Maciek and the Mermen: part 1

Maciek Siudut lives in Warsaw, and we connected through Facebook. When I asked him to write about himself for this post, he sent the following:

Maciek’s Biography 

My name is Maciek Siudut. I was born on October 13, 1977 in Gdynia. In Poland people born in Gdynia they call śledzie (herrings).

Since I remember, I was a sensitive person. Always reacted emotionally to music and film. Probably that’s why they are the closest muses to me. Quite addicted to watching movies and always listening to music. This doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in other art directions. I also love architecture and graphics.

My life never was complicated. Quite ordinary.

I come from a military family. My dad is a sailor. My mother never worked.

I spent part of my childhood in Dresden, Germany. This is where I started my schooling. There I experienced my first friendships, first raptures of love. Very happy period.

After returning to Poland, I had problems with acclimatization to the new reality. It turned out that the Poles feed a huge dislike for the Germans. I unfortunately was in their opinion a German…

After primary school I landed at Salesian High School. This was not my choice. I yielded to my mom. I was never a believer. Strange experience, I have to admit…

The next step in my life, higher studies. This decision I made already by my own. I chose Architecture and Planning at the Technical University of Gdansk. I met many interesting and wonderful people there. At this stage of life I also began to explore my homosexuality more.

I’m gay and I’ve always been. Since childhood. I’ve never had a problem with it. My orientation doesn’t define my lifestyle. I’m first and foremost a human being.

At the moment I work as a copywriter in an advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. A completely new experience.

My passion is tattoos. I like to watch people. I like to travel.

My life never was complicated. Quite ordinary.

Maciek and I are about to embark on a collaborative art project that will continue over an extended period. I’m to create an image based on a description by Maciek, and he’s then going to have it tattooed on his body. Maciek has suggested two mermen, facing each other from either side of his torso. He wants one to be Neptune and the other a young sailor. The sailor is the sea-god’s lover, and has been transformed into a merman in the process. I see the design as a sort of garland curving around Maciek’s belly and up onto the sides of his abdomen, though all of this will be open for discussion between us as the design evolves.

From the e-mails

  • Maciek: I’m really very happy and can’t wait to see first sketches.
  • Clive: I will try to clear some time. I’m not going to rush this, as I see it as an ‘art project’ and as such I’ll need to think my way into it and get it right. (I’m wondering whether I might get exhibitable material out of it.) I guess you know that I blog about my work. Are you happy for me to write about this project as it develops? And will it be OK for me to quote from our e-mails? This is definitely an art collaboration. The subject was one you decided on, and you’re to be the canvas. I think the process of  us working together will be interesting for people to read about. I’ll need a photograph of your torso that I can scale-up and print out so that I get the shapes fitting correctly. Can you do that for me?
  • Maciek: Sure! I’ve made a photo.
  • Clive: Got it. Thank you. The figures will have to be larger than in the example of a tattoo you sent to me earlier. Mermen are more complicated than the bluebirds in the image.
  • Maciek: Yes, I agree. Maybe you have another idea, where I should make this tattoo? Maybe it shouldn’t be at the pelvis area?
  • Clive: I think the pelvis is good. It’s one of my favourite parts of male anatomy and it figures quite a lot in my work. But we’ll keep discussing the possibilities as the design develops. If at some point we both agree that the tattoo would be better somewhere else on your body, we can rethink and adapt. While the overall shape will be symmetrical in feel, it cannot be a mirrored image because you want two different characters. This won’t be a problem for me to balance in a pleasing way, but just bear the fact in mind.
  • Maciek: I don’t want them to be similar. They should be like a younger and older brother, or like a father and son. Each should have his own attributes.
  • Clive: Agreed. I’ll draw out the image in a way that will allow for all the detail you’ve described. Then we can re-scale it to fit you. I think the likelihood is that the mer-tails will either have to curve back and up and wrap around your sides, or they might sweep down and to the the centre to intertwine at your pubis. Do you want the design to stay above a low belt-line, or are you happy for it to partially disappear beneath it?  I’m assuming you don’t want the mermen’s tails disappearing into your pubic hair.
  • Maciek: I like better the idea their tails are curved back and up. They can surely wrap around my sides. I also don’t have a problem to go with the tattoo beneath my belt line, but I’m not sure I want it to go into my pubic hair.
  • Clive: I agree. OK for men who shave down there, but otherwise I think it would just look messy. I recently made a painting of a bearded fisherman… the first in a planned series… with a design of a giant nautilus pursuing a sailboat tattooed on his forearm.

  • Maciek: That’s my favourite painting of yours. Maybe the sailor should be also ginger? What do you think?

  • Clive: I don’t want to lock too much into the idea of colour just yet. Let’s leave that area for later discussion. Right now I’m going to concentrate on form. A couple of years ago I made illustrations for a fold-out alphabet book that included both Neptune and a sailor. Neither looked the way you’ve described what you’d like, but I’m including them here as a bit of background detail to illustrate that I like your idea! (The drawings for your tattoo will be a lot more detailed, and the outlines of the figures will be designed to be more elaborate in decorative terms.)

  • Maciek: Your drawings and paintings are really well detailed and I could wear every each of them on my skin.
  • Clive: Well that’s very generous of you. I’m conscious that the tattooist will be working with a needle, which means I’ll be thinking carefully about making a design that will be right for that medium. Do you have someone in mind? You need to be sure that the design is going to be carefully transferred and executed. If you don’t have already have a tattoo artist, then you’ll need to start looking.
  • Maciek: I have already a tattooist, he is perfect for this job. He’s name is Marcin Surowiec. Here you can view his work.
  • Clive: I’ve just been to look. That’s very impressive work. He uses colour fantastically. Thinking about his beautiful use of blue, I wonder about using a vibrant blue and black, in the way the two are combined in this Hervé and the Wolf painting. The tonal values here would translate well to Surowiec’s technique.

The project continues

British Percussion Six-Barrel Pepperpot Revolver

Marc Rees has curated an exhibition for the forthcoming ‘Llandudno Arts Weekend’. He selected nine museum artefacts for nine Royal Cambrian Academicians. Each artist was supplied with a photo detail of an artefact, together with a catalogue description of it, from which a new artwork would evolve. My object was a British percussion six barrel pepperpot revolver made by S. Nocks, 43 Regent St, London, 1840-1850. The description was appended “Gun maker to H.R.H Prince Albert”. This was my ‘detail':

I have no liking for and no interest in guns. In fact I hate them and I hate what they do. I’m not interested in the making of them, not even when mechanical skill and craftsmanship are evident. Were it not for the fact that I was the last artist to be contacted, I would have asked Marc to choose something else for me to work with. But time was incredibly short, and the deadline (today) was imminent.

To begin with I thought I might riff on the elegant metalwork in the photograph. In the end I took the description and went with it, word for word, though not in the way that might be anticipated. Here is my work for LLAWN02, titled: British Percussion Six-Barrel Pepperpot Revolver.

Or perhaps more accurately, a revolving pepper pot in the form of a percussion-playing automaton standing on a base decorated with six barrels.

I referenced the detail from my photograph in a ‘tail’ for the automaton, with a tinkling bell trembling at the tip of it.

And of course, there had to be a dog!

British percussion six barrel pepperpot revolver

Gouache and pencil on board


‘Judas’ cover complete

The image wraps around the the book, though only the animal’s rump, tail and one leg show along the right side of the back cover, leaving plenty of space for the bar-code, publishing imprint and blurb.

It hasn’t departed very far from the sketches.

I made the cover for Witch, another thematic collection by Damian from the publisher Seren. I intended the cover for the current book to sit well when in proximity with the previous one, for when the two appear together in bookshops or online.

for steven

No explanations needed


The next deadline of the month is the wrap-around cover of Damian Walford Davies’ Judas, a series of thematic poems riffing on the title subject in the contemporary settings of Israel and Palestine. The book is to be published by Seren. Here are some of my preparatory sketches:

I wrote to Damian:

‘I became swept away by your poem ‘Fauna’. The biblical notion of dogs and jackals as predatory, feeding on the weak and the dead and being unclean, got tangled in my head with the notion of the dogs of war. Dogs, wolf-like, jackal-like and shit-scary started emerging. Dogs that were twisted by hunger and by bomb-blast, and yet still giving an appearance of being sentient.’

Damian wrote back:

‘Amazing, C. I love it. A Judas dog. Fits so well with so much of the collection — the inner howling, the lurking. And the vignette idea is so exciting. Thank you again for doing this – no one else could inhabit a collection visually like you.’

Beginning the artwork for the cover (detail)

The Swan of Usk window design


My ‘cartoon’… for which read ‘made-to-scale-design’… for the proposed window to celebrate the poet Henry Vaughan at the Church of St Ffraid (Saint Bride) at Llansantffraid, will be on display at the church today and tomorrow. (Friday 12th and Saturday 13th Sept) The church is open for the two days under the ‘Open Doors’ initiative, and the window design will be there for anyone interested in viewing it.

Henry Vaughan has lain in the churchyard of St Ffraid since his death, aged 73, on the 23rd April, 1695. My design for his window carries the first verse of his poem, The World.


‘Glimmerglass’ lands safely


My ten copies of Glimmerglass have arrived from Mercer University Press in the US, neatly and safely packed. I’m cock-a-hoop with delight. This is such a pretty book, from it’s generously-sized reproductions of my chapter-headings, to the tawny endpapers picking up colours from the jacket-flaps.

Mercer and the designer Mary-Frances Glover Burt have between them done a great job. Marly must be a happy author. I’m certainly a happy illuminator!

Even under its jacket, this little book is pretty, with its tiny Minotaur stamped onto the spine!