the winter haiku

The second image for the Old Stile Press edition of twelve poems in the Haiku style is underway. This is the design for it.

One of two blocks for the image in the process of being cut.

Paring away at the lino-block with sharp blades, I stop at intervals to make a pencil-rubbing… a ‘frottage’… to see how the image is shaping. The imprint is deceptive because it reverses the black and white of the final print, but it’s a good way of checking the progress of the block. In this frottage of a couple of leaves, the effect is remarkably delicate.

Here the robin is reversed into a negative image, though the ‘rubbed’ marks are none the less lovely for that.

A holly leaf exhibits almost three-dimensional texture.

Tomorrow I will proof the blocks.

leaves from the studio floor

I despair of ever getting my attic studio here at Ty Isaf into any semblance of order. But the good thing is that every now and again I find things that I thought long lost, scattered in drifts in corners. Here are some drawings, and the images they gave birth to.

This lined-page of drawings was made when I was custodian at Tretower, and the painting was developed from them.

Life-study for the Barnfield Sonnets, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Ink study for the Barnfield Sonnets, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Ink study for the Barnfield Sonnets, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Pencil study for richard Barnfield’s The Affectionate Shepheard, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Pencil study for The Affectionate Shepheard, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Ink and wash study for The Affectionate Shepheard, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Christmas Greetings from Clive, Peter and Jack!

To all friends who come to the Artlog, to the casual droppers-by, to the subscribers, to those who join in conversations in the comments boxes and to those who watch and enjoy quietly, without comment, we wish the very best of Christmas cheer.

2015 Christmas Card in progress

Last year’s e-Christmas card (see above) was a big success, and so this year, with my usual last-minute haste, I’ve embarked on a design that uses the same characters in different guises. (They are my ‘actors’, and the Christmas cards the stages upon which they play. The lady and gentleman who graced the 2014 card were inspired by some eighteenth century gingerbread moulds. This years nods its cap to the great tradition of Regency toy theatre, sometime know as the ‘Juvenile Drama’. When I was a boy I was given a set of fragile, Regency lay sheets by the actor Bill Meilen. They were wonderful, though I fear I cut them up to make toy scenery that has long since vanished. But the splendour of those magical sheets lives on in my memory, and here I’m paying tribute to the sense of theatrical delight they opened up for me. I used this image from George Speaight’s History of the Toy Theatre as my compositional inspiration for this year’s card.

My sketches of the characters, show actors rather less wasp-waisted than those shown on Redington’s title-page of The Mistletoe Bough…

… and here they are in worked-up drawings at full scale. He’s gained a dog, and she a Fairy Queen’s wings and wand.

The scenery has changed too, from a castle, to a pair of rustic artisan’s cottages in a wood.

The base areas of colour are laid down., a combination of acrylic and gouache.

Then the rendering begins.

DSCF2044

The characters I designed for last year’s Christmas card, emerged for a second time in my exhibition at Oriel Tegfryn, titled Telling Tales. For that they played the roles of Oberon and Titania, and by then I was really in the swing of inventing back storied for them:

  • ‘Of course these are not supposed to represent the real Fairy King and Queen, but are ‘theatrical portraits’ of a rather grand though over-the-hill thespian couple. They’ve been treading the boards for nearly half the nineteenth century with their own company of touring players, he an actor-manager of the old school, producing, directing and playing all the plum-roles in the Shakespeare repertoire. The glory days of ‘standing room only’ at Drury Lane are far behind them, and their increasingly threadbare productions have been reduced to playing the more ramshackle regional theatres.’
  • ‘She was a passing good ingenue in her day, but time has rendered her stouter than might be wished for the role of the Queen of the Fairies. She’s been busy behind the scenes to rise to the challenge, with some judicial clamping and stretching devices hidden under her wig. She’s also invested in a set of replacement teeth carved by a retired seaman from Whitstable. They’re a tad startling when she smiles, not least because of a slight mis-fit, and the vestiges of scrimshaw that he wasn’t quite able to polish out. In a good light you can see the upper parts of a large-breasted mermaid on her right incisor, and the tattooed bicep of a Jolly Jack Tar on her left. But she’s skilled with the fan, and deploys it with aplomb to ward off too-close scrutiny of her briny gnashers!’ Thus equipped, and with the aid of greasepaint, tinsel and and a peachy glow from the footlights, she gamely mounts her moth-eaten guinea-fowl and sallies forth to enchant her lord and master, and hopefully the more short-sighted in the audience.’

The Tower

For reasons that will become clear, this is posted in memory of my dear friend Linda… known as ‘Henderbird’… who died yesterday.

1965 saw the release of the film The War Lord, starring Charlton Heston. It was directed by Franklin J Shafnner, who was considered by the studio to be a reliable pair of hands for a star vehicle. The screenplay was adapted from a now almost forgotten play by Leslie Stevens, called The Lovers. The story is of a Norman Knight, Chrysagon, charged by his Duke to suppress Frisian incursions at the border of his kingdom. While on active duty, Chrysagon becomes obsessed with a local woman, Bronwyn, the foster child of a Druid chief, pledged to be married to her childhood sweetheart. Chrysagon enforces droit de seigneur, the right of a lord to take a woman on her wedding night. It doesn’t end well! Viewed today the film is patchy, with clunky moments that undermine its undeniable pleasures. But balanced against its deficiencies, it looks wonderful, even when hampered with the technical limitations of its time. Though the horizontal matte-line is painfully obvious in this image, the composition and the mood combine to lovely effect. (The matte artist was the peerless Albert Whitlock.)

 …

As Chrysagon de la Cruex, Charlton Heston was clearly uneasy with the aspects of a narrative that required him to show the vulnerability of a man brought to his knees by desire, let alone love. In his published diary Heston was a tad ungenerous about the inexperienced young Rosemary Forsyth, who played Bronwyn. The evidence on screen is that he was the one struggling with his character, while she was simply not given anything in the script to work with, and was probably in awe of the star opposite her. In front of the camera Forsyth looks frankly terrified by Chrysagon’s rage, and painfully vulnerable and disadvantaged by her nudity in their first scene together. Though a charismatic actor when playing heroic roles, Heston could be a ham when out of his comfort zone, and his default response here lacks any subtlety or delicacy. There is simply no chemistry between him and Forsyth. Nevertheless the scene sticks in the mind, largely due to the underlying unease Chrysagon feels in the presence of what might be ‘old magic’, and this tone, underlined by the soundtrack and music, is one of the film’s great strengths, together with the battle scenes that really get the pulse racing.

Below: Heston is always more at ease in action scenes and in the saddle than when anything more cerebral is required.

Shafnner, so good at the action, was out of his depth with the Druid wedding. With the ‘extras’ woefully under-directed and left to run about and badly act-out the throes of unbridled sexual passion, it all just looks damned silly. Nevertheless, the art department do much to capture the sense of a culture in which pre-Christian religious practices continue to hold sway, an aspect emphasised by the consistently inventive and rapturous music score by Jerome Moross. (At the Druid wedding, wind-chimes and rattles add to the sense of the restless forest.)

Below: more evocative imagery conjured by the great Albert Whitlock.

Elsewhere in the film there is much to be enjoyed. Chrysagon’s manipulative brother Drago is played by Guy Stockwell, who eats the scenery, the furniture and any other actor in his orbit. For me, as an hormonal teenager entranced in the darkened cinema by the heightened passions on the screen… most of them not involving poor Rosemary Forsyth… Stockwell was the chiefest pleasure of the film. (I always preferred the bad boys!) Richard Boone as Bors, Chrysagon’s second-in-command, lends a solidity to the ripely over-heated, men-only environment, and you know you’d want a Bors in your corner if you were in a tight spot.

Below: Rosemary Forsyth as Bronwyn and handsome Guy Stockwell as as the villainous Drago.

The sense of isolation conjured in the bleak landscapes and solitary tower, stayed with me long after I’d viewed the film. Director of Photography Russell Metty doesn’t put a foot wrong, aided and abetted by Whitlock and the Art Direction of Henry Bumstead and Alexander Golitzen. In my head I wanted to be in that place. (And one day, I arranged my life so that I was in it, or as close to it as I could get, when I went to work at Tretower Court and Castle.)

But what of the magnificent set made for the film? In a debased form it was rebuilt and became an attraction on the Universal Studio ‘Tour’. Here it is as it looked in 1967, a mere two years after the release of The War Lord, and already stranded in a sea of awfulness.

The battered door-sign that announced the history of the tower to visitors.

warlord1

By the time the War Lord Tower was demolished in 2001 to make way for a shiny new attraction, it had been reduced to use as a store-room for merchandise, the film it had been raised for largely forgotten. Looking at it in the photographs, I can’t say I’m sorry it’s gone. For too long it had looked like some sad old zoo animal, uncared for, out of its natural environment, ignored by the crowds shuffling past that no longer paused to wonder why it was there. I like to remember it as was intended by the film’s art directors, Henry Blumstead and Alexander Golitzen, standing sentinel at the water’s edge, with marsh-birds calling and the reeds rattling in the wind.

Back in 1965, my friend Linda ‘Henderbird’ Henderson and I were passionately in love with the film, and I purchased the album of the music so that in our more excitable moments we could ‘act-out’ the story together. She was always Bronwyn and I ended up being Chrysagon. I don’t think I ever admitted to her that I wasn’t much interested in Chrysagon, and that I really wanted to swoon in the arms of bad Lord Drago!

Much, much later, as a painter I made images of the solitary tower, in the shadow of which I’d retreated to mend myself… see image below… when I was battered from having worked too long in the theatre.

Tretower Castle

Looking at the images from the film today, it strikes me that my paintings are significantly more like the tower of The War Lord, than that of Tretower Castle in Gwent. That’s come as a bit of a revelation.

Shellie’s gift.

My friend Shellie Byatt, artist and staunch Artlog supporter, sent this wonderful surprise gift to me, referencing the Beastly Passions project that I’m working on with poet Jeffery Beam. The franking on the stamp shows that this postcard was written and sent in 1904. Amazing that it’s survived in such pristine condition. Someone cared enough for it to have put it somewhere very safe. No fading, no dog-ears, no tears or damage from silverfish. It’s perfect.

Shellie, this is a delight. I love it!

The message is a little difficult to work out, there being nothing by way of sentences or punctuation. This is my transcription, though I’d welcome any other offers. The name of the recipient has defeated me. The franking indicates the postcard was sent from Newmarket, which might account for the reference to ‘winners’.

To Mr A …

Ratcliff College

Leicester

“I think you had better

write after this Situation

it might be a cool 

place this weather

Stockbridge came to find

winner last week”