The Penfold Press ‘Gawain’ edition of prints.

The collaboration between me and Dan Bugg at Penfold Press to produce a series of editioned screen-prints  on the theme of the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is underway.

The prints are to be produced and made available for purchase sequentially. I spent some weeks working in detail through Simon Armitage’s 2007 translation/re-working of the poem, making notes and finding the passages that spoke to me in visual terms. While I could happily have made a series of forty images, on the principle that less-is-more, I whittled it down to fourteen.

Developmental sketches of the decapitated Green Knight holding aloft his own severed head

I’ll hold back from sharing with you the aspects I’ll be illustrating because Dan and I want there to be the element of surprise as each new print is editioned and launched. I recently showed the completed list of fourteen titles to Dan and to Sarah Parvin. (Sarah was the moving force behind this project, coming up with the idea and then teaming Dan and me.) With the ‘list’ agreed and signed off by all concerned, I’ve started a workbook to begin building the images.

Dan and I will shortly be producing  Man Slain by a Tiger, a print inspired by Tipu’s Tiger/ The Death of Munrow that we’re using as a dry-run for the Gawain series. After that, the great work will begin.

Preparatory colour sketch for Man Slain by a Tiger

Rendering in lithographic crayon on True-Grain

Below: study for Gawain from my notebook for the fourteen prints.

Watch this space.

The Thank You

My thanks to the collaborators: to Jordan Morley, who modelled and encouraged, to Jeffery Beam, who wrote the glorious poetry, to Pete Telfer, who filmed, edited and supported, to Sarah Parvin, who never stopped believing, to Peter Byrom-Smith who made the music, and last but not least among the collaborators, to Maria Maestre, who inspired and cheered all of us from afar.

The Arts Centre staff have been wonderful. Eve Ropek, together with Tim Walley and Jen Loffman, worked tirelessly to produce, present and run the exhibition to the highest standards. It looked fantastic, better than I dared hope.

My framer, Anthony at Oriel y Bont, danced around my crazed schedule of delivering new works right up to the finishing line. His care and attention to every detail of the presentation of paintings and drawings, meant that I was able to pour my energies where they were most needed.

Finally the exhibition was ready and it was time to throw open the doors to the gallery.

Poet Gillian Clarke enthralled guests with her opening speech. Mary Ann Constantine wrote the preview for Planet Magazine, and later during the run of the exhibition expertly guided the evening of ‘Conversation’ in front of an audience in the cinema auditorium. Francesca Rydderch introduced Dark Movements in the handsome fold-out presented to visitors to the gallery. Eric Roberts, Damian Walford Davies and Mary Ann Constantine read the poetry of Jeffery Beam and Catriona Urquhart to visitors at a gallery event, and Damian read an extract from his libretto for The Mare’s Tale, the 2013 chamber-work by composer Mark Bowden based on my Mari Lwyd drawings. Eric, who had performed the original piece, sang to close the event, and we were all without words after his hauntingly beautiful performance.

Finally, I come to Peter Wakelin. Without his support there would be no Dark Movements. Let’s face it, there wouldn’t be anything. He is and has always been my rock. When I’m preoccupied, driven and obsessed, I know I cannot be an easy person to be around. Most of you see the best of me, but he gets all the dark stuff too, and yet he continues, unwavering.

On Saturday July 25th I’m to give a maquette-making workshop titled Illusions of Life at the Arts Centre, and at the end of business on that day, the gallery doors will close and the exhibition Dark Movements will be over. I’ll try to organise a few minutes alone in the space before I walk away from it. I imagine it will be rather like taking leave of a group of friends brought together for a special occasion. So many of you are tied up in the exhibition in so many ways, and your presences have been felt there… even those of you who because of great distances weren’t able to come… woven into the warp and weft of the work.

After such an intense period of collaboration and sharing, I know it will feel very odd indeed when the curtain has come down and the show is over. There will be a crash for me of some sort, and I must work out strategies for getting through it. This one feels as though it will be painful. I have never before in my practice as a painter worked quite so extensively and so enjoyably with so many. It will be the oddest sensation not to be daily in the company of such a group as this one has become.

Your support and creative energy have been fuel to the work. Your streams of e-mails and messages have kept me fizzing. There are other projects to look forward to, and the friendships will continue, I know. But this particular party, which I have so enjoyed, will be over.

Work begets work, and ideas develop from what gets made. I intend to continue building on what was started in Dark Movements. I feel the dance isn’t quite over yet.

Out of the Woods: part 1

Although I made a first pass at the dummy copy of Hansel & Gretel quite a while back, I’ve been re-visiting it and making significant changes. (It always pays to sleep on things for a while.) This is to be a picture-book, and the images have to carry the narrative.

With such an iconic story, there must be a balance between relying on what viewers already know of it, while not taking too much for granted. Plus there is the dream-like element that I envisage, and the surprise twists of the story that need to be conveyed without over-burdening the images with explanation.

I’ve restored the ‘bad mother’ theme. It seems that when the collection became popular, parents were uneasy with such notions, and the Grimm brothers obligingly excised them from subsequent editions.

But it seems to me that in fairy tales, the horrors lie not just in the realm of the unknown outer world, but in the familiar places that should be safe. What could be more horrific than an uncaring mother who puts her children in the way of a predatory cannibal witch?

From my workbook.

There is not enough food to go around.

This mother is implacable, and her meaning is clear.

The father is weak, and says nothing.

The Witch’s cottage has been through many guises, from brutal modernism… a concrete bunker bristling with lollipops… to gingerbread gothic. This is how it looked in the Hansel & Gretel piece I made for Random Spectacular that led to the current project.

More recent images from my workbook.

I envisage it hyper-coloured and sweating sugar-syrup!

I’m constantly paring back and simplifying. This…

… became this. The small format works better with cleaner outlines.

A dried plant stalk, picked on a mountain walk last year, has become a model for trees in the witch’s wood.

A threatening forest also recently appeared in the Dark Movements toy theatre…

… and something like it may well find its way into Hansel & Gretel.

More soon.

A day at Penparc Cottage

Artworks left at the cottage by artists Steffan Jones-Hughs and Jeanette Orrell, who stayed there last week. Steffan made the painting of the cottage viewed from the back garden, and Jeanette made two studies of plants.

The Cottage

Beautiful, soft sea-light on old plaster and tongue and groove.

Ceramics

Vintage charger painted by me in cold enamel.

Foliate head serving-dish that I made in the ceramic workshop of Pip Koppel.

Plate thrown by Pip Koppel and slip-decorated by me with a nautilus.

Jack-on-the-Beach

A happy day!

Dore Abbey

Yesterday, on our way home from staying with our friends Nicolas and Frances McDowall of The Old Stile Press in the Wye Valley, Peter and I took a detour to visit Dore Abbey in ‘Golden Valley’, a ravishingly beautiful area of Herefordshire. The abbey was founded in 1147 by Robert Fitz Harold of Ewyas, the Lord of Ewyas Harold, possibly on the site of earlier wooden monastic buildings of which no traces remain. The abbey is located close to the River Dore. It was formed as a daughter house of the Cistercian abbey at Morimond, perhaps after Lord Robert had met the Abbot of Morimond on the Second Crusade.

I’ve long been in thrall to Dore, a site of such unparalleled peacefulness that I sometimes feel an imperative to visit and drink it in.

There are the wall paintings dating from 1700

a seventeenth century poor-box

and knightly tomb effigies, one of which depicts a suit of chain-mail I’m going to reference for my new Gawain prints.

Then there is the light through ancient glass, shimmering and ever-changing.

Dore Abbey is a patchwork beauty, wearing its many periods of building-work and use with easy grace. It is incomparable with any other place I know, softly patinated to the point where all its materials… stone, glass and wood… have merged so that they seem as one.

preparing artwork for a print

Dan Bugg at Penfold Press and I are collaborating on an editioned series of screenprints on the theme of the medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But because I’ve never before done work of this type, I’m taking a tilt at the process by making artwork for a trial print unrelated to Gawain, using a drawing of a Staffordshire group of a man being slain by a tiger. The original postcard-sized drawing was made as a birthday present for my friend Ben Koppel.  I’m re-working it as a print at a much larger scale, which means I can include the ornate pedestal that I had no room for in the postcard version.

The original, postcard-sized pencil drawing

Pencil on paper enlargement, made as a guide

Working in greasy lithographic crayon on a sheet of True Grain

Adding Tusche Waterproof to define the negative space of the composition.

The True Grain is secured with registration pins over the guide drawing. What is painted red here, will be black in the final print.

Rendering the detail

I’ll be posting about this project as it progresses.

Dear Jordan

Dear Jordan

This letter is by way of a thank you. Last night in the cinema auditorium of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Mary-Ann Constantine and I had a ‘conversation’ about Dark Movements in front of an audience. We sat on the stage in comfortable armchairs, a table between us laid with glasses and water-jug and a multi-directional microphone that allowed us to speak conversationally, and yet be heard by everyone. Peter and I know Mary-Ann and her family quite well now. We live about a twenty-minute drive from each other, and we have all become friends, spending time in each others company. She is insightful, eloquent, sometimes enigmatic, and occasionally challenging. It is her way. Mary-Ann has the capacity to come at you with a razor-sharp intellect that takes no hostages, and when she casts those blue eyes questioningly in your direction, you’d better have a good answer. But she’s also very funny, and has a way with a put-down that can make me bark out loud with shock and pleasure. Mary-Ann has had much to do with this exhibition. She wrote the preview of it for Planet Magazine, and she was one of the readers in the gallery poetry event on June 13th. So it was her I asked to be my interrogator in the cinema auditorium, and she agreed. Moreover, I advised her not to tell me anything of what she planned by way of questions in advance, so that my answers would be fresh.

She was brilliant last night. She set the context of my work so cleverly… and so thoroughly… that for a while there I though I might not have to say anything, but just smile benignly and nod. But when her questions came, I was off like a rocket, because she’d so cleverly opened the door for me to pass through. Moreover she handled the audience skilfully, and when the time came for questions toward the end, there were none of those embarrassingly long silences that can make such occasions rather unnerving. (I’ve attended many a question-and-answer where the participants on-stage have been reduced to begging their audience for questions!) Mary-Ann coaxed them masterfully, and the hands began to go up.

She spoke of you, as did I. I tried to describe the way we started working together on the later-to-be-cancelled Barcelona exhibition. How I sent you a script that I suggested you ‘enact’ for the camera, and how you’d returned photographs, not just of your responses to the script, but unexpected images posed as ‘twisters’, re-workings of shapes you’d seen in the Mari Lwyd drawings in the book I’d sent you.

Last night, as giant images of you from the completed Dark Movements paintings were projected onto the cinema-screen behind us, they combined in memory with my recollections of how we originally responded to each other (when was that now? I can’t recall) leading to friendship, trust and creativity. I realised that in some way this version of you… blue, naked, armoured, tulip-emblazoned and comet-tailed with hair, floating spectre-like over the event, intriguing all onlookers, simultaneously geographically distant and yet dynamically present… this ‘gallery’ Jordan is less the version that is significant to me, than the man behind it, who’s funny, mischievous, practical, supportive and emotionally generous.

Jordan, I wish you could have been there. I imagined you, sitting in the front row with John, your faces alight with the spectacle of what was unfolding on the screen:

Jordan as disarticulating maquette…

Jordan as silver-armoured centaur/knight…

Jordan as horseman of the apocalypse…

Mari-wrangler…

 revenant…

 and Muse!

Sending love to you and John from Wales,

Clive xxx