Cooking Up Nostalgia; Two Young Figurative Artists Who Each Have a Nostalgic Element to Their Work Are Brought Together for a New Exhibition. Warren Williams and Paul Rees Tell Jenny White about Their Influences

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 18, 2011 | Go to article overview

Cooking Up Nostalgia; Two Young Figurative Artists Who Each Have a Nostalgic Element to Their Work Are Brought Together for a New Exhibition. Warren Williams and Paul Rees Tell Jenny White about Their Influences


Byline: Warren Williams

WARREN Williams is the Heston Blumenthal of the Welsh art world. While the culinary boffin resurrects historic dishes at his London restaurant, Williams is busy in his garden shed reviving artistic techniques from centuries past - not just tricks for applying paint or ink but the actual methods of making them.

While most painters are content to buy their oil paints in a tube, Williams mixes his using walnut oil and pure pigments. He has learnt how to make ink by grinding oak galls in a pestle and mortar, boiling them with rainwater and then adding iron sulphate and gum arabic. One of his latest adventures involved priming canvases using a technique he discovered in a book from the 1840s, which recommends using a concoction made with flour and pipe clay.

"It's not unlike a batter," he says.

"If it didn't have pipe clay in it you could make a pancake out of it!" The cooking analogies don't stop there; he has recently become fascinated by the possibility that painters, like chefs, might originally have worked in harmony with the year's natural cycles.

"You can buy walnuts in autumn and extract the oil from them; then in the summer you can use the oil to make a varnish," he says. "When old books tell you to use varnish they don't mean the kind you can buy, they mean one made by thickening walnut oil in the sun and adding resins to it.

"There are other things that work best at certain times of year: you don't size a canvas in December or January because it's just too cold and it's not a good idea in the middle of the summer because the canvas can crack."

Williams is now trying to find a way to incorporate this realisation into his own working year.

"If I could work out an artist's calendar properly, I'd have a system," he muses.

When not resurrecting age-old artistic techniques (which are, he adds, a great money-saver) Williams is, of course, painting.

His subject matter is sharply at odds with his nostalgic approach to materials: he may paint using time-honoured techniques but his subjects belong unmistakably to our time. People watching television, sitting on benches, standing on the street - they are often surprisingly mundane subjects for such studied artistic attention; yet, painted with Williams' deft hand and wry observational skill, these snippets of everyday life can be revelatory.

"They're just people, just normal, everyday, ordinary people," he says. "Some are friends and family; others are people I've spotted on the street - sometimes I'll see something and take a photograph on my mobile phone."

His paintings do feel like stolen glances - an effect he shares with fellow exhibitor Paul Rees.

Like Williams, Rees lives in Neath. He has pursued a career in art since 2005 when he quit a career as a primary school teacher to study fine art at Swansea Metropolitan University; he graduated with first-class honours in 2008. …

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