The Art Scene

With Mark Rees

ATTIC GALLERY – the next chapter

Mark Rees joins the gang at Bay to keep us up to date with Swansea’s cultural scene. This month he updates us on the changing faces at the Attic Gallery as current owners Alexandra and David Roe retire.

Did you know that Wales’ longest-running independent art gallery is based right here in Swansea?

And not only that, but a few months ago it came perilously close to closing its doors for good, before being saved at the eleventh hour by a pair of art lovers from the city.

For more than three decades, Alexandra and David Roe have been at the helm of the Attic Gallery, an artistic institution perched on a corner of the Maritime Quarter.

But following their decision to retire this summer, the search to find suitable new owners for the popular art space began in earnest last November.

It proved to be easier said than done, and as the opening date of their final exhibition loomed, no obvious candidates to take the reins had emerged.

The Attic Gallery began life back in 1962, when it was founded by three local women with a passion for the visual arts – Margaret Aeron-Thomas, Dorothy Leonard Thomas, and Alexandra’s mother, Brenda Bloxam. Its first home was in 61-62 Wind Street, where it remained for several decades until the street became more famous – or maybe infamous? – for its binge drinking than its cultural activities.

Originally known as the Dillwyn Gallery, it adopted the Attic Gallery moniker in 1969 after moving, quite literally, into the attic of the same premises. It occupied this lofty position overlooking the city’s banks until the late 1990s, when it began its journey towards the waterfront. Stopping off in Cambrian Place in 1998, it settled in its current home in Pocketts Wharf in 2009.

Created from converted office spaces, in some respects it has proved to be the ideal spot for an art gallery. Surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Tawe, it is close enough to the city centre to be accessible, but just far enough away to escape the hustle and bustle of the shoppers.

As I write these words, Alexandra and David have just wrapped up their final show, a retrospective of the life and work of Carys Roberts. A fitting tribute to the much-loved artist, it proved to be so successful that the walls were left virtually bare on the final day, with all of the proceeds, including the gallery’s commission, donated to the Ovarian Cancer Group charity.

Meanwhile, the new owners are, presumably, busy finalising the finer details of their inaugural show.

On Saturday, July 14, long-standing customers, and now directors of the gallery, Lisa and Andrew Green, will open their doors to the public for the very first time. Their debut exhibition will be the annual Summer Group Show which, quite appropriately, mirrors the gallery’s debut exhibition from 56 years ago.

When the Attic launched in the early 1960s, it also started with a summer show featuring some of Wales’ emerging modern artists of the time. Entitled Paintings of Wales, it was opened by Swansea-born journalist Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, and featured the work of around 20 artists, including “Kardomah gang”member Alfred Janes, who would return for a retrospective in 1995, and expressionist painter Will Roberts. One artist who appeared at that very first showcase, and who returns again this month, is the gallery’s long-time supporter Glenys Cour.

The Mumbles-based painter appeared at subsequent exhibitions in that inaugural year, alongside the likes of Ernest Zobole and Kyffin Williams. In 2018, she will be joined by gallery favourites such as David Carpanini, Karel Lek, George Little and Helen Sinclair.

There’ll be paintings, sculpture, glasswork, pottery and original prints on display from around 50 artists, most of which are Wales-based or inspired by the country. We can also expect a few new faces, with the owners said to be looking to “maintain the tradition, while bringing in some new artists of their own.”

All of which would suggest that the Attic Gallery can confidently look forward to the next chapter in its colourful history, while ensuring that Swansea is still home to Wales’ longest-running art gallery.

And that’s not all – did you know that the city is also home to Wales’ oldest art college, which has helped launch the careers of many of the artists who would go on to display their works at the Attic Gallery?

But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

Attic Gallery, 37 Pocketts Wharf, Swansea SA1 3XL


The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday, 10am – 5pm, and Saturday, 10am – 4.30pm





For more than fifteen years, Mark has published articles about the arts and culture in some of Wales’ best-selling newspapers and magazines. He has written a number of books, including The Little Book of Welsh Culture (2016), Ghosts of Wales: Accounts from the Victorian Archives (2017), and the upcoming The Little Book of Welsh Landmarks (2018).


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