The contrasts and contradictions within the landscape and in the people of the Welsh Marches are encapsulated and reflected in the work of Richard Wills. The artist’s work bridges portraiture, the natural world, industrial landscapes, sport and, more recently, the exploration of abstract images on a grand scale.
Wills’s reputation as a portrait artist is substantial and his work has been chosen regularly for hanging at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition and in other leading exhibitions and galleries. The artist’s growing reputation as a portrait artist is matched by his international repute as a landscape painter in oils and watercolour.
Richard Wills was an outstanding first class rugby player in his own right; only narrowly missing national honours. His association with the sport as a center back, and with the tight-knit mining communities which spawn an endless string of heroes has been a formative influence in his art. This is particularly evident in his portraiture. Wills has many commissioned portraits of contemporary Welsh sportsmen, many now hung in major institutions. His work as a portrait artist has the honesty of Norman Rockwell but without the hint of caricature, but, like Rockwell, he captures the moment of thought, of decision, of action.
His portfolio of commissioned work also includes portraits of other leading figures, many icons in other walks of life, include Sir Geraint Evans and Viscount Tonypandy, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, the Archbishop of the Church in Wales, Sir Tasker Watkins MC, and His Royal Highness Prince Richard Duke of Gloucester.
The tough hard industrial landscapes of Wales that Wills generally paints in oils contrast vividly with the opalescent light filled glades and estuaries of the Welsh border country and the lowland marshes and rocky coastlines that make up the core of his watercolour portfolio. He has been described by contemporaries and biographers as one of the leading exponents in watercolour technique, an observation reflected by demand for his work in exhibitions and through commissions.
Major commissions have been carried out for the Welsh Rugby Football Union, The Royal Regiment of Wales, and British Steel, who commissioned Wills to do a major series of industrial studies for their London and Welsh headquarters. The preliminary studies and sketches for this were also purchased for the British Steel archive collection. Other commissioned work includes work for Newbridge Networks now hanging in the Welsh Office in London, as well as the Japanese company Yamazaki Mazak, one canvas of which measured twenty feet by eight feet.
Patronage by industrial and public institutions (including several from the USA) is honour indeed for any artist but can be constraining for any artist of talent. Wills, with some dogmatism, has always resisted such a closing in of horizons. He not only finds time to teach workshops of talented artists in several of the Arts Colleges and Societies in Wales, but also, with his wife, has converted his own home in Monmouth as a weekend retreat for artists to visit, to exchange ideas, to gain inspiration, and to learn.
A sensitivity to the subject and to the character within it is the pervading quality of all of Richard Wills’s work. A mastery of the mediums he uses is his fundamental competence. The wit and the capacity to explore and share his talent is the appeal of the artist as a person.
The Royal Academy of Art
The Royal West of England Academy
The Royal Society of Portrait Painters
The Royal Watercolour Society
Young Contemporaries Watercolour Society of Wales
National Museum of Wales (Cardiff)
Glyn Vivien Gallery (Swansea)
The Edinburgh Gallery Scotland
The Mall Galleries London
Hampton Hill Gallery London, Paris, America and South Africa