Roger CecilRoger Cecil was born on 18 July 1942 and raised at Abertillery, Monmouthshire, a town locked between mountains and put there for coal. His father Thomas Charles Cecil was a collier, and his mother Hilda Mary (nee Evans) looked after their four children at 51 Queen Street in the town. Their terrace house would be Roger's home for his whole life. He attended primary school in the street where he lived, then went to Bryngwyn secondary modern nearby.
At 16, he was accepted into Newport College of Art, where he became troubled that painters worked " in each others pockets" so that influences rubbed off and each became a "bit of everybody". Against stiff opposition, he gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London, but rejected the opportunity on the grounds that it would be detrimental to his art. This caused such a stir that the BBC made a documentary, Quiet Rebel (1964), examining the reasons for his extraordinary decision. It revealed the 21-year-old as a gentle and grave young man who was absolutely clear in his determination to "do painting my way".
Free from the confines of art college, and living in the family house after his parents had died, Cecil supported himself through casual labouring jobs and occasional picture sales. He sold reasonably well through dealers in London, Cardiff, Devon and elsewhere, but business relationships were never easily maintained and cognoscenti who wanted to visit his studio had to pass on to each other a special code for telephoning him, - ring, ring off, and ring again. Just a handful of his paintings were ever acquired by public collections. In the mid 1990's, he went, after all, into further study at Central St. Martins in London, and latterly taught A level art in Ebbw Vale.
Roger Cecil, was an archetype for the artist who is insufficiently recognized during his lifetime. He was from a working class background and largely stuck to his home area in the South Wales valleys, uninterested in worldly success but absorbed in trying to be the best possible painter.
His inspiration was the fused natural industrial environment that he saw all around him: "these big, gigantic sorts of break in the mountain: man made things" He loved to climb to the hidden moorland that roofs the welsh coalfield, often sleeping overnight in a sheepfold to catch the first light. Stepping out across the hills provided him with thinking time, and the rhythm of his walking entered his pictures.
He used diverse materials in his painting, including plaster, car body filler, household paints and grate blacking, working them for months with decorating brushes, plastering floats, chisels, sandpaper and scrapers - with revelatory effects. The paintings sang with harmonies of greys, pinks, whites, deep brown and coal black, and they were complex in texture - rough, dry, polished and pitted. Works by international masters such as Antoni Tapies and Pierre Soulages could have been exhibited in their company with confidence.
Although he was unconcerned with accolades, some sought to win him recognition in later life. In 1995 Joan and Bert Isaac gave him a retrospective at Hill Court in Abergavenny; Moma Wales invited him to show at Machynlleth in 1998; there were exhibitions at the Oriel Myrddin Gallery in Carmarthen in 2006 and 2011.
In 2008, the BBC returned to follow up on the Quiet Rebel, and found a much older man who had the same certainty of vocation that he displayed at 21. He was also sceptical about the interest people showed in him, saying: " I always think my work's not that good....What do they want it for ?".
Many, however, did want it, in 2010, Cecil was honoured by a special exhibition at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in Ebbw Vale, seen by tens of thousands. It was curated by the artist Mary Lloyd Jones, who considered him "the top painter in Wales, without any doubt at all".
Cecil said in 2008: " I am very lucky, because 99% of the people don't know what they want to do. I knew from when I was about 10 that I wanted to do art. And I've done it".
Roger Cecil suffered from dementia late in life and went missing from the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport. Allegedly he was trying to make his way back to Abertillery. His body was discovered in Cwmbran on 22 February 2015 and cause of death was listed as hypothermia.
At the time of his death he was survived by one brother and sister.