The major aim is to create an inspiring series of original works of poster art in the spirit of the iconic Shell-advertising campaigns to encourage people to discover and reconnect with the natural environment of the south Wales valleys.
This project seeks to inspire and excite people, within and outside the valleys, to take a fresh look at the Valleys landscapes, to question their perceptions, and to spur them to rediscover and explore a unique part of the world.
To do that, we want to inspire and excite the commissioned artists themselves, challenging them to create works that achieve those aims reaching out to an audience in some cases unfamiliar with both art and the environment.
In the 1920s, when the original, now iconic Shell poster campaign was devised and launched, the Valleys landscape was scarred and ravaged by industrial spoil heaps and waste tips. Unsurprisingly, none of artists commissioned chose the Valleys to inspire people to discover the countryside.
Nowadays, though, the hills are largely green again, rivers full of fish run clean, and visitors are often taken aback by the beautiful countryside that envelopes Valleys' towns and villages. Despite that, The Valleys can still conjure negative visual connotations amongst those unfamiliar with them. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that a significant proportion of Valleys’ residents still fail to explore and value their natural environment.
Here, there might be a parallel, at least in part, between the arts and the natural environment – some people have unfortunately yet to be excited or inspired by them enough to explore and discover them, and value them. This project seeks to try to reach those people.
An important aim of Valleys Regional Park is to try to reconnect communities with their natural environment and we try to do this in innovative ways. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) acknowledges, “The world of art has always played a critical role in provoking thought and generating dialogue.” Its ‘Art for the Environment’ initiative aims to generate environmental awareness using the universal language of art as a catalyst for individuals, communities and leaders.
Recently, Osi Osmond has explored the ‘psycho-geography’ of his native valleys’ environment through his work - “I have always been obsessed by the landscape in which I grew up and the pure abstract beauty of the changing colour of the bracken covered hills surrounding the valley that became perhaps the dominant factor in making me as an artist.”
We want to stimulate and provoke a group of artists to explore and portray the landscapes of the valleys through their eyes in order to stimulate, provoke and open the eyes of others, to create ‘iconic’ works for a public poster campaign that will excite and inspire people to discover the landscapes of the valleys and help change perceptions.
The Shell posters of the early and mid twentieth century were obviously commercial commissions for advertising purposes. Interestingly and importantly, however, the artists commissioned by Jack Beddington to convey the simple advertising messages were not instinctively associated with commercial art.
They included the likes of Paul Nash, John Piper, Vanessa Bell, Eric Ravilious, and Graham Sutherland who went on to become famous names in contemporary art. Similarly the posters themselves have iconic works of art in their own right and the original works are housed around the world including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.
As John Hewitt, Head of History of Art and Design at Manchester Metropolitan University has written, “In the early 1930s...Shell started systematically to identify itself... with the euphoric values of nature and art .......The posters were more than a celebration of one company's enlightened and eclectic advertising policy to engender exhilaration, freedom and the joys of the countryside - they are superb pieces of art in their own right”
Consequently, Valleys Regional Park is working with artists on this poster art campaign to impart those “euphoric values of nature and art”, building on the rich cultural and artistic heritage of the Valleys whose landscapes have inspired valleys-born artists such as Roger Cecil, Robert Alwyn Hughes, and Osi Osmond, capturing and rekindling the excitement of the original Shell poster campaign.