It all began with a bench. No ordinary bench, but one erected by SUSTRANS (the sustainable transport charity) on the Trevithick Trail for pedestrians and cyclists in Pentrebach, Merthyr.
As with their other Portrait benches, the three figures were chosen by popular vote to represent Merthyr, therefore Trevithick, Laura Ashley (on her bike , it would seem) and Julien Macdonald are the three rusted 2D figures shown here, with words of explanation you'd only find as part of a Treasure Hunt.
You can't argue with the vote and , apparently, someone even voted for me who wasn't a relative!
No boxers, historians, writers or musicians got a look in (I voted for Gwyn Alf Williams).
My mind rapidly moved on from this very real bench to an imaginary one, which may well have been based on this one, if only as a starting-point.
Gus (on his website it's Michael Gustavius) Payne's remarkable work 'Gormod o pwdin dagiff y ci' (too much pudding will choke the dog) is one of a series he has produced using Welsh idioms.
What's intriguing about this oil painting is that it doesn't describe the title, it anticipates it.
Here, on and around a bench, various characters, both animal and human, are depicted. The bench itself is precariously balanced, a motif in Payne's work where many of his subjects are barely balancing , even if they aspire upwards to a sky of possibilities.
The dog in the foreground isn't choking, but appears to have chewed into his very bony bowl, which is bloodied.
The perspective is from low down, as though from another passing dog's-eye view.
The dog's owner's legs are prominent, knotted into each other, blue and muscly in contrast to his small head. He's extremely troubled and holds his hands over his ears ( blocking out the sounds of the nearby tiger perhaps?), his left arm a map of wounds.
Like many of Gus's works, there's a young child present, but here she plays a less central role. She is concerned for the tormented man and clings to him.
The background figures appear to suggest reasons for the man's troubles : a black, hooded person, like an angel of death, lurks over him and the girl and, seemingly out of place, are an African man (dressed in snake-like clothing ) and a tiger, face raised to the sky.
If there is surfeit and choking, then that is to come. Instead we have drama (both internal and external), with those smoky, coal-dust clouds behind, as though they've been exhaled from the very cloth of the dark, hoodie angel.
What does it all signify? Ultimately, I'd prefer not to be too bound by the title itself.
To me, it's about physical and mental torture and how close we are to very deep primitive forces despite our veneer of civilisation.
This is just one narrative , of course. The spoilt dog and sky-roaring tiger also illustrate stark contrasts between two very different worlds and how our consciences are disturbed by these.
Merthyr-born designer Julien Macdonald has been awarded an OBE. He totally supports the use of emaciated models on the cat-walk, despite all the links to body image and to anorexia. He has also used animal skin and fur in his well-known outfits, without any qualms. He is obviously not affected - like the man in the blood-red jacket in the painting - by issues of morality and cruelty to animals.
From this extraordinary painting ( part of The Tabernacle Collection at MOMA, Machynlleth), I'd like to praise another Merthyr-grown work which I was discovered this week.
This is an e.p. from a mysterious new group/musician called twlc, called 'Radio/Dim Radio'. It can be found on twlc's Facebook page.
It is highly atmospheric music, sometimes tuneful, sometimes dissonant. Voices are distorted, so it's hard to make out the words and music is looped and layered. It reminds me somewhat of 'Godspeed You! Black Emperor', the Canadian collective.
It's not so much garage as cellar and roof-tile sounds, either descending into the stuff of nightmares , or ready to take flight.
At times, there's an edge of madness, at others of laughter.
Like the haunting figures in Payne's painting, it is never comfortable and challenges the listener to open their ears and spread their wings, or dig into the darkness below and wonder at the bones and fragments unearthed.
Payne's paintings and the music of twlc represent exciting explorations.
Walk into the frame. Sit down on the arched wooden bench. Listen closely to the music of hooded darkness and growl of the long-throated tiger.
After all, this is a Merthyr tiger.
What a time to be here
at this meeting place,
this confluence of rivers
no maps claim exist.
You will not find it
on Google Earth,
be able to zoom in
on its strange coincidence.
The river of oil,
of paint brushed seaward,
textures of colours
sculpted in solidified liquid.
The river of song ;
caneuon of the streets
and gwlis coursing
like water-made sound.
The river of poetry
creating the telling signs,
with letters of bird flight :
curve of gull, line of heron.
Here on the narrow join,
precarious with that surging ;
from under the canopies,
canvas, page and score, we're emerging.