Sunday, November 16, 2014

Letter from Jeffrey Steele

Jeffrey Steele very kindly sent the following letter, about how he and David (Trace) met, and their connection through to the 1960s:

One evening my friend David White and I set out from Cardiff School of Art and headed towards the Adamsdown area of the city to look for a studio, so as to be able to work more independently from the art school program. We came upon this little place called “Burn’s Yard”, with rather hidden access, connecting Systems Street and Metal Street, and parallel to Moon Street  and Constellation Street.

Burn’s Yard was a row of very dilapidated structures in wood, brick and corrugated iron which has now entirely disappeared. It was used mainly as a breakers yard for scrap cars, lock-up garages and clandestine activity, and turned out to have quite an interesting history.

Well, David and I immediately saw the perfect place. Mr Byrne came out from his office and said “five bob” and we moved in.
A few weeks later he called in to see how we were getting on. He told us about his nephew David Trace, then aged 14, and asked if we could advise him about a possible art career (“give him some wrinkles” he said). We have quite a lot of visitors and David came quite often and I remember doing some drawings with him.

I was pleased when he got into Cardiff School of Art, but more than that, during the middle 50s, I was very impressed by a certain painting technique (impasto) which David developed, together with his friend Islwyn Watkins. David came around to my studio – then in high Street – to give me a lesson in the preparation of pigments for the “Haute P√Ęte” method, which I used in some experimental works.

Then David began to develop his particular skill as a photographer. He turned out to be the ideal photographer for my black and white paintings which I began early in 1960. But more than this, using his own excellent photographs, he very skilfully and conscientiously cut stencils and produce screenprints of two figures which I consider to be two of my most important works of that time.

As well as this, during the late 50s and early 60s David and Islwyn would often come around and take magnificent photographs of the daily life in the studio and flat as my son Simon and his sister Tamara were growing up.

I still have quite a lot of these photographs and value them greatly, but unfortunately, another set was unaccountably lost when I moved from the high Street studio up to Clwyn-y-Grant Terrace circa 1966 (I fondly imagine that they may still exist somewhere in a forgotten cupboard).


Jeffrey Steele is particularly known for mathematical monochrome painting. He cofounded the Systems Group in 1969, and has exhibited in such places as MOMA New York and Grabowski Gallery, London. His work has been exhibited in many of the Systems group exhibitions including at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London. He currently lives and works in Portsmouth. For further details of his life and images of his work, see Osborne Samuel and Aras Gallery for example.

See also this photo by David of Jeffrey Steele in his Studio

Sunday, November 17, 2013

David Trace Photographs for the City of London too!

I knew that David's archive photographs included Westminster, Camden and Lambeth - but it seems he also did some work for the City of London. The photos were in the collection at the Guildhall Library, but they're now at the London Metropolitan Archives.

I recently got the following email from Jeremy Smith - it's lovely hearing yet more people say how much they enjoyed working with David:

Guildhall Library, where I used to work, would from time to time receive a visit from Mr Trace. He mostly came to see Ralph Hyde, and later John Fisher, who were the managers of the photographs collection (and maps and prints and drawings) in the Library. I know that they used to very much like working with Mr Trace because, I think, they found him very much in tune with what the library needed for the collection – little explanation was needed, and he was also always unvaryingly obliging.
Jeremy tells me that the photographs can be viewed on terminals in the reading rooms at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell, if you want to go and see them

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Book on the History of Camden Lock

Caitlin Davies has written a book on the history of Camden Lock (where David had a workshop for many years).  You can find more details on her website at

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Camden Lock Memories from Beverley Phillips

I've recently been in contact with Beverley Phillips, who had a jewellery workshop in Camden Lock. She writes, "Many thanks for contacting me - I certainly do remember David very well.  He used to visit me and my colleagues in our jewellery workshop frequently to have  a chat and a cup of tea.  (I went to one of his famous breakfasts too!)  I very much admired David's photography."

When I asked her if she had a photo of her workshop, she said, "I'll see if I can find a photo, though there were very few taken of of me or the workshop.  David was one of the few people we knew who owned a camera!"  How times have changed!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Who Do You Think You Are - David Bailey?

Here's a story from the Camden Lock days. Our David was working in his studio one day, and some guy came in and started looking at prints and asking questions. David was in the middle of something and maybe a bit short with the visitor - after all, lots of people were coming in and out all the time, it was a popular place.

Anyway, this particular visitor decided to buy a thing or two.  And he wanted to pay by credit card. Now this was the mid 1970s, and credit cards were quite new, and very few small traders would take credit cards.  So in characteristic style, David swiftly replied, "Credit card? Who do you think you are, David Bailey?"

 Yep - that exactly who it was!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Photos of Camden Lock

Here are a couple of photos of Camden Lock by David, from the 1970s when he had a studio there, amidst the vibrant community of artists and artisans.  Thanks for Caitlin Davies for digging them out of the Camden archive - and thanks to Camden for preserving them.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book on Camden Lock

David had a studio in Camden Lock, and was a vigorous part of the campaign to keep the spaces for Artists Studios there. (I don't know much of the details, so if anyone would like to contribute more to the story, please add a comment here or email me).

I've heard from Caitlin Davies that she's publishing a book on the story of Camden Lock. The proofs are currently at the publishers, and here are the front and back covers.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Taste of the Avant Garde

David Moore, a contemporary and friend of David (Trace), has written a book exploring post-war Welsh artists.  Sue Hiley Harris, part of the team producing the book, writes, "David Trace's photograph of Jeffrey Steele is one of many images of artists and their work to be included in A Taste of Wales: 56 Group Wales, 56 Years.  This new book explores, for the first time, the social history of a prominent and at times controversial group of professional artists based in post-war Wales. 56 Group Wales drew its influences internationally and exhibited very widely in the United Kingdom and on the Continent."

(David's picture of Jeffrey Steele is in the previous post here on this blog.)

Here's the book cover - and you can find out more at

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jeffrey Steele

This is Jeffrey Steele in his studio - the photo was taken by David in the early 1960s. Jeffrey was part of a group of Welsh artists called the 56 Group Wales. (The group was formed in 1956 - so of course is now celebrating its 56th anniversary year).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Photo of Jeff Nuttall

If you look at you'll see this photo of Jeff Nuttall by David.

I've just been speaking with Islwyn Watkin, a very good friend of David's right from Art School days (see for more details of Islwyn). He tells me that Jeff and David worked together in the late 50s and 60s, for example at the sTigma Environmental Exhibition in Better Books, March 1965.
By the way, he also said that as far as he knew, David was one of 3 eminent Welsh Photographers - David Hurn and Raymond Moore being the other two.