Saturday, 15 October 2016

71 Artist Alfred Janes

71 Alfred Janes (photos: Alfred Janes, pictures of Dylan Thomas, Vernon, Dan Jones)

The imminent re-opening of the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery will enable visitors to view some still-life oil paintings of fruit and flowers, and portraits of certain of the ‘Kardomah Boys’ - such as composer Daniel Jones and poets Vernon Watkins and Dylan Thomas, painted by one of their number – all by Alfred Janes.

It was near the Kardomah cafĂ©, which before the wartime bombing used to stand in Castle Street and where during the 1930s those emerging Swansea writers, artists and musicians would gather upstairs, that Alfred Janes was born, above his parents’ fruit and flower shop in Castle Square in 1911.  He attended Swansea Grammar School on Mount Pleasant hill, where English was taught by Dylan’s father D.J. Williams.  Janes went on to the Swansea School of Arts and Crafts in Alexandra Road, and as just a sixteen–year-old he exhibited at the National Eisteddfod in Treorchy in 1928.  At that time he was painting portraits and still-lifes, and was commissioned to paint a portrait of Swansea’s Mayor, Arthur Lovell; in 1931 his portrait of fellow artist Mervyn Levy won him a scholarship to study art at the Royal Academy Schools in London.  There Janes was influenced by studying the works of Picasso and modernist artists in commercial galleries, and began to experiment with abstract and semi-abstract forms.  Fascinated with the possibilities of different techniques and media, he constantly experimented with style and materials.

He first met Dylan Thomas in 1932 through their mutual friend composer Dan Jones, and two years later Janes and Thomas shared a flat with Mervyn Levy in Earls Court, London.  In 1936 he settled again in Swansea, teaching part-time at the School of Art and Crafts, and painting a series of still-life pictures.  That July he drove Dylan to Laugharne to visit Caitlin McNamara, on the occasion when Dylan got into a brawl with Augustus John outside a Carmarthen pub.

During the Second World War Janes served in the Pioneer Corps, being posted to Egypt, where he worked for two-and-a-half years in a prisoner-of-war camp.  There he learned Italian, befriending some of the Italian prisoners – friendships which continued long after the war.  While on leave in 1940 he married Mary Ross, who like Dylan had acted with Swansea Little Theatre, and they had a son and a daughter.  During those war years he did no painting, but produced a series of drawings of army colleagues. 

After the war he returned to Swansea to resume painting and teaching at the School of Art and Crafts, painting portraits of Vernon Watkins and Daniel Jones.  Janes took part in the 1949 BBC Radio programme “Swansea and the Arts”, recorded in the Grove in the Uplands, along with Dylan Thomas, Daniel Jones, Vernon Watkins and writer John Pritchard, with their photos featured on the cover of the “Radio Times”.  Four years later he and Mary settled at Nicholaston Hall in Gower, where he used the barn for his studio, and embarked on a series of experimental works using sand, various oils and hardboard.

In 1963 they moved to London when he accepted a teaching post at Croydon College of Art, living opposite the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the oldest public art gallery in the country, which had opened in 1817.  Alfred Janes died in 1999 and was buried in St Andrew’s churchyard, Penrice, with the centenary of his birth marked by an exhibition in Cardiff’s Oriel Kooywood Gallery in 2011.  He described himself as “a maker of pictures, rather than a painter”, and said "I concentrate on the craft, and if what comes out is art, that's a bonus.” 

Alfred Janes was a meticulous and painstaking artist, collections of whose work are in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, Newport Art Gallery, Swansea University, and the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, as well as in the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery.

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