Llwynypia

Ystrad Stories
Llwynypia, Ernest Zobole, c1953

Llwynypia, Ernest Zobole, c1953

Ernie Zobole and the Square

Author: Rob Cullen

Written in response to ‘Llwynypia’ Ernest Zobole, (c1953)
Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru – National Museum of Wales

In the beginning there was no square it was just a tram stop. Later on there was a “zebra crossing” on Partridge Square. There were no zebras. The tips overlooking Ynyscynon and Pontrhondda stood higher than the houses. A street lamp stood in the centre of a square that was never a square. The old tin shed Saint Cynon’s Church on one corner never stood on the corner of the square that was never a square. And some people of the square were strangers to reality too. Old man Christmas, a foundling left at the workhouse door that loomed over the square was given a job, lived and died in the place he’d been found that became a hospital. Hospitable. Poor mad Mansel stood directing traffic until he caused too many accidents and was taken away. “Nancy” boy Lewis 6 foot 6 inches and size 6 shoes. A retired copper of a gay persuasion ran the grocery shop on one corner and wrong changed you with a smile. Jack Fish the betting office next door with its black and white sign for dog biscuits on the pine end wall and opaque windows preventing wives looking in to see their husbands laying bets with the milk money. Prim and proper Owen’s Grocers on the other corner and everything weighed to the exact ounce by the thin hands of Deunwen. And the mock Chinese pagoda bus shelter complete with ladies and gents toilets absent too. A square named after a bird that nobody had ever seen on a square that was never a square. In reality a legendary provocation to the tyranny of perspective.

Some Trees and Snow

Ystrad Stories
Some Trees and Snow, Ernest Zobole, 1978

Some Trees and Snow, Ernest Zobole, 1978

Picture Story

Author: Vera Button

Written in response to ‘Some Trees and Snow’ Ernest Zobole, (1978)
Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru – National Museum of Wales

The picture of the train with mountains rising up from it, reminded me of when we traveled with a circus in South Africa and all the artistes lived on the train. Our wagon was always at the back of the train and it was very old, wooden and had a balcony at the rear, a bit like the old westerns era type.  Our family had one half of one wagon which consisted of three whole compartments and a half, plus the ‘luggage’ racks area which became part of the kitchen. Many of the places we visited were named after the beautiful areas of Scotland, England and Wales and they really did look like them. They were probably named by people from those areas in the first place.

Once, when we were going through the Drakensburg Mountains, we had fabulous vistas and scenery to take your breath away. Sometimes we had two engines on the front and the whole train would be linked, and as it was almost a mile long we’d be able to see the rest of it when on the bends and climbing. Once, it became too much for the engines, so they stopped, and uncoupled our wagons, leaving us parked on the side of the mountain until an engine could be sent back to ‘rescue’ us! Zobole’s picture reminded me of this episode.

We had many exciting adventures including a train crash in the Kruger National Park and amazingly, this painting revived many of them.

Some Trees and Snow

Author: Rob Cullen

Written in response to ‘Some Trees and Snow’ Ernest Zobole, (1978)
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The painting is of an Ystrad, Rhondda night time view. And beneath the puffed white clouded sky the tree bloomed slopes of Glyncornel covered in snow is dissected by the New Road and studded by the orange reflection of neon on the white road and the elm trees planted at regular intervals. An old style green train runs like a long spangled snake along the valley floor. It could be going or coming to Cardiff. Or to and from the outside world. Each compartment is lit with the yellow glow of night time. Imaginations realm. Maybe it’s a dreamscape made unreal.

Between the road and the railway the river flows. The river is not shown but hidden by the suggestion of slag heaps. The valley floor is wide here. Once river meadows stretched from Ystrad to Pontrhondda and fields of hay, wheat and barley were grown. When I was a child between the river and the road the tumbled down stone walls still marked the outline of the Lilly White, an old mill. A mill race that still flowed deep and still. A place we dared each other to wade. Our shorts rolled as high as they could go. In the fluid murk, water-scorpions fed on tadpoles and dragon fly nymphs prayed on our toes.

But where did Ernie play as a child? Maybe the Lamb Woods in Bodringallt. Maybe always on the outside looking in. Always standing at the doorway as if he is neither here nor there. Maybe he plays in dream.

Landscape at Night with Woman at Window

Ystrad Stories
Landscape at Night with Woman at Window Ernest Zobole 1980s

Landscape at Night with Woman at Window Ernest Zobole 1980s

Innocents and Accidents

Author: Carrie Francis

Written in response to Ernest Zobole, ‘Landscape at Night with Woman at Window’ (1980’s).
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

The harvest Moon of autumn is a constant, distant, yet familiar friend. Her only friend. It wasn’t as though his human counterparts hadn’t offered, but there were times when Old Man Moon was the only company she desired, because he showed her things the people of the valley couldn’t.

It was these nights she sat in her bedroom window, curtains wide open and Old Man Moon blinked his greeting before lighting up the streets and mountains. Houses and trees glow ethereally in his beams, and one by one, the Innocents begin to materialise from the gloom, their forms glowing with pure light, walking the streets hand in hand, side by side or chasing one another. They are untarnished, and will remain so.

Then the Accidents emerge from the shadows to join them, walking slowly, limping.

Figures of all shapes, size and age, they stroll alongside the Innocents in the beams of Old Man Moon, their soot black forms a stark contrast. They are welcomed, for they are all friends, and only they can touch each other. Innocents of small stature leap into the arms of many an Accident, greeted with a long forgotten kiss.

As she fingers the curtains, she can see her husband and son greeting one another, both Accidents, covered from head to toe in coal dust. It had been six months since they were both killed down the mine, and here Old Man Moon offered her a way to see them again, painless and free.

Looking Out of Window in Winter

Ystrad Stories
Looking Out of Window in Winter Ernest Zobole (1980s)

Looking Out of Window in Winter Ernest Zobole (1980s)

Is It Safe?

Author: Carrie Francis

Written in response to Ernest Zobole, ‘Looking Out of Window in Winter’ (1980s)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

It doesn’t feel particularly sturdy, and whilst I could just take off and leave it at that, Mama assures me it’s safe and actually rather fun. The white stuff crunches even under my meagre weight, the tips of my wings brushing the surface as I attempt to steady myself. Flapping wings sound above me and I see Mama landing next to me.

‘You’re still worrying about it? Just go already!’

‘Are you sure this is safe?’

‘I do it every time the white stuff comes, and so does everyone here. It’s perfectly safe!’

I look around to see my friends and siblings all doing it, black feathers racing down the white slope, and they are cawing and cackling with laughter. Surely it cannot be that much fun? They’re throwing themselves down the slope, they could hurt themselves, but they keep coming back for more! The cold must be getting to them!

By the time I realise Mama has pushed me, I am sliding face-first, screaming. Cold air rushes past me and I am at the edge, heading straight towards a large pile of the white stuff behind the humans’ nest. A sibling allows herself to crash into it but I stop myself just short, flapping my wings furiously. It takes a moment to recognise the euphoria coursing through me, even longer to realise I had gone back to try again.

My own laughter joins the elated chorus as I merrily roll and tumble down the white stuff.

Mama is smiling.

Ystrad Rhondda

Ystrad Stories
Ystrad Rhondda Ernest Zobole 1957

Ystrad Rhondda Ernest Zobole 1957

Ystrad Rhondda

Author: Jimmy Browne

Written in response to ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ Ernest Zobole, (1957)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

It was a sunny but cold morning and the street was busy with mothers, some fathers too but mostly mothers, taking younger children to school; older children going in small groups to the big schools; and busy early morning traffic. Now they were all stopped in helpless anxiety and fear, except for those with the younger children who were shepherding them quickly away from the scene. “She just didn’t seem to see the car, just rushed out into the road. I think she was trying to catch the bus.” The woman spoke to the two police officers almost in a whisper, as if to speak louder would be somehow disrespectful to the elderly lady sprawled out in the middle of the road being given urgent treatment by the ambulance crew.

A younger, more distressed voice, came from behind me. “That’s my Nan, that’s my Nan!” I turned to see three teenage girls in school uniform. Two of them were clinging to the third who kept repeating the same words “That’s my Nan, that’s my Nan”, the words strangled by emotion and washed by tears flowing down a too white and disbelieving face. One of a second ambulance crew overheard and hurried to help the young girl, by now deeply in shock. The other crew member was treating the driver of the car that had struck the girl’s Nan; a man in his forties and as deeply in shock as the teenage schoolgirl. Next day, nearby railings covered with flowers.

Ystrad Rhondda

Author: Gerhard Kress

Written in response to ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ Ernest Zobole, (1957)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

his blue period, dark blue, no danger of being overwhelmed by bright colours. perhaps the artist Zobole doesn’t do that. all is framed by two lines that eventually, but outside the picture, are destined to meet, were it not for a tall, wooden electricity pole, forcing my eyes back where the real tension is grouped around an empty bit of street.

it’s the expectancy of people on both sides, on their opposing pavements. most of them stationary but for two women in the bottom left corner on their way to the bottom right corner. perhaps they’ll walk out of the frame not concerned with the imminent arrival of that ‘something’ that is suggested to happen without hinting at, what it may be. and then there is a woman, standing and, like the wooden pole opposite, guarding to prevent my eyes from escaping the uncomfortable tension. there is both, stillness and tension. groups of two and three is as much interaction as I detect, with the exception of a boy holding on to the skirt of a woman who herself is holding in her arms a small, blonde child.

I am looking at this painting for a long time. not for what I can see but for what isn’t there. and I’m oscillating between wanting to know about the coming event, however fleeting it might be and feeling a slight dread as to the apparent disconnectedness of the onlookers, arbitrarily meeting in this gathering. in contrast I imagine bright sunshine and smiling faces.

People Crossing – Rhondda Crossing

Ystrad Stories
People and Crossing - Rhondda Crossing Ernest Zobole c1952

People and Crossing – Rhondda Crossing Ernest Zobole c1952

Sheep

Author: Jean Bentley

Written in response to ‘People and Crossing – Rhondda Crossing’ (c1952)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

The sheep roamed the roads, don’t you know,
When I came here a long time ago.
They upset the bins
Spilt out ashes and tins
And left many a sad tale of woe.

You had to take ultimate care
To shut garden gates – for beware –
They’d chew up your plants
And trample your grass –
Your once pristine garden left bare.

In a flat where I used to reside,
The outer door had been left open wide;
I huffed disbelief
At the mutton, not beef,
That had gathered together in side.

I searched for a weapon – a broom,
This problem had left me in doom.
I prodded each one
Up the old ‘currant bun’,
Then cleaned out the foyer in gloom.

They cared not wherever they’d roam,
Down back lane or waste land they’d comb
For anything edible;
It was most incredible
How they’d always attack someone’s home.

Then one day – hip, hip, hip, hooray!
Legislation was coming our way.
The farmers were bound
To fence sheep around,
That problem has now gone away.

Sun Shining through the Hills

Ystrad Stories
Sun Shining through the Hills, Ernest Zobole, early 1980s

Sun Shining through the Hills, Ernest Zobole, early 1980s

My Story

Author: Lisa Powell

Written in response to ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ (1957) and ‘Sun Shining through the Hills’ (early 1980’s)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

As a commuter in the Rhondda Valleys for the past eight years and as an outsider I have always been fascinated by the rows of ribbons of terraced houses that shape the landscape and bring character to the area which is distinctive. Therefore, I have only ever experienced ‘the green Rhondda’ (post-coal era) where it is green again and even consists most recently of wind farms added to the landscape of upper Rhondda in particular. My two favourite paintings by Zobole look at the 1950s era showing the community life that once existed in a street scene ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ (1957) and one from the 1980s era ‘Sun Shining through the Hills’ which looks at the sunny landscape on the one side and the darker landscape the other side of the painting. These combined help me understand how since industry has gone, the area has changed in appearance as well as community aspects.  The past has a dark side where the landscape was dirty and wildlife destroyed but on the other hand work was plentiful. Today it may be greener but deprivation has led to some parts of Rhondda looking run down with shops closed and no future for young people. I therefore see Rhondda today as a mixture of both positive and negative aspects, which now characterise and have changed Rhondda both physically as well as socially. Today Rhondda has a population of predominantly commuters and sadly some young people have left to look for work elsewhere. Pubs, churches, high streets are closing and also schools even. Depopulation is the main cause of this as well as other factors. Mountain fires remind many people today of black mountains, similar to when the area was being mined which for some take people back to the ‘old’ Rhondda they once knew. Mountains scarred by the blackness, like a time machine taking us back to the past.

Figures with a Pram in a Street – Ystrad

Ystrad Stories
Figures with a Pram in a Street - Ystrad Ernest Zobole c1948-50

Figures with a Pram in a Street – Ystrad Ernest Zobole c1948-50

The School Railings

Author: Jean Bentley

Written in response to ‘Figures with a Pram in a Street – Ystrad’ Ernest Zobole, (c1948-50)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

From a distance the painting of the lower reaches on Penrhys Road with its protective railings, reminded me of the old Ynyshir Infants School which my granddaughters attended in the 1990’s. The ladies in the picture with a pram are synonymous of any infant school gates at any time during history. I recall those halcyon days when visiting my family at Ynyshir and trudging up the never-ending hill to wait by the playground railings with other mothers, fathers or, like me, grannies.

Whilst waiting for the school bell, I observed the painted hopscotch grid in one corner of the yard, and a ladder that snaked its way before, satisfying the little ones who waited for their older siblings.

The doors opened and the little ones tumbled out when the teachers saw each child’s mother. “There’s my Nanny.” Christine called running towards me. A year or two passed and Catherine was in the baby’s class and played in the hopscotch grid, or stepped on each painted rung of the wavy ladder, patiently waiting until 3:30 when the older children emerged and we plodded down the hill again. If my daughter was with us, Christine took her hand at the kerb where the lady in bright yellow held up her lollypop in the middle of the road so that we could cross safely. Catherine took my hand and we skipped along the pavement singing.

Isn’t it wonderful to be grandmother, for you can do things not dreamed of at any other time of your life – and it doesn’t matter.

Penrhys

Ystrad Stories
Penrhys, Ernest Zobole, c1951

Penrhys, Ernest Zobole, c1951

Nant y Gwyddon

Author: Bill Monington

Written in response to ‘Penrhys’ Ernest Zobole, (c1951)
Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru – National Museum of Wales

Situated on the mountainside between the Rhondda and Ogmore valleys about two hundred yards above the village of Gelli is the notorious Nant y Gwyddon landfill site.

Over years, unscrupulous dumpers have used the tip to shed all kinds of unwanted chemical waste – to the chagrin of the long suffering residents of the area who formed an action committee. ‘RANT’, engaged experts to analyze the contents, but results were treated with derision by the Local Council until two completely unconnected incidents brought a lot of publicity to the area.

Sixty year old Richard Roberts was in the area one Saturday afternoon when a bunch of young cyclists rode through the tip. Incensed, Mr. Roberts lashed out with an open hand; unfortunately he dislodged one of the groups who fell into the evil smelling mud. The lads dispersed yelling abuse. However the parents of the unseated rider decided to prosecute for assault. A couple of the London based tabloids joined with the local press in reporting the prosecution. Questions were asked, answers were unacceptable to the press who continued to report on an almost daily basis.

The other was when the Council  informed the residents that a few long established trees were to be cut down to allow a wider access entrance to the tip. Now this inflammatory move resulted in some of the protesters chaining themselves to the condemned trees, which attracted environmental attention, providing juicier stories for the press. Following the unfavourable publicity, the council closed the site.

Penrhys

Author: Rob Cullen

Written in response to ‘Penrhys’ Ernest Zobole, (c1951)
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The black spoils of Gelli Colliery heaped on the hilltop of Nant y Gwyddon dominates the landscape. Three women stand on either side of lower Penrhys Road. Three women are dressed in dark blue coats and dark hats of a certain style, of a certain age. It could be a Sunday but one has a shopping bag that looks empty. The valley sides are green. The tree growing on the side of the road is in leaf so the time of year is either late spring or early summer. And time stands still.

I consider the three women knowing that their coats will waft with the smell of camphor, of mothballs intermixed with Lilly of the Valley, and Rose scented hand soap or maybe carbolic. Memories are raised of that time of austerity when the pre-war style of clothing was still worn. And everything was gabardine. Dark brown or grey or navy. Or coats of blue or black heavy wool worn throughout the year and through the warmest of summers. There was a slowness of time.

Apart from maroon red Rhondda busses there were few cars. People walked the roads, would meet and chat or gossip in no particular hurry. It was a time of full employment – male employment – few men would be seen during the hours of the working day. But when clocking off time came they would teem and rush off the trains and busses and the village would take on another life. And then night time. That other time.

Penrhys

Author: Jimmy Browne

Written in response to ‘Penrhys’ Ernest Zobole, (c1951)
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

So many things are over-analysed and subjected to being described in official, ‘correct’ terminology these days. Well, alright, perhaps in days gone by things were sometimes too little analysed and terms used unfairly and in a hurtful way but there must be a balance to be struck somewhere. Nowadays, people don’t complain of “feeling a bit down today, that’s all”. No, its straight to the doctor for “something for depression”.

Sometimes, when a day at work left me ‘feeling a bit down’ I would give the bus a miss and walk home over Penrhys. The road up from Tylorstown is steep but there’s no law that says you can’t stop for a short rest if you feel the need. Eventually, the Rugby Club passes by on the left and the Cemetery on the right and the roundabout at the entrance to Penrhys is reached. There the joy of being able to look back down the road to the Fach and see the road ahead sloping downwards to the Fawr, is enough to begin to raise the spirits. You can even treat yourself to a little joke; “well, its really all downhill from here.”

With a new spring in your step, you can now lift your head and look across the valley below, from Tonypandy up to Treorchy. Of course you can, yes, I’m telling you, that really is the Parc and Dare you can see.

Depression, doctor’s, do me a favour, I was just feeling a bit down, that’s all.

A Painting about Myself in a Landscape

Ystrad Stories
A Painting about Myself in a Landscape Ernest Zobole 1994–1995

A Painting about Myself in a Landscape Ernest Zobole 1994–1995

 

From then to now

Author: Ann Davies

Written in response to ‘A Painting about Myself in a Landscape’ Ernest Zobole, (1994–1995)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

The dim mists of time evolve as ripples. From childhood I recall that trees would bow their branches in respect as the wind whipped the mountain sides. Below, the valley bed beckoned like a guided missile.

It was out of dusk’s dreaming lights that I noticed a man standing. He seemed lost in his own thoughts, unaware. The man stood, his arm extended to some unknown point. The man was gaunt and thin, dressed in a suit.  He turned around, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as the man vanished as quickly as he arrived.

I married and raised a family. My career and family were my life, but when my wife died I felt as though my whole world had collapsed around me. Slowly our children left.  For the first time in my life I was alone; the world seemed bare, bereft of human companionship. In retirement I felt as if I had been an alarm clock that was slowly being run down, its battery about to expire.

I was drawn back to that childhood haunt; it was like a magnet, all embracing. I had to be there.

My journey ended where it began, the light shimmered like a soft kiss on the mountainside’s surface. My spirits rose.  I could almost smell the camp fire of my childhood. I raised my hand – perhaps I could just reach out, touch and be that carefree boy again.

A forgotten memory brought to mind.

THAT man was me…

Sky walking with Ernie!

Author: Rob Cullen

Written in response to ‘A Painting about Myself in a Landscape’ (1994–1995)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

Sky walking with Ernie. What took my eye was a recognition of the similarity between some of Ernie Zobole’s paintings with Australian – so called Aboriginal – peoples use of sand paintings. I no longer interrogate the basis of such intuition. From ancient times, Australian indigenous people made a kind of aerial landscape art. It is a map-like, bird’s-eye view of the desert landscape, and it is often meant to tell a traditional dreaming story – “time out of time”. Ernie Zobole’s painting involves representations of aerial maps of the valley and the landscape of which he was entirely familiar. But they also hold a dream like quality especially when he depicts himself standing in a doorway – the entranceway – or maybe lying in a bed – (another kind of doorway into dream) looking out on a fragment of the valley map. Doorways are symbolic places of transition representing the passageway to another reality. I mused that if Ernie Zobole’s painting were akin to Australian indigenous people’s art then what would the story of the Songline sound like and what would the story of the Songline tell people about the mythic creatures of the Rhondda. Later I once again considered the painting and thought about the Mohawks “Sky Walking” when constructing sky scrapers combined with ideas involving five-dimensional space. Walking through Ynyshangarad Park, a friend who was very familiar with Ernie Zobole’s work, had considered whether the artist had outer body experiences which seems to be reflected in the aerial maps but also of his depiction of himself not only looking down at the Rhondda but of himself looking out while looking in.