Sir Kyffin Williams or as I knew him Kyffin, was the first welsh artist that I asked to take part in the Welsh Arts Archive project, when I started again after some thirty years in photojournalism. I photographed him at his home, at the National Library and the Albany Gallery in Cardiff. His support and friendship were fundamental. I returned many times to his cottage on the Menai Straits near Llanfair P.G. When asked if he would give me a list of six artists I should photograph for posterity, it was no problem. Top of Kyffin’s list was Will Roberts of Neath. The best artist in “South” Wales was his reply. There are many stories from my visits, so here are just two. A good friend of Kyffin was the sculptor Ivor Roberts Jones who produced the statue of Winston Churchill on Parliament Green, at the time Kyffin was President of the Royal Academy. When visiting Kyffin’s studio he would comment on the painting Kyffin was working on, searching thgh the stacked canvases around the walls, would find one and say, this is what you should be doing. On Ivor’s death his widow gave Kyffin a small bust of himself; he kept it on his writing desk, where I photographed them together.
R.S.Thomas turned down a request by the portrait artist Peter Edwards however his second wife commissioned Kyffin to paint him. Kyffin asked me! “ how shall I do it?” draw him quickly was my reply. On my next visit he placed three pencil drawings on the floor, two with a colour wash and one just pencil and that was the one used at his retrospective exhibition at the National Library. The oil portrait was still on the easel in the studio. R.S’s wispy white hair was battleship grey. Has his wife seen it I asked, not wishing to comment. She couldn’t stop laughing he said.
Images: Bernard Mitchell