John Abell

Tora Baker, Creative Boom, November 25 2019

A new exhibition by Cardiff-based artist John Abell will open at the National Trust's Newton House in Carmarthenshire this January, marking the 180th anniversary of the Rebecca Riots. Titled Becca and her Children, the show will feature a series of new paintings, linocuts and etchings made by Abell during a three-week residency at Dinefwr earlier this year. "History is an essential part of the present, and I immediately wanted the opportunity to respond to such an inspiring place through my artwork," he said.


Responding directly to the rich and tumultuous history of Newton House, Dinefwr and in particular the Rebecca Riots, Abell's body of work examines the daily life, beliefs and camaraderie of the rioters as they rose up in protest against the Turnpike Trusts and the introduction of road tolls in rural Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire.


During the Riots in 1839-1843, men disguised themselves as women to attack the tolls. They called themselves 'Rebecca and her daughters', likely inspired by a passage in the Bible where Rebecca talks of the need to "possess the gates of those who hate them" (Genesis XXIV, verse 60). One of the linocuts sees the biblical Jessie Tree transported into rural Wales, rich with symbolism it further merges past and present, tale and history with its moving imagery.


Born in 1986, John Abell studied at Camberwell College of Art; he currently lives and works in Cardiff. He is particularly known for his large-scale woodblock prints and highly coloured watercolour paintings which explore life, love, lust, the embodied experience. The work is charged with a sense of fear and death, pessimism or even nihilism along with a large pinch of gallows humour. His aim is to represent a human feeling, the world and himself as honestly as he can with no intellectual mediation.