Eleanor Flaherty and Paul Steer have created an immersive exhibition called Hidden Voices which launched at the Oriel Lliw in Pontardawe. This exhibition celebrates their connections to the mountains, streams, caverns and wild places of Western Brecon Beacons. Their paintings, drawings, photographs, poetry and soundscape takes us into the landscape so that we viewers can share the experience.
I discussed their exhibition with Eleanor and Paul and investigated their artistic experience and inspiration.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Eleanor Flaherty, I am an artist, photographer and film maker and work primarily in the wild landscapes of South Wales. I am also an Educator and a Mountain Leader and have led expeditions in Tanzania, Uganda and Nepal. I have a big love for the mountains especially here in South Wales but they are environments that need to be respected as they can be unforgiving at times and that is what I find fascinating.
I am Paul Steer and I’m an artist who also finds the wild places a huge inspiration for my work. I gained a degree in Fine Art and then was a nurse for 30 years. Since retirement I have concentrated on developing my artwork and I am finding that I poems have started to appear in my work again as they had done in the past.
How did you meet up to work together?
Eleanor: I bought a picture from one of Paul’s early exhibitions in Ystradgynlais when I was 18 then I met him many years later when I went to get injections for a trip to Uganda. We started talking about art and realised that we work similarly so for about the last 6 years we meet together on a Thursday evening to have an a couple of hours of art – Arty Thursday. Other people have also joined us but it is a safe space to experiment and share ideas.
Paul: Our Arty Thursdays have encouraged me to work in a more experimental and freer way and I find the process of creating artwork is just as important as the final piece. I enjoy working outside whether it is on a piece of artwork or prose.
How did you produce work for the exhibition?
Eleanor: In my photography I like to find the image that tells a story, sometimes the story is slightly hidden, something you can’t find it in the more iconic often pictured scenes. I take photographs that encourage the viewer to want to enter and explore as that is how I feel about these places.
Paul: I like to sit and observe until I get a gut feeling and then make a raw drawing or poem which I edit and change when I am back in my studio.
What do you like most about your work?
Eleanor: This exhibition has given me the excuse to go to places that I love and I want to pass on that awe to people viewing my work. I want to show the hidden beauty that I have discovered.
Paul: The process for me was the most enjoyable part of the making. It was being in the landscape, trudging in it, hearing the sounds and feeling alive.
Eleanor: I find that Paul’s work has grown in scale since we’ve been working in the landscape. It is almost as though being in those big open spaces naturally encourages more expression.
What would be you dream art project?
Eleanor: Having a space and filling it with trees, things coming out of the walls, rivers and found assemblages. A whole world frozen – a magic world coming alive. People would walk in and be utterly immersed in the environment, they would be the intruders.
Paul: Yes, having living things as a piece of work – like an indoor garden. Trees and branches – things having conversations with each other, relating to one another. An enclosed space, a paradise garden to sit and contemplate, where you feel nature.
What is the beast piece of advice you have been given?
Eleanor: One quote from David Bowie stays with me is that if you are always working in your comfort zone then you are not doing your best. Push yourself to the edge then you will be getting there.
Paul: Be true to your own vision. I need to stay true to my own belief that my work has its own merit and this show has mad me feel confident about the process. This has freed me up and I have not been so concerned with other people’s opinions of the work, but it has been great to have positive feedback.
What artists have inspired you?
Eleanor: Many people like William Blake, Grayson Perry and fantasy artist Brian Froud. Froud worked on the films Labyrinth and Dark Crystal and although considered fantasy his work is rooted in the landscape, it has an grounded earthiness to it.
Paul: I am also inspired by William Blake especially his combination of words and image.
What couldn’t you be without?
Eleanor: Sketchbook and pencil – I need to be free to jot down ideas or sketches.
Paul: The same – sketchbook and pencil – I continuously keep a sketchbook.
What has been an amazing or touching moment when creating art?
Eleanor: When I get absorbed in my work the time disappears. In that timelessness things just happen and sometimes I look back at a piece of work I think ‘I don’t remember doing that!’
Paul: When I work in my little studio listening to Radio 3. Sometimes the music and the work start to relate to each other and become connected. That is when I do my best work as there there seems to be some connection to a creative source. It can be almost spiritual.
Dawn McIntyre 2018