The Dark Movements Toy Theatre, from start to finish.

The Dark Movements Toy Theatre is finished.

Here it is in detail, from first sketches to completion.

The origins of the toy theatre lie in my Mari Lwyd series begun in 1999, The Mare’s Tale

The world of The Mare’s Tale is one of perpetual night. Landscapes and buildings alike are without foundation. The ground shifts, full of traps for the unwary. In this expressionist realm, everything is fractured and dissolving, the air full of spirits and voices. The Mari itself is a shapeshifting thing of many guises, from a monstrous biped with beast’s skull atop a winding-sheet, stalking a landscape of bone-white mausolea…

… to a supernatural horse streaming through the firmament

Preparatory drawing for the toy theatre

Every theatre must have a curtain, behind which all is hidden until the audience has assembled. When everyone is ready, the lights dim, voices become hushed and the curtain whispers into the darkness so that the mysteries are unveiled.

I wanted there to be a Mari Lwyd to welcome the audience as it gathers, and because this is a toy theatre, I envisaged this aspect of the Mari as being elegant, playful and feminine.

To begin with the proscenium arch is cut from medium density fibreboard

After a couple of coats of gesso and paint, the pencil-rendering begins

First to be completed is the drop-curtain

The proscenium arch contains many references from my recent series of paintings, Borderlands


A tower within its ruined curtain-wall and a discontinued viaduct below…


… a chapel crowned with flames…

… and darkly twisting houses with steep-pitched roofs and high chimneys belching coal-smoke

Candles splutter and curtains billow

This is a restless world.

The Dark Movements Toy Theatre, alongside puppets and scenery for it, will be on show in my Mari Lwyd exhibition

Dark Movements

Aberystwyth Arts Centre

June 6th – July 25th 2015

50 thoughts on “The Dark Movements Toy Theatre, from start to finish.

  1. Pingback: "The Dark Movements Toy Theatre" von Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Für einen faszinierenden Blog ... - Ideen über Holzspielzeug Design

  2. I LOVE IT.
    Now, here’s a strange thing, for the first time, I think, I feel a fragility about her, almost as if she’s a little sad and unsure whether to disclose herself without the cradling curtain. Or maybe it’s just me…but I don’t think so as I see a softness around the eye.
    Perhaps that’s it, maybe it was bravado all the time and she’s just one misunderstood mare!
    (and you of course.)
    Hugs as ever and always
    B xxx

    • No, she’s definitely showing a different side here. I realised it as soon as she began to emerge.

      But then if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the fifteen or so years that I’ve been examining this theme, it’s that creativity will go its own way. Sometimes I think I’m in control, and by dint of reins and hands and pressure of the knees I steer the beast on the route I intend. But there are other times when I hold on for dear life, because the mare has bolted and there’s nothing to do but hope I don’t fall off and make a fool of myself… or worse!

      Right now she’s in a benign mood. But you never know with her!

  3. Really, really and really…what on earth can one say?? Such exquisite work, so superbly realised and offered so generously to all of us at the Artlog. I’m reading The Book Thief at the moment (belatedly…the stack of books on my side of the bed waiting to be read is a mountain….) and this lovely theatre seems to chime with the darkness & wry smiles therein. Eagerly awaiting the puppetty things……..

    • Shellie, we should meet up, or talk. There is so much to tell, and I have been too busy holding on to write long explanations. Your messages here always warm my heart. Peter, Jack and I send love to you and Kit.

  4. Adore this – absolutely stunning. So glad that you continue to make worlds for yourself, and the rest of us mere mortals. Your theatre is yet again another inspiration – and kick – to get back into my studio!

  5. I have received the two volumes of The Mare’s Tale . The official hard-back of Catriona Urquhart’s poetry, with her signature and yours, bought from The Old Stile Press, and the second-hand, paperback, illustrated exhibition catalogue from Newport Museum and Art Gallery.

    So I am really happy to have them both.

    Catriona’s poems in the hardback are beautiful, but my favourite piece of prose in the catalogue is by you, the piece titled Remembering my Father. That brought tears to my eyes. And memories of my own.

    Thank You

    • Maria, thank you for that. The museum catalogue was beautifully done, and came just before cutbacks to museum services in Newport meant that exhibitions no longer had dedicated catalogues. Mine was the last.

      I’m so pleased that you were moved by Remembering my Father. I just went to my shelves to retrieve a copy of the catalogue to read that piece, and now my eyes are welling up!

      You might be interested in what Catriona had intended with the poems of The Mare’s Tale, though not to any degree that she felt necessary to point out to readers. All of the poems except two, were written as though in my father’s voice. She knew him well, was a great friend to him in his latter years, and in the poems she captured something of the way he spoke.

      The Lie of the Land was a story I had told her, and she wrote the poem as though spoken by me. Hence that reference in the last verse of me not being as tall as a man, as I had been as a boy on my father’s shoulders at the beginning to the poem. The drawing that accompanies the poem shows a tiny figure running past a church. My father once told me that when he courted my mother, they would sometimes meet in the graveyard of Llanfrechfa Church. So that’s her, running toward my father, out of sight and waiting for her on the stile at the bottom of the churchyard. Now the ashes of both of them are buried there.

      Pegasus was the only poem Catriona wrote in her own voice, and it is a meditation on my father’s death. When Catriona died, I read it at her funeral. It seemed the most apt of all her poems, of which she left too few.

      • Thank you for this further explanation of yours.
        The moment I finish with my homework and my housework for today, I shall go back to both books, and read again

        May the gods stay with you and smile with you

  6. Oh, this is just TOO darn good!

    …therefore I wish to write in and complain,
    you are making the rest of us mortals look bad!

    I LOVE it! *hmph*

    ever so slightly miffed of Worthing.

    • Dear Ever-So-Slightly-Miffed-of-Worthing

      You make damned fine stuff yourself, Mr, so quit carping and get back to work on these Gingerbread Zombies. They will blow everyone’s socks off when they see them. So there!

      Besides, you know that when you finish them we have a deal that you get a ‘Soldier’s Tale’ painting. Fun all round.

      • Thank you for the stern talking to Clive!

        I wonder if St.Judes Prints would be interested in making a cut-out edition of this theatre? – I hope so! (I can start a petition if that would help?)

        The spluttering candles and billowing curtain give me ghost-story-like chills!

        P.S.Gingerbread progress report part 2 due next week!

        • Thank you, Peter. Your enthusiasm for all things puppety clearly knows know bounds.

          I think that Simon Lewin of Saint Jude’s has quite enough on his hands with Hansel & Gretel without getting distracted by a saleable version of the Dark Movements Toy Theatre. However, once the artwork for the book is in the bag, I might turn my attention to a Hansel & Gretel two-sheet toy theatre, printed for framing or construction. It’s a thought! (And a good one, thank you very much!)

          • ….well it would complete the circle, to go from loving them as a child to producing your own version now…

            (the image of the snake chomping his own tail springs to mind)

  7. I join everybody else at both Facebook and the Artlog with my words of praise for the “Dark Movements” toy theatre.

    I am currently re-reading ‘Modern Nature’ by Derek Jarman, after a wonderful trip to Dungeness this summer. As I read about the creation of Jarman’s magical cottage garden, I have been watching the “Dark Movements” theatre emerge. What has struck me most are the similarities between the dynamic and wild landscapes you both instinctively choose to explore, whether real or imagined.

    “Modern Nature” could so easily be a title applied to the strange, off-kilter landscapes that inhabit your work. I like that although there is often chaos in the worlds you depict, a dark, compelling beauty cannot help but shine through. After all, there is no pearl without the grit.

    I would just like to finish by saying thank you so much for the mention of our joint Pinterest collaboration at your Facebook page. It’s a real pleasure to be working with you. 😉

    • Me and Derek Jarman in the same sentence. Swoon! When I was a teenager he was my hero. Had I found myself in the same room with the great man in all likelihood I would have thrown myself at him and made a complete and utter arse of myself. He was and remains without equal. I love his writing, love his films, love his muse… Ms Swinton… and, of course, love his garden!

      Miss Sarah, the traffic flows both ways. I am delighted to be a guest at The Curious One.

      • I am glad I have caused you to swoon. 😉

        Derek Jarman is a hero of mine too. I thought part of the opening line of his film “The Garden” fits the territory you continue to explore with “Dark Movements” perfectly:

        “I offer you a journey without direction, uncertainty, and no sweet conclusion. When the light faded, I went in search of myself. There were many paths, and many destinations.”

  8. It is a deep water you have built, Clive. I wish I had the words to say what I see or sense here- from the place… But it is a significant labor. Thank you for making it.

  9. You really have created a wonder here, and made it all look so effortless from concept to creation …… But it’s obvious that an incredible amount of time and skill went into it…. Just wonderful.

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