Jason Portt: Cwm.

2 Oct 2014 – 19 Oct 2014

Event times

12.30 - 5.30. Wed - Sat

Cost of entry



Cardiff, United Kingdom


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Jason Portt grew up in Ystrad in the Rhondda. He now lives in the Rhymney Valley but still loves to return to his place of birth, to paint the secret places which very few people know about.


Portt remembers the Rhondda when it was a scabby grey sort of place but has seen it grass over and become beautiful, hiding its decades of industrial ravagement under a green cloak that almost seems to have been there forever. But it's a fragile kind of beauty, frayed around the edges by unemployment and decay, blotted by dumping and tawdry new commercial developments, threatened by the looming possibilities of fracking. So Jason goes up into the hills to paint the secret places, getting it down with muscular slabs of paint which look about ready to resist anything. By day he is a security guard in the Queens Arcade shopping centre. There is no work locally so for the last fourteen years he has been travelling to Cardiff to earn his bread and he is proud to think of himself as a working man as well as a self-taught artist. Until recently not many people knew about his activity as a painter, although Jason has received great encouragement and inspiration from another self-taught artist, Mike Jones, who, in turn, in his own early days was encouraged by Josef Herman, with whose paintings the walls of his house are covered. There is a line, then, of support running through the years, based around that old ethic of working-class solidarity and mutual support. For Jason, as artist, what matters is to get up into the hills and to paint and draw on the spot, letting the weather and the stones dictate gestures and marks, letting the painting happen, riding the feedback loop of surprise. Sometimes the work has an almost monumental quality, tough, craggy, elemental, reminiscent of Kyffin Williams, one of Jason's heroes (along with William Selwyn and Will Roberts). Technique can be very subtle, often improvisatory, slabby paint letting chinks of washed ground show through, swift ink sketches, fluid, scratchy. Whatever the subject — rocks, fields, waterfalls, cows and the people who look after them, terrace-edges where the hills suddenly reveal themselves, chapels slowly crumbling into eerie and mysterious dereliction, they all seem made from the same elemental material. There are, perhaps, points where Jason's work as a security guard feeds into his art. Years of observing the behavior of people in the shopping centre, weighing them up, speculating on their moods and intentions, have given him a feel for the nuances of gesture and movement by which people unconsciously reveal their quirks of character and motivation. This can be seen sometimes in the economy of treatment with which Jason makes his human figures — often ordinary working people of the valleys — come alive, though many of them are portraits from memory. Under the formality of the security guard's uniform, then, beats the heart of the painter, with its passion for the wild upland spaces and the people and buildings of quite another place than the one he finds himself in five days a week. A very different kind of space, and a different kind of self, although, perhaps, not so different. The fortuitous intersection with Arcadecardiff in his place of work has enabled Jason to bring together these two divergent aspects of his personality, revealing that more hidden part to the scrutiny of strangers for the first time.

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