La Bête


My head for La Bête: gessoed and painted papier-mâché and hemp fibre

With only until the end of next month for work to be completed for the Artlog Puppet Challenge, I think that Peter Slight and I should probably hold back from showing any more progress by contributors, or there will be no surprises on the day. My own puppet is moving along at a reasonable lick, though I started… as I suspect many participants did… later than I’d hoped. My plans were to make a Beast and his Beauty to go with him, but the latter puppet will have to be a long-term project as I don’t have the time to make a pair right now.

My inspiration was La Belle et la Bête, the Jean Cocteau film of 1946 starring the luminous Josette Day as Beauty (I don’t believe there has been an actor in the cinema who has surpassed her enigmatically layered performance of the character) and the smouldering (literally so in the scene where his hands burn… see above) Jean Marais in the role of the tormented Beast. Not wanting to make a doll-like facsimile of Marais, instead I took the leonine concept and turned it into something more pared-down and appropriate to a puppet. I concentrated on the wide cheekbones, the blazing eyes and the high hairline, all of which had been similarly emphasised in the bust of the character made by Marais later in life, when in another act of transformation, he reinvented himself as a notable ceramic artist. Two casts of his self-portrait-as-la-Bête, bookend the front of his tomb at Vallauris.

The tomb of Jean Marais

I’ve purposefully kept the head of my beast quite rough in texture, as I don’t gravitate toward a high refinement in my own puppet-making, though I admire that quality in others who do it well. (The brilliant Ronnie Burkett, for example.) I left the gessoed surface of the head unsanded, the better to give some ‘tooth’ for the paint. The snaky, dreadlocked wig and beard are made from twisted hemp. The fangs have yet to be added. Today I plan to make his paws and talons, which I’m going to particularly emphasise with their size and spikiness. (Not quite ‘Wolverine’ but larger than the claws Marais wore.)

A puppet is a cypher. Unlike a human actor, whose facial expressions can change, the puppet actor has to rely on other means to convey its thoughts to the audience. Marais’ La Bête was undoubtedly beautiful in its monstrousness, and that beauty is the aspect I decided to jettison. Instead I tried to find his wildness and torment, and the actor’s subtle depiction of humanity being overwhelmed by a bestial nature, which is something I felt I might be able to achieve in this construct of papier-mâché, plaster and paint. I’m quite surprised by how like a Japanese Kabuki actor the little fellow has turned out to be. Even in repose he bristles with unexpected energy.

My original drawing was of a rather elaborately costumed puppet, though the reality is going to be slightly less so, as I want the head and hands to be where the viewer focuses. I’ve made the puppet in black and white, to reference the film, rather than using the vivid blues, reds and golds that have been removed from this image of the design.

4 thoughts on “La Bête

    • Yeah, get that creative flow back where it needs to be, Phil. You’re an artist to your fingertips. Head down now and go go GO…


      (Been thinking of you lots, and sending tons of positive vibes and love in your direction.)

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