Walking along the bristling streets in Cardiff, have you ever stopped by any small galleries to appreciate the artworks? Young artists are now struggling to keep their business and interest going without the government’s support.
Ethan Dodd quietly lies on the paint-dotted floor in his art studio. Surrounding him are shattered woods and some of his creations – a crucifix, wooden birds and numerous big and small paintings. The room is not huge, and he won’t bother with cleanliness. When there is only him, he would play his favourite music on his phone, anything from classical to death metal. It goes on and off sometimes because of the malfunctioning Wi-Fi. But he won’t complain, after all his creativity owns a piece of this place now.
The 22-year-old recent graduate completed his bachelor degree at the Cardiff Metropolitan University in June this year, majoring in Fine Art. Now he’s primarily working on sculpture, painting and installation. He is also in a part of the PHOSPHORUS collective.
Ethan might not be born an artist, but he definitely has an eye for it. “I got one of my lowest grades in GCSE for Art,” Ethan confessed, “Some people even said maybe I shouldn’t do it anymore, but eventually I graduated with first class honour in college.”
“Criticism teaches you a lot but never let it hold you back from trying. You can then alternatively convince people that your artwork stands for something you believe in and that’s what make your art successful,” he added.
Raised in a catholic family, the young artist is always interested in religions and worships. “I believe in God’s presence, but I think God is us,” he said, “By worshipping him you’re actually worshipping yourself, not in a narcissistic way, but it’s an act of self-preservation and enjoying life.” His belief didn’t translate into his artwork until he realised he could create conceptual pieces and insert meanings to them. His experience taught him artwork could influence people and eventually he decided to lead on this walk of life.
Ethan’s artistic style is largely inspired by alchemical tradition Magnum Opus, literally translate to the ‘Great Work’, which refers to a scientific process of creating the philosopher’s stone. The young talent self-described his work as “very dark”, since most of them encoded after-death and resurrection. By finding ways to reincarnate dead objects with crystals and technologies, they are reborn in his hands.
“My artistry will be the dynamic to bring things back from the dead. It’s much like making my own baby,” he said smilingly.
Although the artist agreed his artworks were emotionally burdensome, he insisted on it because the world was dying from all the fear, hierarchy and power dominance. “It’s like people are piling up and everyone is scrambling and climbing to the top,” he said. In his own words, with government surveillance and terrorism growing stronger, humanity is now on the edge of breaking down and he wants his work to offer the new hope everyone needs.
He is dreaming big, but the reality inevitably comes down to the resource he has. Being an artist in Cardiff is no easy-peasy, alas. Ethan has to work 40 hours a week at a fashion retailer for a living. He has to pay the rents for both his accommodation and the studio.
“My artwork reflects a lot of the struggle I have,” he continued, “I collect my materials from the nature, it’s almost like recycling, so it doesn’t cost much to support my interest. However, work is taking up much of my time so all I can do now are paintings and small sculpture, as opposed to massive pieces that I’ve always wanted to work on.”
Speaking of the overall art scene in Cardiff, Ethan described it as very fragmented. Many artists shine with their creativity, but they are lacking the physical space to build the connection between them. The Abacus used to be a venue for art exhibitions, or just generally a cosy spot for art-passionates to hang out at. The artist has also curated and took part in a few shows hosted there.
“The place was really opened, all-inclusive. It offers the opportunity every artist needs. Any work can have a space in Cardiff,” said Ethan, “I miss when it was around.” Its close down in January was unfortunate and saddening.
Back in 2015, Ethan and more artists were in a parade of defiance that targeted to lobby the government’s decision in cutting creative arts fund. “What really grand my gear was they had a thick stack of money for champaign and wine fund that they could use it on anything they like. This money can go to anywhere else, say solving child poverty in Wales,” he lamented. He pointed out that the situation would especially be worrisome after the Brexit.
“The world is falling apart, but the top people don’t give a s**t,” he added.
On a positive note, the art community is not giving up yet. NGOs are giving independent artists a leg up, all working towards the goal to make the creative industry flourish again. In the coming January, artists will join hands for an upscale event happening at the free-running parkour in a warehouse down in Tremofa, where visitors will be able to enjoy art, music and circus acts all in a package. “Hopefully it will get pretty crazy,” he remarked.
Ethan assured that he would keep going no matter what happens next. “Doing art might not allow me to live comfortably, but who wants to be?” He said, “I want to do stuff that makes me feel like I am living, and hopefully one day it will pay off,” he said.
Watch Ethan paints a canvas work on a cardboard here: