Mural Painting by Ceri Thomas

Mo(u)rning over Cwmdonkin (1997-98) acrylic on board, 244 x 366 cm, by Ceri Thomas

This mural painting was produced as a result of the artist Ceri Thomas having lived at 5, Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea, in the year 1993-94. It was the first home of the poet Dylan Thomas (1914-53) who was born in October 1914, ‘when the plaster was still wet on the walls’, and who lived there until 1934. In this year, he moved to London but he regularly returned to the house until 1936, when his parents retired and sold up. He wrote his first published poetry from this house, including, for example, the great poem ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ (1933).

The trigger for the work was a decision made by Swansea council in 1994 to replace the original stone pavement outside the house with tarmac. Fearing its demise, Ceri Thomas produced a flurry of free-hand drawings and documentary photographs of the pavement and its individual slabs which eventually led to the production three years later of a series of relatively small-sized photocollages and watercolour paintings, culminating in this magnum opus. In the event, the pavement’s destruction did not happen because the artist mounted a successful petition to save this unique surface on which the young poet had played and dreamed.

The mural contains words such as ‘The Front’, a reference to the fact that Dylan ‘lived in a house with a front’ but also to World War One and the tiny Dylan’s failure to find an adult relative ‘who had gone to The Front’ when he went looking outside the front door and garden. The kerb contains a word ‘Amor’ – is it a fragment of a longer word or a complete one? It spells ‘Roma’ in reverse, a reference to the fact that the poet’s widow, Caitlin, who had moved to the eternal city after Dylan’s untimely death and died in the year when Ceri Thomas was living in the Swansea house. Other words used are ‘Weak or Strong’ which the poet repeatedly uttered at the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 – a reference to not only his teacups of string but, in the painter’s hands, to the dilemma of the Spanish Civil War as well. ‘Green and Dying’ is taken from the lines ‘Time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea’ – from another major poem, ‘Fernhill’ (1945), which Dylan completed with the cessation of World War Two’s hostilities.

The type face for all the words is taken, life-size, from the raised lettering of one of the original cast iron Cwmdonkin Drive street signs which Ceri Thomas saved from being thrown in a skip. Some of the resultant words appear as if carved in the stone surfaces, whereas others are attached to the device of red and green bunting. These two complementary colours are, of course, those of life and death and of the Welsh and Italian flags. The bunting is painted as if it has blown down and it alludes to street and community celebrations.

Tiny fragments of Kitchener’s World War One recruitment poster and Picasso’s Guernica are included and part of the knotted and dangling bunting cord is painted in a spiral hinting at the DNA double helix (the code alluding to life which was discovered in 1953, the year of the poet’s untimely death).

The overall colour scheme, only loosely based on the location’s real one, is heightened and imaginative. The cast shadows suggest the front garden wall and the house itself, their position being that which occurs in the morning – but the picture title plays with the sound of this word which could be spelt mourning.

This significant painting was admired by the poet’s daughter Aeronwy Ellis Thomas when it was first shown at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, in 1998. It was subsequently displayed in the groundbreaking ‘Pwy Ydym Ni? / What Makes Wales?’ group exhibition at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, in 2001 and at the artist’s two ‘Time + Place’ solo exhibitions of 2004-05 in the south Wales Valleys region, at Trefforest and Trehafod. Its most recent showing was in 2014, in the artist’s ‘Placing Dylan’ exhibition held at the National Waterfront Museum Swansea. This was part of the year-long DT100 Dylan Thomas Centenary programme of events.

Artist's Link: