Adrian John is an artist based in Milford Haven. His rich portfolio of work ranges from minutely detailed landscapes to photograph-inspired portraits. With a passion for natural light, contours and shadow, he captures Wales from its most evocative angles – from the industry of the Valleys to the open coastscapes of Pembrokeshire.
How do you reflect the spirit of Wales in your painting?
I was born in Neath and grew up in a small village just at the top of the Afan Valley. This sense of place is strongly reflected in my work. I moved to Pembrokeshire four years ago and found it blessed with beautiful coastal walks and great beaches – not to mention the Preseli Hills inland. It’s a very active area for painters because of the rich variation in scenery and abundance of galleries.
How did growing up in a former mining village shape your work?
My generation came after the mines and railway system had closed, so I grew up aware that I was living in an area that had been stripped of its industrial existence. There are still abandoned structures and plenty of photos that provide a constant reminder. As a young lad this sense of nostalgia intrigued me. My grandfather had been a miner for 49 years, and I would listen to him telling me stories about the buildings that once stood in the Valleys. It allowed my imagination to open.
What fascinates you about these post-industrial Wales landscapes?
Port Talbot was the closest major town when I was a child, so I’m naturally drawn to industry. But it’s not just the Valleys. Milford Haven oil refinery has featured in a few of my recent landscapes. It changes its appearance at different times of day. The three chimneys lit up at night can be seen for miles around – the sheer scale of them impresses me.
Closer to my roots, I’m drawn to the rows of terraced houses that stretch and climb the hills. I feel a strong sense of community spirit looking at these long built-up areas, but you also sense the deprived reality. On a grey wet day, they can almost seem depressing, but there’s something more I feel – it’s almost like going back to another time. The angles and cutting lines of the rows of houses are great for perspective, too.
What inspired you to start painting then?
My other grandfather used to paint as a hobby. Watching him sparked my interest and I began to spend time sketching, learning by observing him. My dad also went to art school and offered invaluable tips. I had access to local historical books with great images of the mining industry. Dad would supply me with unlimited materials and I was encouraged to sketch whatever I wanted. Naturally I was drawn to these old photos and even then I always preferred working at a large scale.
Why do you work largely from photographs now?
Working with photographs in the studio allows me to be flexible with choice of medium. After hours studying a single image, it allows me to imagine being in that moment again. Relating to the subject allows me to express myself through the brushwork.
Is there somewhere you’d love to paint that you haven’t yet?
Margam Park. I’m building up to that one… It’s a neo-Gothic country house and park, just back from the M4 on the Neath-Port Talbot eastern border. It was rebuilt to house the Talbot family. I prefer to use the side road that takes you behind the castle grounds and walk up to the old chapel ruins that look down over the castle. This panoramic view changes with the seasons, but I’d like to capture it in springtime. The castle is surrounded by by shrubs and oaks, with fields stretching into the distance to the sand dunes of Cornelly, just before the coast.
Then there is Pembrokeshire, of course. I’m sure I could spend another lifetime studying its lesser-known corners and wonderful coastal scenes.