Stephen John Owen was born in Caernarfon in 1959. A self-taught artist, his art teacher William Selwyn was a big influence and although he followed other career paths when he left school art remained important to Stephen and today he takes classes and workshops and shares his information and skills with others. His popular work is known to many and can be found in many private collections in Wales and further afield.
This exhibition is a very personal and special one for me. It’s 1969, I am 10 years old and my whole life revolved around my family, my friends and playing football. It was the year of the Investiture, and everything was changing.
It seemed like the whole world was watching our little town. For some, it was time to protest, and for others, a time to celebrate. My father had Dafydd Iwan’s records blasting out of his shed all day while tending to the garden. Everyone was wearing their Plaid Cymru badges and it felt like there was a revolution in the air. But for us children from a rundown council estate, having street parties and seeing stars such as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor was fantastic.
Another thing was going down to Caernarfon’s Square very early in the mornings with my dad to watch all the soldiers practising – it was a real treat for my brother David and I. Seeing all the horses and shiny uniforms was magic and helping to make all the buntings and decorations was such great fun. Red, white and green of course.
That year felt like it was going to last forever, just as the summers seemed to when you’re that age. My mother and father were both working at that time. There was plenty of food in the house, and my dad even bought a ‘brand new’ second hand car – a two tone Zephyr Zodiac – I loved it!
All the paintings I have made for this exhibition remind me of that time.
One of my favourites is My Father’s Dahlias. He would spend hours in the garden tending to them, and if my brothers or me would accidently kick our ball anywhere near them, we wouldn’t see the ball again for at least a week!
Another favourite painting is Last Race of the Day. That summer, we all built four wheelers – go karts some people call them. But they are all made in the same way. Some old pram wheels and a couple of wooden planks. Happy days – we played with them all summer long. I painted mine red with some old paint that dad had spare in his shed. It looked like a Ferrari – well, at least I thought it did.
A lot of the paintings are of Caernarfon as it used to look back then, a bit like its people – ‘y Cofis’, a bit rough around the edges, but it was my town and will always be.
School wasn’t my favourite place back then. Being dyslexic wasn’t recognised, so I was deemed to be a bit thick, and was mostly ignored. I was often sent to the back of the class, where I would draw for most of the day. One of the teachers told me that I wouldn’t amount to anything and I would probably end up sweeping roads for the council. So, to you sir, there’s a special painting of me as a defiant 10 year-old boy with two digits rampant! I haven’t changed much; sometimes that little boy I knew still gets me into trouble.
Like everyone else, I suppose that I look back at that time with rose tinted glasses – playing football in Cae Top with my brothers and friends, where on the odd occasion, we were joined by Wyn Davies, a giant of a man, who played for Newcastle United, Manchester United and Manchester City. We adored him. He grew up just around the corner from us. Can you imagine a Premier League player doing that today? That is why I’ve included him in this exhibition.
Childhood then was playing in the street with your friends, going to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon and sitting round the table on a Sunday afternoon having dinner. Shops were closed for a week over Christmas. How things have changed.
I dedicate this exhibition to my mam and dad, my brothers and sisters, and all the Cofis, and most of all, to my patient and lovely wife Sue. Also, I would like to thank Gwyn Jones from Plas Glyn-y-Weddw for giving me the idea for the exhibition.
Stephen John Owen 2017
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