the mare steps out in 2014

2013 was memorable in so many ways, not least for the collaboration with Mark Bowden and Damian Walford Davies that saw my elegiac series of drawings that go by the collective title of The Mare’s Tale, evolve into a chamber-work for orchestra, narrator and puppets.

The large-scale Conté drawings on the theme of my father’s experience of the Mari Lwyd, had first been seen in 2001 at Newport Museum and Gallery. They were made in the aftermath of his death in 2009, and were accompanied by a poetic text from the writer Catriona Urquhart, who had been his great friend. For the exhibition Catriona’s texts were presented on large panels mounted throughout the gallery. However, quite late in the day Nicolas McDowall of The Old Stile Press spotted the final drafts of the poems on my kitchen table, read them, and made the instant decision to publish. He undertook to produce a fine edition to be ready in time for the opening of the Mare’s Tale exhibition. At the eleventh hour, and with new pen and ink illustrations produced by me in one weekend to decorate the pages, the project was underway. Nicolas designed the edition, manufactured the blocks and completed the printing in double-quick time. The books, beautifully bound in vintage dove-grey paper, were back from the binders in time for the exhibition opening.

Those who had known my father in life, friends, family and colleagues, pointed out his likenesses on the gallery walls. The images were intensely personal, and I was uneasy in front of them at the private view. The playwright Julian Mitchell opened the exhibition, and gave what I’m told was a wonderful speech, though I barely heard it because the blood in my ears was pounding deafeningly.

My exploration of the roots of my father’s fear of the Welsh hobby-horse tradition known as the Mari Lwyd, and the persistence of that fear throughout his long life right up to his death, made a startling debut exhibition for me. The venue was an appropriate one, as I was born in Newport and my father lived there all his life. The following year, augmented with more Conté drawings, the exhibition opened at Brecknock Art Galley as The Tower on the Hill. The reference was to Tretower Castle a few miles away down the valley, where I had worked for seven years as a custodian. In a simplified form the tower of the ancient building had became central to my iconography for The Mare’s Tale.

Above: detail from The Friends Gather, with Tretower in the background

Below: Journey’s End (1999) in which my late father’s coffee mug stands in front of the tower

After the last in the series of Mare’s Tale drawings were completed some time in 2002, I firmly believed the subject was behind me. I couldn’t continue working at such an emotional pitch. Whenever anyone asked me whether I intended to go further, I explained that I was done. In On the Mountain (see below), with the Mari Lwyd felled in a night-time desolation of bare branches and ruins, I believed that the series had drawn to a natural conclusion.

But it seemed the grey mare was only sleeping. In 2011 the series of drawings was re-assembled for my retrospective in the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales.

In 2013 she stirred again. Work began on the libretto of a proposed chamber-work to be based on my original sequence of drawings. Catriona had died in 2005, and without her present to guide the adaptation of her words into a libretto, I approached Damian Walford Davies with the idea of him using the drawings as the starting-point for a new expression of the Mari Lwyd theme. Damian constructed an icy psychological drama, a fiction incorporating the key biographical elements that had underpinned the original 2001 drawings and poems. Over this story-arc, Mark Bowden threw the darkly glittering canopy of his music.

Above: actor Eric Roberts rehearsing on the set of The Mare’s Tale. Beneath him the Mari manifests in the form of a puppet operated by Ann Prior and Diana Ford.

The pairing of Damian and Mark worked wonderfully well. In October the completed chamber-work was rehearsed for two weeks, and a single, work-in-progress performance of The Mare’s Tale was given to an invited audience at Theatr Brycheiniog on the evening of September 7th. I was the director and designer, and James Slater conducted the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra.

Mark, Damian, dramaturge Helen Cooper and I are currently working steadily toward taking the piece to its next stage of development.

Above: maquette/puppet for The Mare’s Tale

In 2014 the Mari will step into the light again, this time in a series of paintings and drawings for my next Martin Tinney exhibition at Oriel Tegfryn, Menai Bridge, taking inspiration from Mark Bowden’s music and Damian Wallford Davies’ libretto. The story continues.

5 thoughts on “the mare steps out in 2014

  1. Hello Clive! I know your work through Rima, but I just found your comment on my blog, I have no idea how long it’s been there or how I missed it. But many many thanks, and I’m very happy to find this fine blog again!

    • Hello Linda. Yes, that was quite a while ago I left the message. I’m so pleased that you saw it.

      We were with Rima and Tom in Devon just before Christmas. We travelled there to see the puppet-show Rima had done with Howard, Nomi and Andy, and we had a magical few days.

      Would you like to join our Puppet Challenge? It’s an online exhibition here at the Artlog. Peter Slight suggested it and he’s the curator, with me as his trusty sidekick. It’s very informal… just a loose band of enthusiasts really… but I think there could be some interesting developments given the quality of those who’ve agreed to take part. (See HERE and HERE) If you’re interested in joining us, then leave a quick affirmation at THIS post (where you’ll find all the details) and Peter and I will happily welcome you to the puppet gang. The deadline for images is the end of June.

      Very Best
      Clive

  2. Stories, like other journeys, are like that. You think they’ve ended then a new vista appears to whisk you off in an unexpected, (or maybe guessed at) direction. Hold tight and off you trot with, hopefully, fair weather and a steady arrival – (though knowing you there’ll probably be a bit of a ‘canter’ at some point!)
    Love as ever and always, your TOTALLY un-equestrian chum.
    B xxx xxx xxx

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