Two young writers from the Arts Alive Wales‘ Caban Sgriblio project respond to Rebecca Chesney’s residency in the Brecon Beacons National Park.
I’m not sure where I was expecting Rebecca Chesney’s Snapshot: Colours of the Brecon Beacons exhibit to be held, but it wasn’t in a room painted with canal water!
Of course, it wasn’t literally canal water. It was a colour from Rebecca Chesney’s colour chart – number 21, Mon & Brec, “a cold colour from Monmouthshire and Brecon canal water.” Though I didn’t immediately realise it, that was the first colour I saw of Chesney’s amazing selection of 96 colours inspired by the Brecon Beacons.
To collect the colours she stayed for six weeks in the National Park, split into a week in November 2015 and two and a half weeks in January and March 2016. During this time, she went walking almost every day over the picturesque mountains, into abandoned quarries and through rolling, soft, green fields. Taking endless photographs and collecting samples, she slowly built up an enormous palette of colours she associated with her time in the Beacons.
Back to the celebration. In the centre of the room were displayed an array of photos Rebecca had taken of everything, from clear streams gleaming over dark, smooth stones, to the head of a shot fox with its tongue lolling out from between its teeth, and a sheep’s ribcage surrounded by coarse white wool. Some of the photographs were of things you wouldn’t usually think to take pictures of – things you would normally try and avoid – like rusted farm machinery, half buried in the green-cloaked ground, or a bloated sheep’s corpse caught on branches in a river, along with rubbish and plastic.
She had samples too – feathers, red-brown like rust; soft, grey fur; pressed flowers, moss, lichen, even pieces of plastic and silage wrap. All of these she had collected in the National Park, and all had contributed in some way to her final colours.
And at the end of the room, there it was. In a white frame, behind perfectly clear glass, a beautiful selection of 96 colours, culled from her experiences, ranging from the vivid “Intrepid” to “Bale twine blue” or the bright, eye-catching “Gorse flush”. Not every colour was quite so blinding – we mustn’t forget the soft grey of “Newborn lamb” or the delicate shade “Blossom of blackthorn”.
They weren’t just colours – every shade had a definition explaining where the colour came from and what it meant to Rebecca, sometimes accompanied by a fact about the Brecon Beacons. Rebecca told us that she hoped the definitions would give people a hint of the story behind each hue and that in using some of the colours, they might build up their own “snapshot”.
Rebecca Chesney made a speech once everybody was present and explained all about her residency. She thanked us all for coming and then thanked specific people for their efforts in relation to the project; we heard how a local artist guide supported her to take her to interesting places in the National Park, from farms to mine shafts.
Personally I found Rebecca’s approach fascinating and unusual. It was like she had taken a place, with all its features, wildlife, population and landscapes and boiled it down to its essence. I usually think of a place in terms of whole images, but this colour palette was something just as unique and in fact it was unique not only to the place, but to the person and time of year as well. It is a way of representing a location that I had never considered before but was just as effective and open to personal interpretation.
Rebecca Chesney’s project made me think about places and colours in an entirely new way, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Thank you Rebecca, Peak and Arts Alive Wales!
Gwernyfed High School
When I went to Arts Alive Wales to attend the Peak launch of Rebecca Chesney’s “Snapshot”, I was expecting paintings of the views or maybe abstract takes on them. Perhaps photos of the landscape and scenery, hence the name “Snapshot”?
I walked in and there was not a painting in sight. Granted there were photos, but not the ones I’d been expecting. The first image that caught my eye was a decaying sheep carcass entangled in low tree branches in a small stream, quite contrasting my expectations. Another image which I wasn’t prepared for was a tree, in a field with black plastic snared around it. When I first thought about it, I was confused about why someone would want to capture such grim sides of the Brecon Beacons, as usually sights like that would be purposely avoided in photography.
Everyone was still setting up when I arrived at the Arts Alive Wales studio. My friend Roxy was with me the whole time, examining the exhibition too. I was introduced to the artist Rebecca Chesney and to the Creative Director, Rebecca Spooner. The similar names made it rather confusing, but I managed to gain a grasp. I also gained a grasp of a large quantity of really delicious welsh cakes, but I don’t think that they were a part of the exhibition!
I picked up a grey card leaflet entitled;
Colours of the Brecon Beacons
By Rebecca Chesney
The card was quite thick and had a bumpy texture, which made a satisfying whooshing sound when I ran my thumb across the front of it. The typeface on the front was plain and black. It had a simple and rather uniform look to it.
I opened it up to see an entire spectrum of coloured squares, each with a fascinating title underneath it. Some were quite normal sounding, like white being named “Fallen Snow”. Others however were really very strange and some, rather funny. A good example of this, and one of my personal favourite titles went with a brownish red and was called “Faint Echo.” Other entertaining names were “Jelly Ear”, “Shot Fox”, “Dog’s Breath” and “King Alfred’s Cakes”.
There were 96 colours on the leaflet in total each with an interesting description. Rebecca explained during her talk that colours were not just chosen to represent appearance, but to represent all of the things that she’d found out about the Beacons in her six weeks here. Using the views of all the people she’d met and everything she’d seen, she compiled a collection of hundreds of colours and narrowed it down to 150. Finally, she picked the 96 colours which featured in “Snapshot”.
Rebecca Chesney wanted a dynamic palette of different interests, so she tried to meet as many people as possible connected to the Park. Another aspect of the exhibition was the Light Box. It was, as the name suggests a box full of light. It had a translucent top where the light glowed through. On the top were little pieces of paper with little scraps of countryside on them. There was a snip of pony hair, a clump of lichen and a yellow, pressed flower. There were also, little bits of black plastic and green litter.
It was when looking at this that I realised why such ugly parts of the country-side were being presented in “Snapshot”. It was because everything, the rusting agricultural equipment, the plastic litter and even the rotting corpses were all now part of the landscape and as revealed in the colour chart, Rebecca wanted to show everything.
The exhibition, I think gave me a new perspective on the countryside. I think that it is very original to portray the landscape in such an unusual way and it works beautifully. The final result of Rebecca Chesney’s work, I think really sums up the Beacons terrifically well and the name “Snapshot” fits perfectly.
By Amelie Williams
Gwernyfed High School
With thanks to Gwernyfed High School