Farewell to The Mare

Today my friend, the ever perceptive Natalie d’Arbeloff, left a question at the Artlog that has left me undergoing some serious thinking. So in the spirit of candour and sharing that Natalie and I subscribe to in our blogs, here’s a public response to what I very nearly answered privately. Thank you Natalie for putting a question that needed to be asked.

Natalie d’Arbeloff wrote:

‘Clive, having followed the fascinating saga of the creation of this performance from the start, in the wonderfully illustrated way you have shared it, I’m wondering now how you’re going to be able to get back to the loneliness of painting, after the satisfaction and excitment of harmonious collaboration with such a talented team and all the variety of tasks involved. I know that you chose to leave behind your theatrical skills for the quasi-monastic life of an easel painter, but did this new excursion into multi-media theatre make you feel that you might want to do more of it?’

Clive Hicks-Jenkins replied:

Natalie, I put my first career behind me way-back-when, and I did so in a mood of despondency at the way it had been unfolding for the longest time. The theatre is a demanding world, and one that I’d thoroughly explored in the twenty-odd years I worked in it. I’d been a choreographer, a director and a designer, and I’d enjoyed success in all three fields. When the right jobs came along then I was sublimely happy, but it became increasingly apparent that the achievements I was proud of were far outweighed by work-a-day jobs I’d taken to pay my bills and stay afloat. The experience had left me feeling emptied of ambition and with my enthusiasms fatally compromised. Nevertheless, cutting myself free was very hard, and it took a certain ruthlessness. Adrift though unrepentant after I’d made the decision, I determinedly burned all bridges behind me. I fled to Wales, took refuge at Tretower and didn’t set foot in a theatre, not even as a member of an audience, for over a decade. Along this path to another life, I met Peter. With his encouragement I began to paint. In time I came to believe that I should have been a painter from the start, though I’ve since moderated that view. I see now that without the career I had before I came to the easel, I wouldn’t be myself, and wouldn’t be the painter I became.

To return to your question: You ask whether the Mare’s Tale experience has left me wanting to do more. The project was unusual inasmuch that it was a bespoke fit for me, an exploration of a theme in which so much of my past work has been bedded.  I saw the development of TMT into a chamber-work for ensemble as less a return to the theatre, than a continuation of what I do in the studio. If the piece is to have the future MWCO and I envisioned for it when we set out on the adventure, then I want to be a part of that. However, the plans for a tour being some way off in 2015, right now I need to get back to the easel.

In 2014 I have a one-man exhibition for Martin Tinney at the Tegfryn Gallery. After that I’m collaborating with Philippa Robbins on what’s planned as an ‘immersive’ exhibition, in which my contribution will be an installation involving video material and puppet performance. (Another chance to work with Pete Telfer, who was cameraman on both The Soldier’s Tale and The Mare’s Tale.) Clearly the latter project will once more take me away from the easel and into a collaborative environment more akin to the theatre.

This year my projects with MWCO at the Hay Festival and Theatr Brycheiniog saw me fall in love all over again with everything that had captured my heart when I was a teenager. One has to be careful of that kind of thing, because it can be deceptive. On the first day of rehearsal for The Mare’s Tale I was full of trepidation, and even fear. But once I was waist-deep in the process, I just plunged in and swam like a dolphin. It was a real pleasure, and I felt utterly at ease. The twenty-five year gap had done no harm, and had probably made a better director of me. Certainly a more reflective one. I said back when I started the Mare’s Tale adventure in February, that I’d suck it and see. Well it must be said, it’s been a wonderful experience. Now I miss my brave, shining boys and girls more than I can say. They were so dedicated to the project, giving their utmost throughout. I couldn’t have asked more of them, and I miss being surrounded by their passion and energy.

Although the libretto of The Mare’s Tale is a fiction, Damian Walford Davies borrowed its central episode of a recovered memory from my account of what happened to my father at the end of his life. When Morgan Seyes is entangled in the bed sheet he’s mistaken for the Mari’s shroud, his words are the ones my father cried out in exactly the same circumstances. Eric Roberts doesn’t look like Trevor, not in the slightest way. But in that single performance at Brecon, as he dragged the suffocating cloth from his silently screaming face, for a moment the resemblance was uncanny, and it was as though the image had been plucked from my memory and projected into the darkness. I’d never directly represented the episode in any of the Mare’s Tales drawings of 2001/2, but at Theatr Brycheiniog where it was harnessed to Mark Bowden’s haunting music, the moment made my knees buckle.

For now, I think I shall cease blogging about The Mare’s Tale at the Artlog. I’ve probably written too much on the subject. With the experience behind me, I feel the sadness that inevitably overwhelms when a collaborative project draws to a close.  So from tomorrow, Artloggers will find new things afoot here. My thanks to you all for your patience and interest.

Left to right: me, actor Eric Roberts, violinist Rakhi Singh, viola player Tom Hankey and clarinetist Katherine Spooner.

14 thoughts on “Farewell to The Mare

  1. Knee-buckling moments…

    Our treasures.

    Exactly right, isn’t it? Our back story–including those long episodes of the “wrong” work, the “wrong” studies–makes us the sort of people we are. Without them, the art would be entirely different and perhaps would not be.

    It took me a long time to see that certain difficult elements in my life had blessed me in some way. And that wrong paths led to my right work in the end.

    • If the art isn’t about the maker at the deepest level, then it’s just decorative, a ‘stick-on patch’ to cover the lack of any investment of self. For me, and for you too, all acts of creativity are essentially autobiographical.

      I’ve no doubt that the most difficult elements make for the most heartfelt creations. Yes, that’s what it’s all about in the end: painful routes to hard-won destinations.

  2. One of the many rewarding pleasures of the Artlog is seeing conversations pop up like this one between you Clive and Natalie, two artists I greatly admire, especially as you’re both so fiercely honest with yourselves. Reading about the Mare’s Tale project this year has been a wonderful adventure and a great inspiration. The post-project reflections have been just as fascinating, touching on some pretty profound subjects. Funnily enough, many, although not all, of the artists I really love, seem to turn their hand to different things, Cocteau, as Natalie mentioned, Picasso, Piper. What I love about your varied work is that you clearly enjoy all the different things you do, the paintings, puppets, ceramics, and they all hum with your unique magic.

    • Dear Phil

      I know that things are tough for you and your family right now, and so I’m deeply touched that you’ve found the time to call by and leave such a beautiful comment. Your own work has been an inspiration as I’ve watched you go from strength to strength, and so the traffic is flowing both ways here.

      Stay well and strong. Come and see us when you can.

      C xxx

  3. Clive, thank you so much for responding to my comment in this way; you have more than answered my question and made me reflect further on the whole issue of creative choices. I’m sure you’ll follow your heart, whatever comes your way from here on and, after all, there’s no need to say ‘never’! Artists like Cocteau, for instance, could turn their hand to stage, screen, easel and drawing board so why shouldn’t you since you have the necessary skills and energy.

    My own collaborative ventures, though not theatrical (apart from one or two) certainly fired up my enthusiasm and also fed a certain need I have to show off (don’t know if that’s the right definition) and when it was all over, I felt deflated but also relieved to get back to my more familiar and chosen isolation. I suppose the ideal would be to have periods of time ( every couple of years?) when one can plunge headlong into some exciting collaborative project – it would be like going on holiday – and then return ‘home’ to the quiet, slower and steadier pace of solitary creation.

    • Natalie, that’s a reflective and reassuring response to what I wrote in my reply to you, and I thank you for it. Yes, I think that the desire to ‘show off’ is a reasonable assessment of what sometimes comes upon the creative spirit, and pejorative though the description would undoubtedly be from a detractor, on your lips it’s leavened with the healthy sense of self-irony you and I share. ‘Showing off’ is probably as good a way as any of describing the artist’s inclination to ‘show and tell’, and I know I’m guilty of it from time to time.

      I must move on now, and turn what I learned from TMT to good use at the easel.

      PS: Cocteau has long been an inspiration. I’ve always admired his cross-disciplinary skills, and La Belle et La Bête is my Desert Island film

    • Wise words. And yes, both the Two Tales exhibition for Martin Tinney (The Soldier’s Tale and The Mare’s Tale) and the L’enfant et les Sortileges project are giving me plenty to think about. But I miss the team, and there is undoubtedly an unease in me, the result of reigniting that old flame. Theatre is a fire that burns hard and bright, and I’d long believed myself beyond being consumed by it in the way I once was. And yet…

      … and yet…

  4. Dear Clive,
    Thank you for your candor. This certainly was a project so stunningly designed specifically for you, it would have been negligent not to seize upon it with gusto. We have spoken in the past about careers that initially seemed exhilarating then left you spent. I took heart in your “burning bridges”, yet somehow you were able to swim across when you saw something promising. I’ve burnt my own share of bridges, but your recent glorious experience informs me to never say never. Of course I want to see you paint (and draw, and print…) but your heart will lead. I fell in love with your paintings at first glance. A crush really. So onward.

    Please pardon my absence. A personal drama, but I am moving out of the Hermitage back into the Bosom of Babylon- we just rented a sweet little duplex/studio in West LA- so I may be out of contact for the near future. But Artlog pops up on my phone, so I will be watching,
    with affection.

    • Dear friend Leonard

      Thank you for continuing to follow my adventures in Artlogland, especially when things in your own world are a tad topsy turvy. I’ve been a stranger at yours of late, TMT having consumed all my time and energies. I shall do better now things have returned if not to normal, then to something approaching it. Good luck with the move.


      • That would be grand although new posts might be postponed until after I settle in. But will look forward to hearing from you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s