In The Studio: Bedwyr Williams, painter
'I admire artists who work provincially. It takes a lot'
Friday 03 May 2013
Bedwyr Williams demonstrates the strength he had to muster to load up the three floor sections of his studio on to his van. His eyes bulge, and he looks like Britain's Strongest Man – certainly a formidable performance artist: "I had to pull these with superhuman strength."
He tells me he bought the shed, formerly a workshop, from a divorcée in Manchester, and transported it to the backyard of his house in the small town of Rhostryfan, near Bangor, north Wales. "I could not ask her to help, as the £500 that I paid her did not include danger money for her hands." It might have been reasonably priced but it is well lit, as Williams has installed sky lights, and is now a comfortable space in which to sit and talk about Williams's plans for his exhibition at the forthcoming Venice Biennale, where he will be representing Wales.
Born in 1974 in north Wales, Williams trained at Central St Martins, London, and after several European residencies, settled in London for a few years before returning to the valleys of Wales in 2000. His new shed has enabled him to get away from the distractions of his home where he lives with his partner, Ffion, a television producer and their two small children. Williams admits to not knowing what is going on in London. "I admire artists who work provincially. It takes a lot. It is all very well saying the internet keeps you in touch but it doesn't."
Like many contemporary artists, Williams does not have a traditional studio practice. Although applying to St Martins as a painter, he soon discovered that "my paintings were self-portraits of me as an artist. But I found that the presentation of my work to my tutors really overshadowed the rest". He began turning increasingly towards performance work, often comedic in nature. He recalls a show at Frieze art fair: "We made a curator out of gingerbread and I performed an autopsy and then they [the art world] ate it all. Tim Marlow (broadcaster and director at White Cube) ate the genitals almost immediately."
Williams has few regrets about returning to Wales. His children are growing up to be bi-lingual, learning English now as they speak Welsh at home. He was recently made an official druid. "An honour," he says "usually bestowed only to poets and musicians." He shows me a picture of the ceremony, with him, wearing the traditional robes, holding the hands of his wide-eyed children. "I had to give the robe back," he admits, "but my mother made me another. She makes all my costumes and hats, she made me my grim reaper suit."
For Venice, Williams has devised a site-specific experiential installation that encompasses film, sound and objects – alongside a complicated architectural build-out. There will be darkness and light, the sound of crickets and hopefully not a grim reaper in sight.
Bedwyr Williams represents Wales in the 55th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (labiennale.org/en) 1 June to 24 November
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