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Artist documents last coal miners in South Wales
Hilary visited a drift mine in the Upper Swansea Valley to document these workingmen and the landscape and culture that surround them. © Hillary Powell.

SWANSEA.- Artist Hillary Powell has captured images of some of the last coal miners of South Wales in a series of prints being exhibited at The Welfare Ystradgynlais from 29th July – 23rd August 2016.

Hilary visited a drift mine in the Upper Swansea Valley to document these workingmen and the landscape and culture that surround them.

The title of the exhibition ‘Farewell Rock’ is the name for the band of sandstone that lies below the coal measures. Once reached it signals ‘a farewell to riches’ and the end of coal – fitting as the last open cast mines in the region are mothballed and the colliery faces an uncertain future.

The exhibited work was produced through the biannual Josef Herman Art Foundation Cymru (JHAFC) Print Residency at the prestigious Curwen Studio. The JHAFC was established in Ystradgynlais 15 years ago to honour the life and work of Polish émigré artist Josef Herman who settled in the mining town of Ystradgynlais from 1944 – 1955 and portrayed the life of the place and the people in his work. Herman’s journals called ‘Notes from a Welsh Diary’ were a starting point for Hilary Powell to examine the very different contemporary landscape of industrial decline and recovery.

When a miner is injured the presence of coal dust in the wound creates blue scars. They call it ‘being mapped.’ The portraits produced by Hilary Powell are also maps – layered coalfaces produced through the processes of stone and offset lithography and printed using coal dust - an apt method for a project built on how a carboniferous collision of geology continues to form and scar a land and people.

The exhibition was opened at The Welfare Ystradgynlais by Mr Wayne Thomas, the official representative of the National Union of Miners in South Wales, who said of the project:

"It is extremely important that we celebrate our History and Heritage and I believe that the artist, Hilary Powell, has done so with this project. Not only capturing images of modern day Coal Miners but also reminding us of what our communities used to be like, when the likes of the artist Josef Herman walked our streets."

This exhibition is part of ‘Taking Part’ a Josef Herman Art Foundation Cymru project funded by Arts Council Wales and Powys Welsh Church Act through the Community Foundation in Wales and with support from The Curwen Studio, The Welfare - Ystradgynlais and Josef Herman Art Foundation Cymru.

Hilary Powell is an artist making work that leaps across media and demolition sites, in and out of scrap yards and academia in its investigation of change, transformation and construction/destruction (of atmospheres, sites, materials and visions). Her recent practice involves collaborative acts of making from a public production line making a pop-up book now collected by V&A, Poetry Library and MoMA to recent experiments with ‘urban alchemy’ putting reclaimed industrial materials to use by reimagining traditional print techniques. From hidden histories to forgotten techniques, the core of her practice is imaginative salvage, placing value on the overlooked and seemingly mundane and highlighting and creating the extraordinary in the every day.

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