re-imaging the mari lwyd 1

When the Mari Lwyd drawings were made in 2000 – 01, they were recorded as medium format transparencies. The transparencies, alas, have not stood the test of time particularly well. They were taken in daylight during various weather conditions, and this meant the images were inconsistent in terms of colour and tone, even though the drawings were all made in the same three colours of Conté pencil: white, black and terracotta.

As we have six of the large works still in our archive, in order to generate better images for the monograph, today Peter’s sister Sally and I removed the drawings from their frames and his brother Martin began the task of photographing them digitally in studio conditions under lamps. Here’s one of the first to be done. (Click to enlarge.) These drawings have never in the past been reproduced in such detail, nor with the colours as true. I’m only sorry that we have so few available for re-photographing. It would be wonderful to have the entire series re-imaged this well.

Last Meeting

2002 – Conté on Arches Paper – 122 x 153 cms

Photograph by Martin Wakelin

I’ve always been hesitant about describing the details of the events that were the catalysts of individual drawings, but perhaps the Artlog is a place where my reticence can be suspended. (I don’t want ‘facts’ to get in the way of viewers’ responses to the images.)

The man leading the Mari is Vince, my father’s brother. Vince returned to Llanfrechfa after serving in World War I. He set himself up at Berthlwyd Farm about a mile away from the family home, Oak House, where my grandparents had raised their nine children, of which my father Trevor was the youngest. Vince never married. My father recounted how he’d been ‘crossed in love’ by a young woman, and had thereafter been unforgiving of the opposite sex. He was a fugitive figure in the years of my childhood, keeping to himself and appearing rarely at Oak House, where I frequently visited and stayed with his brother and sister-in-law, my Uncle Horace and  Aunt Mattie. Horace and Mattie spent their entire married life together at Oak House, which is there still, though much changed since the death of of Mattie when it was sold out of the family.

In old age Vince found farming Berthylwyd too difficult to continue, and my father helped him find a comfortable end of terrace house in Caerleon to retire to. There he enjoyed village life, keeping a weather eye on his immediate neighbors (and for the most part finding them wanting). Vince was entertaining enough in small quantities, but he was a bit of a misanthrope. Moreover he kept Trevor on the go with endless errands to the point where I worried that my father was being run ragged. In the event it was the younger man by some thirteen years who died first, and Vince followed his younger brother into Llanfrechfa Church graveyard six months later, a year short of his centenary.

I sometimes think that the heart went out of Vince when he no longer had Trevor to bait and pick quarrels with. He was a man who enjoyed having something to complain about, and with Trevor gone, there was no longer a focus to his ill-humour.

When I embarked on the series of Mari Lwyd drawings in 2000, it was Vince who I felt had hastened my father’s decline, though I realise at this distance that they had a close relationship and were able to understand and forgive each others’ shortcomings. But in the grip of the sadness that fuelled much of the Mari Lwyd drawing, it was Vince I envisaged as the harbinger of Trevor’s death, and so it’s his likeness that comes creeping stealthily through the night, leading the Mari to his brother.

6 thoughts on “re-imaging the mari lwyd 1

  1. This is a bracing piece, Clive, foreboding and ominous and darkly intoxicating. Your words, read after seeing the image, do justice to explain the story that so vividly comes to life in the work. I agree that distance of time can do much to lessen the sting of a perceived wrong, but I’m thankful you allowed yourself to feel back then and to channel those feelings into such works. The emotion is real and does much to give life to this image.

    And I’ll say again that I do so love gaining an understanding into the background of a piece. I realize some might think it reduces the magic and impact of art to know the mechanics or meaning that went into it, but I disagree with that. Seeing it first allows me to form my own comprehension, to understand how it impacts me, yet after that it takes on new life and new definition if I also know the real story behind it. So thank you for sharing this!

    • I would never want these drawings to be seen in a gallery accompanied by text panels giving my accounts of how they were made and what was in my mind. But here, where a relatively few people will see them, I’m happy to share my memories. I count myself extremely lucky on the Artlog that those who visit and leave comments, are without exception understanding and knowledgeable. This is the place where I can discuss and offer the history of the drawings for those who are probably the most interested in them.

  2. i really can’t get over the style of this drawing, though. the shadows branching across the ground, almost like the weaving of veins underneath everything (and up the stump of the tree)…the ropey thickness of limbs and cloth and fingers against the stark black of the sky and the sharp squares of the buildings. there is so much depth! and the faces are so distinctive, so full of character!

  3. this is an amazing post, clive. the image is so intense and vivid on its own, and your recounting in words of its characters is just as profoundly expressed. as always, thank you for the way you share here…

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