'One of the fascinations of a self-portrait is the opportunity it gives to people to sum up the personality of the artist. Conclusions would seldom be accurate but it is a game for everyone to play.’
Kyffin Williams was born on Anglesey in 1918. This self-portrait dates from 1954, when he was in his mid-thirties. He delineates his cascading hair, a broad, straggling moustache, strongly arched eyebrows and large, shadowed eyes, with sensuous precision. His apprehensive, introverted look also seems to reveal a resolute, independent temperament, one bolstered by the ‘limitless energy’ he says he has been blessed with.
His dark, lustrous hair and the light shining out from his brooding features, are evoked through subtle chiaroscuro. His undisciplined hair and his jacket and sweater combine to give a slightly non-conformist countryman’s look. The drawing of his shoulders – when abstracted from the rest of the picture – itself takes on an almost landscape appearance, that could be likened to that of low-lying hills.
Such an association of landscape with features is also revealed in William’s comments made in 1998. Asked, ‘are your sketches of the Welsh mountains… self-portraits?’, Williams replied, ‘Possibly. I am a melancholic character and although people don’t think so because I make them laugh, I prefer the dark mountains and the melancholy of the clouds. There’s more apprehension in the mountains during a storm.’
Williams is best known for his tempestuous Welsh landscapes and seascapes, full of what he calls ‘northern angst’, their weighty textures applied directly with the palette knife. In 1996, a book of Portraits of indomitable Welsh characters was published, bringing this constant but relatively hidden side of his work to the fore. A 1992 self-portrait is a wry, sober self-reckoning, delighting in describing jowly flesh, a flourishing moustache, the forelock now extensively grey, and a bulky jacket like a bare mountainside. This picture occasioned the following thoughts:
‘I have painted many self-portraits but I have kept few for it is not easy to paint oneself in a mirror as it is to paint someone else. This self-portrait is a simple statement of what I saw before me, for I believe it is difficult enough to do that without trying to imbue oneself with distinction, dignity, romance, strength of character or with a hint of psychological interest.
One of the fascinations of a self-portrait is the opportunity it gives to people to sum up the personality of the artist. Conclusions would seldom be accurate but it is a game for everyone to play.’