Gwilym Prichard obituary
The artist Gwilym Prichard, who has died aged 84, spent a lifetime capturing the coastlines and countryside of , shunning the celebrated view and instead seeking out the secluded spot, the timeworn rock or weather-beaten cliff. Together with the figurative artist Claudia Williams, he embarked on a creative journey that spanned seven decades. The couple married in 1954 and worked alongside each other, their enduring partnership becoming the subject of several radio and television documentaries.
Gwilym’s oil paintings, gouaches, watercolours, pastels and mixed media compositions chart the career of a man who, in his own words, “did not set out to be an artist” but who invigorated British landscape painting through his particular brand of observation and understanding. “I paint the land and farms, the sea and sky because they … shaped my life,” he once said. Gwilym described his approach as emotional rather than analytical. While his earliest paintings were formal interpretations of his environment, he soon arrived at an intimate response to his subjects. Even when a finished work tended towards abstraction, he insisted it must have its foundation in reality, and that it “must not be so far removed as to have lost the first inspiration”.
The son of a village school headteacher, Hugh Pritchard, and his wife, Rhoda, Gwilym was born in Llanystumdwy, a Welsh-speaking community on the Llŷn peninsula in north Wales. It was only in 1980 that he adopted an old spelling of his family name to avoid being mistaken for another artist named “Pritchard” whose work he spotted in an exhibition catalogue.
Growing up in times of war and austerity, he never imagined art as a career option and received little encouragement in that direction until he met his future wife, whose family had moved from Surrey to the Llŷn peninsula shortly after the end of the second world war. Claudia went on to study at Chelsea School of in the early 1950s and her success emboldened Gwilym to follow her lead. “Love and art hit me at about the same time,” he was fond of recalling.
In 1953, after national service, Gwilym enrolled in a diploma course at Birmingham School of Art and then spent 11 years teaching crafts at Llangefni county secondary school in Anglesey. From 1966 until 1973 he was head of the art department at Friars school in Bangor.
In 1955 Gwilym was runner-up for the gold medal for fine art at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. Among the judges were the painters Charles Tunnicliffe and , both of whom became his friends. Gwilym’s paintings are often compared to the works of Williams, but although he acknowledged the influence Williams had on his use of the palette knife, his techniques of revealing layers of underpainting, as if to get to the very bones of the land and the rawness of the elements, were decidedly his own. “I don’t spread the paint like butter,” he declared, “I hack and jab and scratch.” His canvases are not just visualisations of feelings evoked by a place; they are painterly explorations of the medium.
In 1958, at the summer exhibition of the Royal Cambrian Academy, Gwilym was awarded a prize for his painting Anglesey Landscape, which was selected from more than 100 submissions across Britain. He was elected to the Royal Cambrian Academy the following year. From the late 1950s, he was a regular contributor to group exhibitions in England and Wales, often exhibiting alongside Claudia as well as artists including , David Jones, Ceri Richards and Williams. He staged his first solo exhibition in 1962 at the New Art Centre in London. Between 1966 and 1974, he had six solo exhibitions at Heal’s Mansard Gallery on Tottenham Court Road.
By 1973 Gwilym was working exclusively as a painter, although financial stability eluded him until his later life. During the mid-80s, when their four children were grown up, Gwilym and Claudia travelled around Europe in a camper van; what was planned as a three-month trip turned into a 16-year stay in France, where they lived in various parts of Brittany and Provence. In France, galleries and reviewers expressed a keen interest in his paintings of those regions. The “vigorous and geometric structures” of his landscapes struck one critic as “very Cézanne-like”.
In 1992, Gwilym and Claudia co-founded the Rochefort School of Creative Arts in Brittany, where students were offered classes in life drawing, watercolour and sculpture. Three years later, both artists were awarded the silver medal by the Academy of Arts, Sciences and Letters in Paris.
To be closer to their grandchildren, the couple left France in 2000 and settled in Tenby in south-west Wales. In recent years, operations and treatment for cancer slowed down Gwilym’s work, but he continued to paint until the final months of his life. Asked whether he had ever had to wait for artistic inspiration, he replied: “If you’ve got to wait, you may be waiting a lifetime. It may never come.”
He is survived by Claudia and by their four children, Ceri, Ben, Justin and Clare.
• Gwilym Arifor Prichard, artist, born 4 March 1931; died 7 June 2015