GEORGE CHAPMAN (1908-1993)
Across the Valley
George Chapman was a painter and printmaker. He was born in West Ham in London and attended Shebbears College in Devon where his profound deafness hindered his education. In 1924 he went to Gravesend School of Art. He joined Crawfords in 1928 to train as a commercial designer and in the 1930’s worked on numerous advertising campaigns for Jack Beddington at Shell-Mex and London Transport, working with Graham Sutherland, John Nash, John Piper, Barnett Freedman and John Betjeman. In 1934 he gave up his career in graphic design to become a painter – first as a student at the Slade and then at the Royal College of Art. He studied painting under Gilbert Spencer.
Art Gallery in 1966.
Charlotte Bawden, Michael and Duffy Rothenstein, John Aldridge, Bernard Cheese, Kenneth Rowntree and Marianne Straub. He took part in their ‘Open House’ Exhibitions and his work went through a period of experimentation and development.
From 1953 Chapman rented a studio in the Rhondda. Many artists were drawn to Wales, in search of the picturesque, the sublime, the romantic and pastoral, but hardly ever to depict the effects of industrialism. Chapman had his first one-man show at the Piccadilly Gallery in 1956, the same year that the “Kitchen Sink” realists, Derrick Greaves, Edward Middleditch, Jack Smith and John Bratby were chosen to represent Britain in the Venice Biennial. Chapman shared the radical left-wing politics of these artists and found in the Rhondda Valley the inspiration that Greaves and Middleditch had found in the industrial landscapes of Sheffield and which L.S. Lowry had found in Salford.
“His depictions of the Rhondda are a record of a particular place and time, not a topographical record, but a mood inspired by the character of that place – a record of the people of the mining communities and their homes. The people who inhabit this harsh environment are depicted with genuine affection, they are an integral part of its make-up. Observed as they go about their daily routine, the women hang out the washing or totter with a heavy shopping bag, the children play with scooters and hoops in the street, the old men gossip on a bench, feed the pigeons and, on occasion, are caught popping to the Gents. ‘I love it all with a deep sense of gratitude’, Chapman wrote (The Independent, 3 November 1993, Robert K Meyrick).
Chapman was a committed socialist and his sympathies remained with the working class. In the 1930’s he had witnessed large-scale unemployment and poverty. However, he said “My job as an artist is to make things as they are. Providing I do my job properly, the social comment, if such a thing is needed, will come over itself”. Therefore he avoided sentimentality or monumentalisation.
In 1957 he was awarded the Gold Medal for Fine Art at the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales and in 1960 St. George’s Gallery Prints published the Rhondda Suite of etchings, “among the most important prints ever to concern themselves with the industrial landscape of Wales” (Robert K. Meyrick0
During the 1960’s the art market shifted its attention to Pop Art and abstract painting and this caused Chapman to lose confidence in his work. In 1964 he moved to Aberaeron, gave up painting and severed his connections with galleries. Later, he returned to Rhondda in 1980 with a painting commission and this sparked a new fervour and confidence. He had a one-man show at the Reynolds Gallery, Plymouth in 1981 which was opened by Huw Weldon. He continued to paint the Rhondda until his death – the paintings still focused on the relationship between people and their environment and how they adapt to social change.
Chapman executed his first prints in Michael Rothenstein’s studio at Great Bardfield. The earliest plates are of Pennant in Cardiganshire where his friends kept a cottage and of his wife, Kate, pregnant. From 1953 the Rhondda and other coal-mining areas in Wales were depicted. The Rhondda Suite was commissioned in 1960 by the Hon. Robert Erskine for St. George’s Gallery Prints in Cork Street, London. “They are undoubtedly among the most important prints ever made depicting Wales and its industrial landscape” (Aberystwyth University)
The Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden has a collection of Chapman’s work
During the Second World War Chapman taught at Worcester School of Art. He was exempt from active service due to his deafness. He went back to Advertising in 1945, working for Beddington at Prentice, Colman and Varley. In 1947 he married Kate Ablett, whom he had met on a visit to Norwich School of Art. In 1951 the couple moved to Great Bardfield in Essex and Chapman started teaching graphic design at the London College of Printing, Central School of Art and Colchester Art School. He participated in the thriving artistic community in Great Bardfield, which included Edward and
Pregnant Woman II