The Absence of Kyffin Williams

It is five years ago today that Sir Kyffin Williams passed away and the great artist is missed almost as much as he is admired.

He ranks alongside the poet RS Thomas and the splendid travel chronicler Jan Morris as an example of a Welsh person who was an absolute master of a craft but also an individual with little time for conformity.

His austere landscapes portrayed a Wales that might be storm-battered but was in no danger of being blown away. The ancient hills and mountains will outlast the crazes, fears and fashions of the individuals that might scamper across these ranges.

Although he was a stylist of the highest order who could also paint fast, he dismissed as “junk art” modern works which were not rooted in the core skills of draughtsmanship.

Just as RS Thomas was happy to embrace his many contrarian streaks, he had no fear of standing away from the crowd. Sir Kyffin, a son of Anglesey, roamed across Venice, drank in its marvels, turned his brush on this most-painted city and found fresh beauty amid its bridges, churches and canals; he was a Welshman unafraid to focus his gaze on the world.

It is fascinating to ask what the likes of Sir Kyffin and RST might have made of the March 3 referendum and delivery of powers from one end of the M4 to the other. But we could use such individuals of talent and independence in our politics.

Solidarity is one of the greatest Welsh values and the efforts to create prototype health services in the Valleys before the dawn of the welfare state were more revolutionary than any idea discussed at the time in Bloomsbury. Workers crafted the change they wanted to see and transformed the political imagination.

But solidarity is a very different principle to safety in numbers. We need people of formidable, world-class insight who are prepared to step away from the crowd, question conventional wisdom, and blaze their own lonely trails if needs be.

Politics will always attract eccentrics but to find an individual of true perception and courage is harder. Party selection processes are not designed to favour the grumpy iconoclast who is happier breaking taboos than obeying whips.

Yet, with just 60 AMs and 40 MPs, there is a need to find room for people who will snort at “junk politics”, who understand law, legislation and economics (political draughtsmanship, you could call it) but also burn with a mature vision for Wales and the wider world. Then, this new political generation which has been blessed with the broad palette of devolution could be driven to create a masterpiece.

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