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Diana Heeks – Black Mountains project (3)

Artist Diana Heeks, based in Llanrhystud, West Wales, is developing a project in the Black Mountains inspired by Raymond Williams‘ unfinished novel People of the Black Mountains.

The project comprises four, week-long visits to the region and is funded by a ‘research and development’ grant from the Arts Council of Wales.

PEAK is a project partner and supporting Diana through artist mentoring and promotion. PEAK will announce details of an open studio day and talk with Diana to conclude the project in the autumn.


“Literature has influenced and engaged me since childhood, and this book evokes feelings which I have an almost visceral need to explore in paint. The Black Mountains is a cluster of steep-sided parallel ridges east of the Brecon Beacons, mainly in Wales but partly across the English border. In two volumes this book tells a series of linked stories about the history of the area, from Neolithic times until the Norman invasion, encompassing a grand sweep across thousands of years and tens of generations, offering both a bird’s-eye view and ground-level intimacy. For many years I have read and reread this novel. Its qualities of imagination and humanity, and its sense of the influence of place, attracted me as a painter from the outset, especially as the location has long been a favourite. The stories and evoked imagery have accompanied me whilst working plein air and on walks and explorations in the actual locations and landscapes of the book. I want to attempt an equivalent in oils on canvas.”

- Diana Heeks

“Press your fingers close on this lichened sandstone. With this stone and this grass, with this red earth, this place was received and made and remade. Its generations are distinct, but all suddenly present.”

– Raymond Williams, People of the Black Mountains


First Visit  – 16-23 March 2015

Click here for the first blog post


Second Visit – 15-22 May 2015

Click here for the second blog post


Diana Heeks studio
Diana Heeks studio
Diana Heeks studio
Diana Heeks studio
Diana Heeks studio
Diana Heeks studio
Diana Heeks studio
Diana Heeks studio

(IMAGES: Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager, at Diana’s residency studio, Broadley Farm, Llanthony, 11th Sept 2015)

Third Visit –  4-11 September 2015

Clare Whitehead’s studio at Broadley Farm, where I am based for the visits, is set in the Ewyas Valley at the foot of Loxidge Tump and overlooking the ridge towards Bal Mawr. Contained within these hills, the studio itself contains the image-making of artists and art students who have been inspired by these hills.

In this long space I spread out all the material I’ve been working on since the last visit in May. The first few days of my week were spent appraising and categorising the work so far, with the length of the studio allowing for a different kind of viewing. Its length also allows for the separation of activities and more clarity than in the muddle of my studio at home.

Since the start of the project in March this year, I have painted large, expansive pieces, mainly oils on paper. I had bought this paper for drawing, but somehow paint demanded its use. I have also produced smaller pastel and collage work, explored 3-D ideas and generally followed my inclinations, all from a basis of response to the PoBM stories and the archeological material* researched by Joy Williams for her husband’s work, which is described in her notes at the end of the second volume of PoBM.

Time has flown, and there seem to be too many ideas which are not yet explored. In particular a passage from the story “Tami and the Devils” reminds me that I’ve not yet seen a distant view of the Black Mountains from the east, as Anail and his group did:

“They reached a high point and stopped and looked back west. They were amazed by the sight. The long black ridges of their mountains were spread out under the clouds, in shapes they had never before seen … Far to the south, in a succession of peaks and ridges beyond the peak of Broken Mountain, there was unknown country. They could see how they lived at an edge of it. Looking more closely they followed their own river back to where it turned from north to east. They stared at each other. It was a new power in the eyes to see these wide shapes of the land.” (PoBM1, Tami and the Devils, p264).

But the images the passage evokes are stored in my mind’s eye.

Thursday 10 September: Went into Hereford to research in the museum’s Woolhope Club room, to see the information  which inspired the story “Bibra in Magnis”. I had found the story of Bibra very poignant and I wanted to look at the archeological material* that inspired it.

A 1912 excavation at Kenchester (the Roman Magnis) led to the discovery of the skeleton of an elderly woman buried inside a building. She was very small and arthritic, her bones displaying evidence of hard manual labour and a damaging disease to her face.

Archived in the Woolhope Transactions in Hereford Museum is the 1916 report on these bones by Professor Sir Arthur Keith of the Royal College of Surgeons, which says: “She was also the subject of an uncommon condition, a peculiar lack of growth to the right side of her face. Such a condition is very rare today, and I do not know of any ancient, prehistoric skeleton which has manifested this atrophic state. A state which must have been present in the childhood of the individual.”  From this Raymond Williams built a moving story of a difficult life.


Diana Heeks' studio

Last year in the glass case exhibiting Hereford Museum’s Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts, the urn from the 1932 Olchon Valley cist discovery was in pride of place. Slender, with vertical cracks, its decoration is three repeated bands of marks, probably made by a thumb-nail or small tool. This year it is on a lower shelf, and in its place is now the burial urn from the 2010 Olchon Court excavation, a sturdy and confident object decorated with a single band of triangle design.

The experience of looking at these two vessels gives me a strong sense of closeness to their makers. They and we handle/d the clay in the same way: the same techniques, feelings and problems. With their handbuilt asymmetry they are both beauties, and it would be fascinating  to know how much time elapsed between the making of them, 50 years or 500? Carbon-dating would be needed, but that doesn’t seem likely in the current climate of museum funding cuts.



Friday 11 September: On the last day of the week Rebecca Spooner and artists Penny Hallas, Morag Colquhoun and Catherine Baker visited, providing a welcome contrast to the solitariness of this project so far, and an invaluable opportunity for my work to be appraised by peers with painting, sculpture and printmaking experience. Feedback ensued – examining the basis of ideas, getting to see the work through the eyes of others, discussing the merits of related material – with five heads being better than one.

Diana Heeks

September 2015

For more information about Diana’s work visit:

For more information about PEAK, Contemporary Art In The Black Mountains, visit:



Arts Council of Wales



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