Reviews

Emrys Parry's studio faces east and is sited on the eastern edge of East Anglia within walking distance of the bustling port of Great Yarmouth. Yet it is to the western edge of the United Kingdom and to his childhood home on the Llyn Peninsula of North West Wales that much of his art refers. The largely Welsh speaking community of the small fishing village of Nefyn, where Emrys spent a treasured childhood, remains a potent resource for deeply held traditions and above all the distinctiveness of its people.  The landscape of Llyn is equally profound in influence, with a profile of the peaks of Yr Eifl as seen across the bay from Nefyn recurring in his art as if witness to the people he has physically, but not psychologically, left behind. Once routed the psyche of a place and its people can remain indelible in the memory across a lifetime and from one lifetime to another.

For Emrys, the perception of the visual world as explored in visual art can be understood with a clarity and complexity of a language; deeply routed stories can be told and communicated through art as if 'in the flesh'. As often as he can, Emrys returns to Nefyn in person, sketchbook in hand, to provide fuel for his memories. A few deft lines on paper can aid recall; back in the studio these aide-memoires become worked and reworked evoking strong emotion in their wake. He draws on both living memory and ancient tradition, sometimes in the same gesture of brush or charcoal, as if in a single breath. Along with particular events or features of a contemporary world, memories of Celtic mythology and legend are a visible presence, not as a direct illustration or a form of nostalgia but as an integral element in the schematic patterning of the landscape and its features, echoing the rhythms and patterns of the music and poetry of ancient tradition. 

The process of recording this accumulated experience in paintings and drawings is shaped by the working and reworking of correspondences and intersections between people and place, past and present. The visual properties of line, colour, tone, shape and pattern reflect and interplay between the abstract and figurative. An exploration of abstract rhythms and patterns is also explored through the fascination with patterned forms such as the snake, the spiral and labyrinth. Decorative elements sometimes work as motifs which express a network of correspondence between the visible world and the inner eye. There is also a suggestion of Welsh quilting motifs recalling Emrys' sympathy for such textile traditions but also referencing the landscape figured as a patchwork quilt. 

Many paintings describe the line which marks the meeting of the ancient granite hills of Yr Eifl with the sea and the sky. The zig zag lines which weave between forms sometimes thicken to become the hills, thus information is paired down, revealing a structure which resonates with the flat plains and geometric framing of the painting itself.

*Gwyn A. Williams has described the Welsh as a people who 'have lived by making and remaking themselves in generation after generation, usually against the odds, usually within a British context'. Although it is perhaps a cliche to suggest that increasing age and distance bring us closer to that which is far away, as in childhood memories or a place once intimately known, in Emrys' case this is quite true, as if increasing profundity of reflection is rendered in the present with ever greater richness and complexity. 

Victoria Mitchell
*Gywn A. Williams (1985) When Was Wales? Penguin Books.

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Emrys Parry is perhaps the least visible of that group of remarkably talented artists that are increasingly somehow thought of as the Great Yarmouth school of painters!  But this would be unfair, for this Welsh Wizard has talent and consistency that shines out and should be better known.  Still deeply rooted in his native Welsh village, this history provides both the psychological context and the sources of his work; people, ancestors, landscapes and memories.  Simplified and codified, these sources become totems of his imagination, motifs constantly repeated and reworked in his paintings and drawings.  This is serious body of work that will repay careful looking.

Keith Roberts
Review for NCAS, October 2013

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Emrys Parry was born in 1941 and is a Welsh artist working and living in Great Yarmouth. His work is heavily influenced by the landscape and people of the Lleyn peninsula, his childhood home in Wales. Over the years he has been making and remaking a succession of images that reflect his feelings towards this unique part of Wales. Cultural identity and its manifestations are a constant theme in his work and as a Welsh speaker he is strongly influenced by the unbroken thread of a poetic tradition winding back through the centuries.

He has lived and taught in East Anglia since 1964 and retired as Head of Diploma and Diagnostic Studies at Norwich School of Art and Design in 1996 to work full time as an artist.

It is important to him that some things seen and heard remain indelible in the memory across a lifetime and it is part of his mission as an artist to make those memories available to others through his images.

‘His work conveys certainty and generosity, and being naturally an heir to a strong oral and literate tradition, I see his work as that of a poet writing in cynghanedd- in the strict metres, the strict metres of poetry expressed in colour and line.’

Elis Gwyn Jones

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I discovered the work of Emrys Parry during a visit to the Plas Glyn-y-Weddw Gallery, a series of beautifully crafted expressive landscapes drawn in charcoal. To my surprise I discovered after talking to the curator that this most Welsh of artists lived and worked in Norfolk On a subsequent visit to his studio at Great Yarmouth it was manifest that Parry was not only a fine draughtsman, but also one of Wales’s most gifted iconographic painters. It is perhaps his isolation in exile away from his beloved homeland that gives his narrative pictures their power. They echo the longing of a historically suppressed language, culture and community with a patriotic desire for nationhood. These are not the icons degraded by commerce like the red dragon, twisted and caricatured on travel brochures and T-shirts, Parry has created his own language of signs drawn from our own Celtic inheritance. These thickly painted canvases transcend and evolve across the boundaries of Wales being equally effective in his adopted Norfolk home.

Bernard Mitchell