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Jen Delyth

Celtic Art Studio

Official Site of Welsh Artist

INTERVIEWS

INTERVIEWS jen delyth

Americymru - Ceri Shaw August 2011

Interview - Jen Delyth -



AmeriCymru: Hi Jen and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed . What is "Celtic art"? What makes something visibly "Celtic" to you?

Jen: Hi Ceri, thanks for inviting me! What is Celtic art… An interesting question, and a bit of a puzzle like an intertwining spiraling knotwork design! My first response is that this is a living tradition that continues to evolve and change. .There are many contemporary artists who are inspired by the Celtic culture in their work, but I think we tend to relate to “Celtic art” in its more traditional forms, but it does not have to be restricted to that.Traditional Celtic Art has its roots stretching back into the ancient past, even before the people and culture we call “Celtic” (which means “Barbarian” in Greek by the way!) came to spread across northern Europe, to land in the modern Celtic countries that are home to many of us, and from where so many people came to live - here in North America and other places today.


Traditional Celtic art has a recognizable design lexicon of interlaced knotwork, spiral, keyknot and zoomorphic (animal design) patterning. However, we find similar patterns used in other cultures such as Islamic, Nordic, Asian, but Celtic art has its own distinctive style that is visually and intuitively apparent to those of us who have followed it.


The ancient Celts were strongly influenced by forms and techniques that they came in touch with from other cultures, however they developed their own inherent style, which is difficult to define, and continues to evolve. Celtic art tends to be strongly stylized, playful, fluid, mostly curves with few sharp lines, having an internal sense of rhythm and balance, without being always strictly geometric, and which integrates this design language to create dimension through a flattened non-realism form.

But it is the mythic quality that is most telling, the symbols woven through abstractions drawn from a culture of tribal people whose religion and lives were so closely connected with the spirits of nature; a warrior people who inscribed their weapons and horse tack with complex sometimes magical patterns; and later the monks who decorated their manuscripts with the complex intertwining designs, expressing their delight and respect for the natural world whilst illustrating the new Christian stories.

As a contemporary Celtic artist, I enjoy continuing to use the traditional design language, but as did the ancient artists, the challenge for some of us is to create new patterns and symbols, not only to repeat designs from antiquity... The core Celtic myths and symbols are inspiring and full of wisdom, and in my work, I focus on drawing out those archetypal symbols that express the beauty and wisdom of nature, through the characters that populate the organic and mythic world that resonate within the folk-soul of our culture. An Irish American artist friend Steve O’Loughlin, who is a founder member of our group “Contemporary American Celtic” (www.contemporaryamericanceltic.org) illustrates modern freeways, airplanes and contemporary subjects using the Celtic design language, and that is a wonderful example of this being a living tradition. Which is very inspiring.
AmeriCymru: Are there particular Celtic elements or styles that can be identified as coming from the areas that are today Scotland, Wales, Ireland, things that are particularly Scottish or particularly Welsh or particularly Irish?

Jen: Yes there are, but such distinctions are often subtle. . The Scottish tradition integrates the Pictish style – which works alongside and through the Celtic, and the Welsh have some classical elements mixed in. In Ireland we think of the Book of Kells as the definitive Irish style, but that manuscript traveled between Ireland and Scotland, so again, the geography and cultures weave like.. well Celtic knots!. (Can’t answer this question well!)

AmeriCymru: Your work seems to create new familiar icons, it seems to be full of things that seem very familiar, as though they should have already long existed as part of a tradition - an example is your Celtic Tree of Life, people look at that and think that it mist be an ancient design when in fact you created it. Another would be your Morrigan Ravens - would you agree that your work has that effect and did you set out to do that or was it more a surprise that these pieces had that effect?

jen delyth Tree of Life

Jen Delyth 'Celtic Tree of Life'

Jen: Thanks for asking.. It has been a total surprise, and I’m most proud of those designs that perhaps resonate to people as ancient motifs…I did not set out to confuse people into thinking they were from antiquity – and in fact that has made it a bit of a problem for me, as artists have to work extra hard these days with the proliferation of images on the internet without credit to the artist, to maintain copyright protection!

When I first started working with the folk art of my culture as a way to express essential archetypes and symbols in visual rather than verbal form, – it seemed natural for me to choose certain subjects – such as the “Tree of Life” – and create that motif in an essential, simple yet strong Celtic form. My departure from the tradition – and perhaps my contribution to it – is that symbols such as the Tree of Life, do not appear in Celtic works of antiquity as recognizable tree illustrations - it was probably thought by the Ancients to be sacrilegious to depict the works of Creation, which is partly why the Celts (and some other cultures) worked with two-dimensional stylized forms. The usual form of the Tree of Life as symbol appears as a pot with vines intertwining from its source. So it was natural for me to create a more coherent “Celtic Tree of Life” design, in a traditional style, as there wasn’t one available at the time!

I have noticed that my Celtic Tree of Life – made in 1989, has perhaps inspired many other interpretations – but that could have happened anyway. I’m honored that it has become so popular – another example that this is a living tradition in that it continues to evolve, with new designs added to the language lexicon.

The meaning within the Celtic Tree of Life as symbol is that life is interconnected - all life, within and without – this is a core Celtic belief.. They did not use a tree as a symbol to depict this important philosophy. Today it intuitively makes sense to us to do so. The interconnection of all life is understood today by physicists, as well as poets and spiritual folks. The design speaks on multiple levels – something that was clear to me at the time I was articulating it.

The design “with roots growing deep into the ground, branches reaching high into the heavens” created itself really, without having to say it with words.. which is the true value of symbols, when they work.

A friend of mine, Pat Fish once told me, that like folk songs, my Celtic Tree of Life design had become a folk motif, which is very lovely in a way. Although as an artist who makes my living from this work, I have the unenviable job to remind people, that it is not actually an ancient design, and they need to credit all artist’s and musician’s work as its important to maintain copyright protection. I do hate to disappoint people though, and feel like maybe it could spoil their relationship to the image for them, once they know it is not actually an ancient design! So its interesting quandary for me.

jen delyth Ravens Morrigan

Jen Delyth 'Ravens Morrigan

The archetype of the Morrigan in triple raven form is inspired from Celtic mythology, and although many triple forms of birds and creatures can be found in the works of antiquity, I never discovered any triple Ravens depicted – and I love those noisy powerful black birds that I see in my walks along the beach – so it was natural to decide to create them using the traditional style as best I could. The Triple Morrigan is a Celtic Goddess of death and rebirth, who always appears in triple form in the stories and folklore. My Ravens circle the spiraling Triskele form, which relates to the Triple Goddess as its become known, some forms as old as the triple spirals on New Grange Megalithic Passage tomb 3000 BC – the spirals probably representing the (female) triple cycle of life and death (maiden, mother and crone). So using the ancient design language in a conscious way, the symbol perhaps speaks to people on an intuitive level - and that gives me great pleasure to work out in visual form!

AmeriCymru: You've been in the San Francisco Bay area for some years now, how has your work been received by American audiences? What effect do you observe it's had on people?

Jen: The Bay Area resonates for me with its coastal beauty, foggy misty climate, and nature easily accessed from a wonderfully creative urban area. I grew up in South Wales, where industry surrounded by coastal and mountainous wild beauty were the landscape which informed me, and it feels natural to live here. I have indeed been here a while now. Since 1985.- my branches have crossed the water – and like the Tree of Life the branches have become roots – roots in this new country. I became a dual citizen a few years ago, so now I am proud to be a Welsh American! As some of my ancestors did who moved to Pennsylvania for work at the turn of the century. Although that is not why I came!

I am still very close to my family back home, living in south and north Wales, and other places too, and keep in close touch, and visit often. . Last year was an especially wonderful visit, with my fiancé Chris Chandler, introducing him to my family and old friends. We made some wonderful trips to my favorite stone circles together, (Pentre Ivan, and Castlerigg in Cumbria) and I revisited Saint Fagans Museum near to where my mother grew up in Cardiff– which is a special outdoor exhibition and collection of actual buildings - houses, barns, chapels from many eras of Welsh history, brought stone by stone and reconstructed with full contents accurate to the period they represent.

We also visited my favorite castle (a real Welsh castle – not one built by invaders!). Perched high on a wind swept craggy hilltop with a beautiful view of a most Welsh green valley, Carreg Cennen has an underground tunnel down to a damp prehistoric cave.

My parents still live in an old village Llangennith in the Gower Penninsula of South Wales, in a cottage dating back to the 13th century, when it was used for milling flour. A well known local folk singer Phil Tanner used to live there... My father Fred recently wrote a wonderful children’s book based around their life with their dogs in the Old Mill Cottage, which I designed and illustrated for him. Its our first title in my new company Ninth Wave Publishing (www.ninthwavepublishing.com).

Hiraeth – longing for ones’ homeland – will never go away – but I have been very fortunate to find such a supportive audience in this country – where I think my work has been particularly appreciated, as we take much of our cultural heritage for granted growing up surrounded by it!

I can’t answer to the effect my work has had on people, except to be grateful for many wonderful letters people send me, sharing their appreciation and support. I think that in the looking back from a distance to my own roots – as many people do who are born of immigrants here – has effected me strongly, and made me more appreciative of richness of the culture I left behind. I’m lucky to have an interesting life, and to be supported and creatively employed!

AmeriCymru: Your work will be the cover of the Welsh Mythology and Legend Art Show book that A Raven Above Press is creating for this year's West Coast Eisteddfod, can you tell us how that came about?

Jen: Thanks to the generosity of Lorin, whose wonderful poem has been illustrated by some excellent and truly contemporary artists inspired by the Welsh mythology theme of the poetry. I am taking this as an opportunity to stretch out a bit towards a more modern interpretation of what is “Celtic Art”, and create something with a more loose interpretation of the traditional design language, to illustrate the cover – which I feel would work best with the other contemporary artwork inside. The title is “A Welsh Alphabet”, and since Oghma is the Celtic God of Language and Knowledge, literature and eloquence - he seems like an appropriate subject! I should not talk about a painting whilst its in process, but I am looking forward to playing with a more open and modern style for the book – which brings back the question, what exactly is “Celtic Art”!

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us about the image that will be used for the book cover? What subject did you choose and how did you come to choose that? What medium or material was used to create it?


Jen: Sorry, I think I just answered that question somewhat! I have been working with egg tempera for a few years now. Which is a lovely organic medium, that was used before oils were used for painting – mixing egg yolk with some water, and ground pigments – to make a luminous, organic and long lasting paint. I’m hoping that Oghma will emerge through the painting process, although probably not in the way I ever first expect! Oghma is depicted in mythology and some metal work images, with chains connecting his tongue to the ears of his followers, who are slaves to his eloquence! It is a startling image to draw from - however I am thinking of a more subtle visual interpretation, as I don’t want the bardic volume to be perceived as a modern primitive tattoo and piercing book! That is my point of inspiration though… we’ll see!

AmeriCymru: Where can our readers go to view and purchase your work online?

Jen: I have recently started a new business, after a new chapter has recently begun in my life - I am now engaged to a wonderful poet/spoken word performer, Chris Chandler (www.chrischandler.org), who continues the bardic tradition of his ancestors - who came here, some from Wales – long ago through Alabama and Tennessee, in a totally contemporary and American way. We have formed a new company “Ninth Wave Publishing” to publish our work in poetry, music and art together… I recently launched a new online website www.celticartstudio.com which also features my books, calendars, textiles and also limited edition Fine Art Prints and Canvas’ that I make in here in my studio.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Jen Delyth?

Jen: Next is catching up on the last few years, and starting my new creative partnership here in Oakland where Chris and I moved recently. I grew up with poetry and spoken word, and some years ago made a Celtic mythology animation DVD - Beyond the Ninth Wave - combining Celtic artwork, video, animation, with Celtic poetry (including my mother reading some Welsh poetry!) and music. Since Chris also uses story-telling, poetry, music and video in his work, I’m looking forward to us working together more with the magic of multimedia – the new tools that would have boggled the minds of the old Celts – and stretching once again, what it means to be a Celtic Artist!

AmeriCymru: Any final message for our members and readers?

Jen: Thanks to all who continue in the creative path, in whatever medium or style, as it is the music, poetry and art that keep our culture alive and thriving, connecting past, present and future. And most of all, thanks to everyone who supports us that are lucky enough to make our living this way. Diolch yn fawr! Hwyl!

jen Delyth – August 16th 2011

Interview by Ceri Shaw americymru


More Interviews Americymru 2009 & Personal Interview 2000
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