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When Brecon artist Robert Macdonald left New Zealand on a small sailing-ship 53 years ago this month, he only expected to be away for a few months, hoping to travel north into the Pacific from Australia, exploring the islands. However, during the crossing to Australia the ship was buffeted by two fierce storms and had to be dry-docked in Australia for repairs.

Footloose in Australia, Robert took passage to Naples on a returning Italian immigrant ship, and made his way from there to Britain. He had trained as a journalist in New Zealand but had developed a passion for painting in his spare time, and in London he enrolled as a student at the Central School of Art.
He has been painting in Britain ever since and his 80th birthday exhibition is now open in the Tower Gallery in Crickhowell. Robert is well-known now as a painter and printmaker in Wales and currently is chair of the Royal Watercolour Society of Wales, a past chair of the Welsh Group (the senior association of professional artists in Wales) and a director of the Swansea Print Workshop.

Robert-portraitRobert’s Welsh-born wife Annie brought him to the Brecon Beacons in the 1970s and in the late 1980s he spent some time in a remote cottage in the hills, writing and illustrating a book on New Zealand and the Maori. Taking up permanent residence in the cottage, Robert began painting the landscapes of the Usk Valley and the farming life of his neighbours and became fascinated with the myths and legends of his surroundings.

Robert was born in Britain but went with his family to New Zealand in 1945 after being an evacuee in the Somerset countryside for three years. Living on a farm in Somerset gave him a love for the countryside which comes out in many of his paintings. Much of his early work as an artist was preoccupied with attempts to come to terms with the turbulent memories of his wartime childhood, but after coming to live in Wales his “joy in nature seemed to overcome all that”.

Tim Rossiter

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