Making the Myths Map

Since February my working days have been pretty much filled with the Myths Map/Telling Tales project commissioned by English Heritage. My brief was to conceive and create artwork for an interactive map featuring myths, legends and folklore associated with selected E.H. sites. Working closely with Gravitywell, the Bristol-based digital agency charged with building the map, I’ve produced all its assets, including the English Heritage Myths Map logo through which the site is entered (see below), the map outlines, textures and topography, the settlements and the E.H. site icons.

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Below: George and the Dragon were built as paper maquettes and then scanned, digitally assembled and animated for the map logo

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Below: drawn elements used to create the settlements of the Myths Map

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Below: some of the many English Heritage site icons I produced for the map

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Animated elements for the map and sea surrounding it, were made by me and digitally animated by Gravitywell. There are deer and birds for the land, and assorted sea monsters for coastal zones.

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Below: Photo credit: © English Heritage/ Abi Bansal

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Below: Kraken maquette and ships

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Below: in the studio I roughly layered elements to guide the animators

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In addition to the map assets, I’m making animation maquettes for use in films being produced by English Heritage about some of the sites and the myths and legends associated with them. The first of these is St Hilda of Whitby, who founded Whitby Abbey and according to legend asked God’s help to clear the site of vipers so the building work could be carried out in safety.

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My attachment to the Telling Tales project extends to producing illustrations on the theme of Myths and Legends for English Heritage Magazine throughout the year, the first of which has been Saint George and the Dragon for the Spring edition.

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No project of this scale can get to completion without the cooperation and collaboration of many, and the Myths Map teams at English Heritage and Gravitywell were sterling throughout. Enthusiasm and appreciation were boundless at every stage, which made the experience a pleasure even when the hours were long and the ‘to-do’ lists were endless. As an artist much of what I do is solitary, but on Telling Tales the sense of work carried out in partnership with enthusiasts, has been the chief pleasure of the project. I’m so pleased it came my way, and my thanks to those who sought me out to play a part.

Click HERE to visit the Myths Map

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The Kraken Surfaces…

… in an animation that’s just a marginal detail – like a tiny but telling image in the border of an illuminated manuscript – within a project I’m working on for English Heritage, the launch of which will be announced soon.

 

The animation began with the construction of a simple maquette of the Kraken, and a drawing of the stricken ship.

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Below, the maquette is placed over the drawing to give a rough impression of how the two will work together.

 

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The schedule allowed for only minimal animation, and to that end the Kraken was a simple build from two layers: a top one of the head with four tentacles, and a layer beneath with two tentacles. While we didn’t have the time to produce a more elaborate ‘coiling’ animation, the two Kraken layers moving independently of each other give an impression of writhing tentacles. All of the animations for this project have to run on loop, and to that end have been designed as tiny narratives that have a start and a finish, and can endlessly repeat.

The Kraken and ship were scanned and delivered, along with my animation storyboards, to our collaborators at the Bristol-based Gravitywell, an award-winning digital agency that develops websites, iphone/android apps, and SEO services. Laura-Jane Alison is project manager at Gravitywell keeping us all to schedule, and Matt Doyle is the lead designer responsible for the animated sequences. I think you can very likely tell from the Kraken animation that we’ve been having a lot of fun with the project. The scans have been digitally coloured according to the palette agreed between me and English Heritage’s supervising art director for the project, Becky Baker.

Artists and illustrators have long been drawn to the notion of sea monsters going head to head with ships, and there’s no shortage of visual material exploring the theme, both historic and contemporary.

 

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The Kraken is a particular favourite of tattoo artists, and in a painting I made some time ago of an inked fisherman, I added a tattoo of a giant Nautilus reaching out to grasp a clipper.

The main source of inspiration for the Kraken in my animation, is this illustration by Denys Montfort in Histoire naturelle, général et particuliére des mollusques: animal sans vertébrés et a sang blanc, Volume 2, published in 1801.

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But for those of you who remember him, I suspect I’ve been channeling the spirit of Captain Pugwash.)

 

The Soldier’s Tale Rebooted

 

 

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Earlier this year a student at the university, Job Wan, contacted me to ask whether I might be persuaded to allow the use of some of my images for a performance of  The Soldier’s Tale at the UBC’s School of Music. The lineup of musicians would be from UBC and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

I had little idea when Jacob enquired, what he had in mind. I thought maybe a few projected images, as I often get asked permissions for relatively simple presentations to accompany performances of TST. But later the conductor Robert Taylor joined in the conversations, and I began to get some idea of the ambition of Team UBC. To begin with I provided them with the edit I’d made, together with Pete Telfer and Daniel Broncano, for last year’s performance at Musica en Segura in Andalusia, which included quite a lot of animation. Jacob immediately got to work, using not only the material I’d sent, but other Soldier’s Tale imagery I’d produced over the years that he’d tracked down online, including paintings on the theme. In an extraordinary creative act, he re-tooled the material into an immersive presentation, using a wrap-around screen constructed from LED panels to fill the stage with imagery. For the first time my paintings and animations for The Soldier’s Tale would be not projected onto a screen above the musicians, but wrapped around them.

Back in 2013 I’d had very little time to draw playing-cards for the animated sequence of the game between Joseph and the Devil, and made only a handful of them. But Jacob has cleverly made a little go a long way by duplicating images so that the stage transforms into a storm of cards. One day I must try designing a full set. There is something entirely pleasing in the underlying design principle of the four suits.

 

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Field of Play

The commission to make the image of Saint George and the Dragon for English Heritage Magazine, came in over Christmas while Peter and I were staying with our friends Liz and Graham at their home near Lamonzie Montastruc, Dordogne.

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Because the deadline for completion was so tight, and moreover I needed to get a preliminary off for approval before we returned to the UK, the first sketches for the painting were made at the kitchen table while Lizzie busied herself with preparations for supper – and puss thought that sitting in the middle of my sketch pad was a good way to help me better concentrate. (Here she is getting my attention to let her in!)

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A few days later, back in my studio and with the clock ticking down, I painted into the small hours to complete the work so that I could deliver it for scanning at the National Library of Wales the following morning. Skin of the teeth timing!

 

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Framed and titled ‘Field of Play’, the painting sold at the Martin Tinney Gallery a couple of weeks before it appeared in the Spring edition of English Heritage Magazine. I’m currently working on the next image in the series.

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I think I should go to stay with Liz and Graham whenever carrying out commissioned work. La Crabouille is clearly conducive to  my creative flow!

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Announcement in the current edition of English Heritage Magazine:

‘Clive Hicks-Jenkins is our selected artist for this year’s theme of ‘Telling Tales: The Myths, Legends and Folklore of England’. Look out for more of Clive’s work, which will be appearing across our website, magazine and social media channels over the year ahead.’

Image: Saint George and the Dragon for the article ‘Saint, Soldier, Slayer’, by Michael Carter.

Hansel & Gretel: the film of the production

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For all those who missed the tour of Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes

CLICK HERE

to see the production, recorded at the London premiere in the Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican, last October.

The film is by the extraordinary Pete Telfer at Culture Colony. Pete had been cameraman and editor on an animated book-trailer we’d made as a promotion for the original Hansel & Gretel picture-book published by Random Spectacular, and then in 2018 joined the Goldfield Production team to work with me on the filmed and animated footage to be projected onstage during the performances.

Pete followed all stages of the pre-production, chronicling the creative processes and interviewing the team in the lead up to the premiere at last year’s Cheltenham Festival of Music. This documentation was made as a part of his ongoing and ground-breaking initiative at Culture Colony to record significant cultural events with Welsh artists at the heart of them. Without his generosity and tireless effort, there would have been no comprehensive record of the making of ‘Hansel & Gretel’, and all of us associated with it, production company, production staff and performers, owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his outstanding work. Later, Goldfield found a modest budget to underpin Pete’s filming of the Barbican performances, and the film has been edited together from that material.

In 2011 it was Pete Telfer, together with my then partner – and now husband, Peter Wakelin – who encouraged me to diversify my practice as an artist by making some animation tests with my studio maquettes, and my rather clumsy efforts were edited by Pete into a haunting little film with a spoken text by the American poet Marly Youmans. In 2013 he was animation cameraman on ‘The Mare’s Tale’, composed by Mark Bowden to a text by Damian Walford Davies, and premiered in a single, fully-staged production performed by Mid Wales Music Theatre.

When Kate Romano asked me to work with her to create a new Hansel & Gretel for her company Goldfield Productions, Pete Telfer came to the project with me, together with artists Peter Lloyd (papercut puppets), Jan Zalud (puppet-maker), Philip Cooper (scenic design, models and animation assistant), Jonathan Street (animation editor and onstage cameraman), Di Ford (puppeteer) and Oon Cg, (puppet wardrobe). I approached Simon Armitage, who I’d been in conversations with since he’d invited me to contribute illustrations to the Faber & Faber revision of his translation of Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, and he came to meet Kate Romano and me to discuss whether he’d be interested in producing a libretto for music yet to be written by composer Matthew Kaner. Simon agreed, and we were up and away.

There were others who joined the team as the work progressed, but these were the collaborators who were in place from the beginning.

 

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‘Not a sugary dream, but a nightmare in eight scenes: make no bones about poet Simon Armitage’s contemporary retelling of the tale most familiar in the Brothers Grimm version. Hansel and Gretel’s plight becomes that of child refugees, whose parents’ agonising decision is to abandon their offspring to give them their only chance of surviving war. Armitage took his cue from the darkly imaginative illustrations by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who has now translated those original visions into a puppet show with new music by Matthew Kaner. In this premiere performance at the Chelteneham Festival staged by Goldfield Productions, what appeared at first to be a slight, small-scale affair in the end resonated altogether more deeply.

Kaner’s quintet of players – strings, wind and toy pianos – were arranged on either side of a screen whose animated shadow play featured first the parents and then the ravenous craw of the archaeopteryx-like witch. On the central trestle table were Hansel and Gretel, wooden puppets barely a foot high that were manipulated by Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. It was the intimacy of tiny gestures offering expressive detail, in turn mirroring Kaner’s musical mood, that spoke volumes. Armitage’s words are the constantly shining white pebbles guiding the piece; his final verbal riff on light and dark will be even better savoured on the published page. Narrator Adey Grummet – twice bursting into sung lines – emphasised the mix of humour and satire with the moments of dystopian horror, making this an all too timely reminder of some children’s living, waking, starving nightmare. (Rian Evans, full review in The Guardian)

 

Spectral Pegasus: Dark Movements

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My exhibition Dark Movements, made in collaboration with the American poet, Jeffery Beam, ran through the Summer of 2015 at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. The dancer Jordan Morley was tireless in his support for the project, turning himself inside-out and back-to-front to be my model for all the paintings.

Three years on and Jeffrey’s dream to have his poems published, alongside images of the paintings they had accompanied in the exhibition, has come to pass. Tireless encouragement for the project came from Sarah Parvin (aka The Curious One), who has also contributed an essay, and from Jeffery’s close circle of admirers and supporters, among whom Maria Maestre has been a significant moving force for both author and artist. My heartfelt congratulations to Kin Press, who published the book, and to J.C. Mlozanowski, who edited and designed it. I doff my cap to the many who helped bring Spectral Pegasus: Dark Movements to the finishing line, but especially to Stanley. (He knows why!)

My thanks for a contribution, each, from Mary Ann Constantine, reprinted with permission from Planet magazine, and from Claire Pickard, reprinted with permission from the blog of New Welsh Review.

And an especially warm thank you to Eve Ropek, whose support of Dark Movements when she was in post as Exhibitions Officer at the Arts Centre, was unflagging, insightful and inspiring throughout.

Spectral Pegasus: Dark Movements

Poems by Jeffery Beam and artworks by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Published by Kin Press

Copies available from Pen’rallt Bookshop, Machynlleth.

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In an event organised by Pen’rallt Books, the poet will be reading from his work at:

MoMA Machynlleth

Wednesday May 15th, 2019

7:00 PM – 8:45 PM