A biography about a “neglected” female Welsh war artist will be launched at a Brecon gallery next week.

Ray Howard-Jones: My Hand is the Voice of the Sea is the first substantial illustrated biography to explore the life and work of Ray Howard-Jones (1903-1996).

The book will be launched at the Found Gallery on Thursday, July 27, from 6-7pm with a talk by author, David Moore, who lives in Brecon.

Born in Lambourn, Berkshire, Ray was brought up in Penarth, South Wales, and later lived in London. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in the 1920s, taught by Henry Tonks and Wilson Steer, but at first, in part due to illness and family commitments, her career was slow to take off. 

However, in the 1940s the War Artists Advisory Committee commissioned her to record military installations in the Bristol Channel and purchased her outstanding work of preparations for the D-Day landings.

From the late 1940s until a few years before she died Ray was particularly associated with the Pembrokeshire coast, and her work is most well known for its remarkable use of colour in impressionistic and often deeply spiritual Pembrokeshire seascapes and coastal scenes, many painted on Skomer and around Marloes. Her strong sense of design also enabled her to produce two outstanding mosaics, one on the newspaper office Thomson House in Cardiff in 1959, now demolished, and the other an altarpiece in Marchmont St Giles’ Church in Edinburgh in 1965. 

Ray’s body of work over her 93 years has left a considerable legacy, with this new title’s dedicated chapters chronologically revisiting each stage of her life. The text is accompanied throughout by more than 200 images, including many of Ray’s art works from collections such as National Museum Wales and the National Library of Wales. 

Author David Moore’s research has engaged with a wealth of primary sources, including Ray’s correspondence and that of friends and associates, her personal writings, poetry and contemporary articles, to give the fullest account of her personality as well as her artistic output.

David knew Ray personally in Pembrokeshire from 1985 while working for the regional museum service and exhibited her work at Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery, Brecon, in 1994. 

“Having known Ray Howard-Jones in the late 1980s and early 1990s, her last decade, I realised that hers was a remarkable, vivid and unconventional personality,” said David. “Since then, working in Welsh museums and galleries, I came to appreciate what an exceptional artist she was and felt compelled to find out more about her life and work. Yet, she has been incredibly neglected in recent decades. Researching, writing and selecting images for this biography has taken many years but I wanted, through its pages, to bring her to life and to enable people to reassess her many achievements. 

“How is it that a pioneer of community arts, a celebrated mosaicist, an artist represented by one of the largest collections of artworks in Amgueddfa Cymru and one of the most successful Second World War artists from Wales is so little known today?"

 Ray Howard-Jones: My Hand is the Voice of the Sea publishes June 27 2023.