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 Pâte” 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

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