trauma and perhaps abandonment.
Osi Rhys Osmond was an art lecturer at Swansea Metropolitan University. He was previously Head of Foundation Studies at West Wales School of the Arts, Carmarthen and a visiting lecturer at University of Wales, Lampeter. He has written reviews and articles on art and culture and has appeared on TV and radio and has presented a number of television series on S4C. He was elected to the Gorsedd of the Bards in 2006, in recognition of his contribution to the arts, education and the promulgation of the Welsh language.
Tyrone O’Sullivan OBE of Tower Colliery will be guest speaker at the launch. Born and bred in the heart of the South Wales Coalfield, Tyrone joined Tower Colliery as an apprentice electrician in 1963. His father and grandfather were miners and his father was killed at Tower Colliery in a roof collapse. He became branch secretary of the NUM in Tower and has spent a lifetime supporting the cause of the miners
Historically, mining is full of tragedy, human grief and loss; sadly these disasters were needless and avoidable. The sheer scale of devastation and the raw emotions of those involved is incomprehensible. Coalmining was not merely a job but a way of life and these four artists bring their own vision and perceptions of mining to mark this historic event.
The Price of Coal runs from 8th October – 2 November. Y Galeri is open 10am -5pm, Tuesday – Saturday.