Jonathan Brooks-Jones reveals the latest developments in the career of one of Wales’ most eclectic and quirky artists
Multidisciplinary artist Bedwyr Williams has been chosen to represent Wales at the 55th Venice Biennale 2013 International Art Exhibition, which opens in June next year. The project is jointly curated by Oriel Mostyn in Llandudno and Oriel Davies in Newtown, and supported by the Arts Council of Wales. Williams’ work includes performance, sculpture, painting, posters, photography and, increasingly, stand-up.
The 37-year-old artist was born in St Asaph and now lives in Caernarfon. His comedic and poetic live performances and installations deal with Welshness, otherness and difference. In the past he has assumed different personas in his work – a one-eyed preacher, a Grim Reaper and Count Pollen. “I’m interested in worst case scenarios and the people that get caught up in them,” he says.
The artist’s work often draws upon the quirky banalities of his own autobiographic existence to develop his sculptures and performances. His work merges art and life with an idiosyncratic twist that is instantaneously sympathetic and relational. The Arts Director with the Arts Council of Wales, David Alston, says:
“His take on the world is worked from situations and experiences which are profoundly and superficially a part of his make-up and heritage – the two are inseparable for Williams”.
His piece at the Becks Futures Show at the ICA in London in 2006 drew on his experience of growing up in Colwyn Bay with size 13 feet, and the problem of ‘shoe availability’. He constructed a shoe shop, with the plea, “Before you judge me, walk a mile in my shoes”. Another piece depicted a mini bus crash with four other artists in residence, in which he is the only survivor.
Bedwyr Williams’ work featured in the opening show of the new and refurbished Mostyn. Last year he created a memorable installation in Newtown’s Oriel Davies of Nimrod, a piece first shown at the Ceri Hand Gallery in Liverpool. Ceri Hand Gallery, which has now moved to London, will be launching a new solo show by the artist in their new gallery, during Frieze arts fair in October. His work was also included in recent exhibitions in Turin, Paris and Bonn. In 2011 he took part in the internationally acclaimed biennale of new visual art and performance, Performa 11, held in New York.
That year he also won the Gold Medal for Fine Art for his collection of visual artworks at the Wrexham National Eisteddfod which featured a pair of carved wellington boots stuffed with straw, a photograph of a farmer gazing up a mountain road, and a makeover of the cover of a smallholder’s publication. Selector, Steffan Jones-Hughes, said,
“At once Bedwyr Williams is mixing the traditional and contemporary in a way that needs no prior knowledge of art history or over contextualised clap-trap. It is right that an artist of his stature and a major player in contemporary British art is recognised by the National Eisteddfod of Wales at this time. A Welsh artist based in Wales, making work that is about Welshness.”
Bedwyr Williams is a fitting choice for a challenging contemporary art arena such as the Venice Biennale. Bedwyr Williams was awarded an artist placement commission by Cywaith Cymru Artworks Wales during the 2005. This took place alongside the official exhibition as a complementary add-on. This led on to a book and presentation on BASTA, Italian for ‘That’s Enough!’ BASTA was a rueful and wry reflection on the homesickness of the artist in residence.
Bedwyr Williams’ exhibition in Venice will be shown in the Ludoteca, midway between the critical exhibition sites for the Biennale of the Giardini and the Arsenale. This is the second time Wales has shown at the Ludoteca.
Wales’s presence at Venice has been a vital part of the artistic calendar ever since the country first burst onto the International Biennale’s scene in 2003 with the exhibition Further. Since then the Biennale has provided a superb platform for visual art from Wales, strengthening its presence on the international stage and reflecting back into Wales through exhibition tours and related initiatives such as internships, the Invigilator Plus programme, educational resources and talks.