A tribute to the artist Osi Rhys Osmond who died this week
Despite it being expected after seeing him for the last time on the afternoon of his death, the message that came from his wife, Hilary; ‘The Hawk has flown’ was a difficult one to accept. This was a man so full of life, energy, interest and wit, who had now left our world.
Over a long period of time, I was lucky to have Osi’s company often; always these occasions were interesting and educational. In the narrow alleyways of Venice he always had interesting and useful information about where to go, what to see; which exhibition, which art collection, which building. I had the pleasure of giving joint lectures with him, and it was always difficult following Osi who could talk without notes but with deep understanding and knowledge for easily an hour. I was privileged to stand in front of TV cameras with him on several occasions, always aware that he would look better than I did on screen.
He was excellent at opening exhibitions of my work, and his speeches were characteristically effusive, sometimes I wished he would temper the palpable enthusiasm expressed. He was like a preacher going into ‘hwyl’, each sentence he spoke engendering another, even more expressive sentence, building into an oration that was simply wonderful to listen to, so long as you forgot that you were the recipient of such a hugely generous summation. He referred to my work in the ‘Field-notes’ exhibition in 2011 for example, as being akin to ‘Crampons on the slope of a slippery culture’, which is exactly how I would want my work to be seen. Another one of his many memorable aphorisms is that of ‘Cultural Alzheimer’s’ where he compared the way we ‘forget’ the recent mining history of Wales as easily as the grass grows over the flattened slag heaps, and as his own father’s mind lost it’s bearings in the ‘re-developed’ landscape and under the cloud of onsetting Alzheimer’s, no longer recognizing his own home.
In recent weeks I had the pleasure of working with Osi on a book ‘Encounters with Osi’ that will be launched on May 1st, published by The H’mm Foundation. Although he won’t see the book, he had been able to read the forty or so texts written by friends, family and colleagues that were sent to me. It is not everyone who gets to read his or her own tributes and obituaries, but then Osi was always unique. Many images of his work will also grace the book.
Osi was a wonderful artist of course, and one with a moral and political expression. But he was much more than this. He was an influential teacher, a knowledgeable and charismatic lecturer, a performer who could present television shows and host many different kinds of public events with panache. He could write essays and reviews with great insight, intelligence and wit, full of original observations. He was an ‘activist’; for Plaid Cymru, for the CND and other peace movements, encouraging people to join in the ‘struggle’ against militarisation and the suffering caused by man’s inhumanity to man. He visited parts of the world where he was witness, through art and words, to the results of man’s warlike nature, in Gaza, the Sudan and similar places. He was a person who not only ‘talked the talk’ (although he was very good at that) but a man who also ‘walked the walk’ in everything, art, life and political conviction.
Throughout his life (a life fully lived) he has been an inspiration to numberless people in Wales and beyond. He taught us how to live, and through the hard won extra years of his life after the diagnosis of terminal cancer, he has shown us how to go out of this world with courage and grace.
Beyond this he was a priceless and true friend, but more than this, he was a loving husband, father and grandfather. His relationship with his wife Hilary is a testament to the harmonious bond that is, sometimes possible between two people. Condolences to all his family.
His paintings of ‘The Hawk and Helicopter’ above the Towy estuary, near his home in Llansteffan, will continue to bear witness to his skills as an artist, and to his commitment to the ‘cause’