Gower Gallery is very excited to mark its first Christmas in its new location in the heart of Mumbles with an exhibition of the work of the late Valerie Ganz.


The gallery which has moved from its previous location at the top of Newton Road in Mumbles has continued to grown since the artist Ronald Banning handed over running the gallery to his daughter Arwen Banning five years ago.


Valerie Ganz has left a legacy of remaining original work and images to be reproduced for prints. Some of her originals and the complete portfolio of her limited edition prints, are to be released to Gower Gallery as part of an ongoing relationship with the Ganz family. 


“This is a real thrill for us,” says gallery owner and artist, Arwen Banning. “Valerie has a very special place in the history of Welsh art and having missed out on meeting her in person it is wonderful to talk to her daughter, Lisa Ganz, about her Mother’s work and her fascinating life.”

“I know that Valerie was a great support to other artists during her lifetime and is highly praised by her peers not only as an artist, but as a friend. This is an artist who is studied in schools in Wales as part of the National Curriculum. I wish I had met her”  


To give some background; In 2015 the Welsh art world lost one of its stars with the passing of acclaimed artist Valerie Ganz. Valerie has been a pillar of cultural life in Wales since her subterranean adventure in coal mining brought her to the public attention in the 1980s. As it turned out these were to be the last images of mining in the Welsh valleys before the industry collapsed.  For the sake of our heritage the people of Wales were very lucky that Valerie was not afraid to descend down into the earth with these men and produce the drawings and paintings  which were to form the bedrock of her artistic reputation.


Growing up in Mumbles it is fitting that Valerie’s work has returned here. Gower Gallery feels very honoured to bring her work back to the village where she spent her formative years. We are very grateful to the Valerie’s family for allowing us to have a part in her history.


It cannot be underestimated Valerie’s strength of character and determination in her choice of subject throughout her career. Valerie’s bid to join miners at the coal face meant working in dark cramped spaces, deep underground; an intimidating prospect for anyone. Valerie entered into an alien, world that was totally male. Instead of being intimidated she was inspired. 


Valerie’s respect for the colliers and her admiration for the community below ground, meant that she became accepted and absorbed into that community.Valerie was even allowed access to the colliers’ more intimate moments, the transition from coal face to home through the bath house.  This was when the men would rinse away the dirt and dust of their toil, a seminal moment in their day, which Valerie has recorded for us. Her intrepid nature fired her expressive brushwork and mark making. Her images look as if they were formed out of the coal dust that must have covered everything around her. 


Valerie’s work has many aspects. It honours the solemnity of miners at rest and the personality of individual characters who appealed to her. She particularly liked to paint the miners as they stampeded out of the mine at the end of their shift, the ‘herd’ like quality she loved, is expressed in the monumental shapes the colliers make against the sodium orange landscape behind them. Valerie won her place in the hearts of the colliers in a show of solidarity and artistic passion which delivered to us a world hitherto known only to the miners themselves. 


Valerie’s long career was wide in scope and international in nature. Valerie crossed the globe in pursuit of subject matter. Gauchos in Argentina, the Great Wall of China: she

traveled to New Orleans to paint the musicians in their famous jazz clubs. The oil platforms of Buenos Aires, which she visited regularly, was another adventure into the hidden lives of working men.


The power and beauty of the female form was not neglected. A year long residency at the Central School of Ballet, might not have had the dirt and danger of the coal mine, but the hours she spent making art as she observed the dancers at work, demonstrated her rigorous approach and passion for painting.


Whilst Valerie’s work took her around the world she always returned to Wales, She had a strong sense of her identity as a Welsh artist. All aspects of Welsh-ness were expressed in her work, Her landscape painting honoured the land which surrounded her. She was fascinated by people, even venturing into Swansea prison to study its inmates with compassion and empathy. Her exploration of the infamous Wind Street with its clubs and bars, is testament to her energy and will to present us with all aspects of humanity. All this when she was well into her seventies.  


Valerie’s love of the human form and her strong sense of what constitutes Welsh culture was taken to its logical conclusion in her pieces inspired by the rugby field. Her final years were spent at the Liberty stadium sketching the Ospreys as they trained and competed.


Valerie’s paintings are held in numerous public collections around the world, including the, the National Library of Wales, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, The National Coal Mining Museum for England the Palace of Westminster, London and in the National Assembly Cardiff.


Growing up in Mumbles it is fitting that Valerie’s work has returned here. Gower Gallery feels very honoured to bring her work back to the village where she spent her formative years. We are very grateful to the Valerie’s family for allowing us to have a part in her history.


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