The Paintings of Ivor John Powell

The vision of a border Welshman

Cwmiou (Cwmyoy) Church by Ivor Powell

64. Cwmiou (Cwmyoy) Church

25.5 x 29.2cm. Hardboard with home-made frame

NLW(PG 5904)

Dated 1980, this painting of a church close to Pandy and one which he knew from childhood, was composed after his confident and reassuring churches, like St. Mary's, Abergavenny, and stands apart in its sombre symbolism. He painted it, not because he had re-visited the church - he was now unable to do so - but because he had been given a postcard photograph of it which seems to have met his expressive requirements, at that time, in a number of ways. The building itself, with its crazily leaning tower held up by a buttress, provides a powerful symbol of the flawed and uncertain nature of human life. In the foreground a tree has fallen and, overhead, his sinister crows, last seen in Ironbridge, have returned. Yet the placing of healthy sheep (which are not in his photographic source) in front of the fallen and rotting tree supports the viewer's sense that this painting's symbolism is about more than merely the gloom of impending ruin and decay. There are also signs of new life and continuity. Though the buttress seems a desperate measure to prevent disaster, it is not recent and seems to have done its job well enough. The poppy-like flowers, just like those in Penbidwal, are vigorous enough, spreading from the graveyard and along its boundary, yet what is living here is not human. The graveyard is without figures, and a cross, which is just visible in his source photograph, is given prominence. This, it seems, is the only recognition of human presence here, and it records a past life. The crows above, at their largest in any of his paintings, seem to be there to oversee the passing of a life they had earlier foretold. With his own rapidly declining health, it would not have been difficult for him to have felt empathy with the situation he depicts. A local church, which, in earlier years, he would have made a centre of human involvement, he now seems to make his own place of rest, in a natural setting which is able to take over his own source of life, and maintain it after him. The painting, therefore, though recognising the ephemeral nature of particular lives, also affirms hope in a continuing vitality.

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