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Last Updated: Friday, 1 September 2006, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Artist's 'library of sensations'
By Betsan Powys
Arts and media correspondent, BBC Wales

Kyffin Williams
Sir Kyffin said he was inspired by the landscape of north Wales
Artist Kyffin Williams said he spent a lifetime responding to the landscape and the people of the area he grew up.

Born in Llangefni in 1918 he said the mountains of Snowdonia he saw over the Menai Straits "must have leaked into me".

This had left him with a "library of sensations" he said.

Sir Kyffin was a Royal Academician and Honorary Fellow of the University of Wales Colleges, Swansea, Bangor and Aberystwyth - he was knighted in 1999.

As a young man his dream of becoming a soldier was dashed because of his epilepsy.

Unsure where to go next, he was advised by his doctor to take up art and scraped into the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

I paint for kicks rather like Van Gogh painted for kicks, excitement
Sir Kyffin Williams

In 1944 he became a teacher at Highgate School in London where he remained until 1973 by which time he was an artist of great renown.

Conscious that he had less and less time to paint, Sir Kyffin had set himself a target of completing two paintings a week while at Highgate - a rate that he kept up for a lifetime.

His subject matter never strayed far from the landscape where his family had been for generations.

A life dedicated to his landscape and his people

"I never had to think what shall I paint" he once said. "I don't think how I should paint it.

"The whole thing to me somehow is far too natural a thing. It is there and I am the vehicle for expressing it."

Sir Kyffin was, by his own admission, an obsessive and a pessimist whose turbulent inner life was reflected in the heavy oils he applied with a palette knife and in the sombre mountains that he painted.

Some criticised him for using too much black in his work.

But that, he said, was how he saw things.

A Sir Kyffin Williams landscape - photo: Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw
His work fetches thousands of pounds at auction

"I paint for kicks rather like Van Gogh painted for kicks - excitement. Maybe if you're an epileptic you crave excitement.

"And I wanted the excitement of a strong dark against the bright light. It does something for me like other people take alcohol".

'Last canvas'

He claimed to have no idea why people were prepared to pay tens of thousands of pounds for his work.

One oil painting - A Hill Farmer and his Dog - was sold for 48,000 at an auction in May this year.

Kyffin Williams said he always had a horror of having to stop painting his "cynefin" - his own patch of North Wales.

"I sometimes feel the last canvas I have covered is the last canvass I will ever cover" he told the BBC in 1999 but then I go and paint another one and so it goes on".

But he died aged 88 leaving not just a lifetime of paintings but a life dedicated to his landscape and his people.




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