A reply to Sarah

My friend Sarah left a comment at my last post about the painting The Quickening (above), currently in progress. My response needed a little more space than a comment box allowed for, so I’ve replied here, instead.

Sarah. ‘I know in pre-Christian traditions that the darkest period of the year was traditionally believed as a time that the veil between this world and the ‘otherworld’ was thinner and so beings, like the Mari, could readily pass through to this one. In “The Mare’s Tale” your Mari was part horse/part human and rooted in the mumming tradition and all that means to your personal history. However, the Mari of “Dark Movements” appears to be wholly a glorious beast of the “otherworld”, with no such human ties. The horse was associated with ‘power, fertility and prowess on the battlefield’ in Celtic Britain. I am very interested to see this new Mari emerging in your work, which, in my opinion, embodies the qualities it was once worshipped for and seems to be about life, not death.’

Clive. ‘Sarah, horses have always been significant in my life and in my painting, and I see that this current incarnation of a flaming Mari Lwyd, its insides burgeoning with a foliate-ness refusing to be contained within the cage of its ribs and streaming out into the surrounding darkness, is carrying what I began fifteen years ago in The Mare’s Tale, to a conclusion I could never have imagined back then.

The beginnings. My grandfather kept horses, and I recall my mother speaking with evident pride of his horsemanship. There were stories of him travelling as a young man to the United States, honing his riding skills by learning from from native Americans and even joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, though with benefit of hindsight these sound of the tall variety to me.

While her love of horses shone from her, I never saw my mother riding one, and there were uncomfortable silences when I pressed for explanations. She once admitted of an accident and a horse-kick to the spine that made her lose her nerve, but further details were not forthcoming. Notwithstanding that, she encouraged me and my sister to ride, and later, when I was a young man, I noticed the pride in her eyes whenever she watched me on horseback.’

‘I was always happier riding bareback, and my mum used to laugh and say that was the influence of my grandfather’s native American habits, though the reality is that I have almost no memories of him, or of him teaching me to ride. (I remember better his German shepherd, named Turk, retired from duty as a patrol dog with the airforce. Turk was set to look after me when as a baby I was put to sleep on a blanket laid out in my grandfather’s orchard. I remember the dog’s head looking down at me, and the weight of his paw on my back to deter me from crawling away from the blanket.)

As a boy I had romantic notions of my mother as a horsewoman, probably born of my early exposure to, and liking for the paintings of George Stubbs. Much later, in the first stage-production I designed and directed, I devised an appearance for a fairy in which she entered riding side-saddle on a unicorn. It was intended as a private message to my mother on the opening night, to show her how much I valued what she’d encouraged in me by way of an appreciation for ‘the horse’.

Shorty afterwards I began a painting for her, as a gift. She died before it was done, and so I never completed it, though I have it still, this elaborately attired equestrienne fairy painted in her likeness, sitting side-saddle on a rearing unicorn, and still serving the purpose for which it was intended, that of being a fire-screen. Behind the figure ribbons stream, carrying a text… now almost faded away… of the lines the character spoke as she appeared on the stage:

“We are the stars in the sky, and we only come down to visit those who have been very, very good.”

I have a feeling she’d rather like the Mari Lwyd emerging here.

26 thoughts on “A reply to Sarah

  1. Where is the fire screen now? I don’t remember it…

    You have said less here and elsewhere about your mother, and only now do I realize that something about your mother is hidden in all the Mari pictures of your father.

  2. Pingback: What Lies Beneath: Part One | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  3. I have not been able to come for a few days, but now that I am here, I am enjoying myself so much! After reading your texts and admiring the images, I go to the comments, and always begin by the things your friend Sarah ( the curious one ), says, because they give me food for thought. And all this conversation between you two, is just great.

    I just love it when you tell us about the past. Your past. Your father, your mother, yourself. Every one of us has a past, but only a few know how to make it sing, and you are one of the blessed… So Thank you, both !!!

    About The Quickening: is it not that moment of magic, when a Hero has just killed his enemy, and absorbs all the powers of the opponent?

    You see, I love Highlander, and watch it again and again…

    • I know ‘The Curious One’ will get a lot of pleasure from what you’ve written above, Maria. She is a passionate ‘reader’ of my work, as indeed are you. An artist needs such supporters. (Well, this one does!) Thank you.

      • I am touched and flattered by what you have both written.

        I really enjoy being part of this community. and have previously shared my thoughts about how much I always enjoy Maria’s perceptive comments.

        Clive knows his work provokes a deep response in me. He makes me think and want to know more, so to be able to share my thoughts with the artist and other Artloggers, in an ongoing dialogue, is both a pleasure and a privilege.

        As Phil, the unofficial King of the Artloggers, has previously commented, the Artlog is all that a blog should be. Long may it continue!(-:

  4. Every time I visit your blog it’s an education. Never mind the art, which I find simply stunning, but the words are also so inspirational. Thank you to you and Sarah – I now know a little more about the symbolism of the horse in your work.

    • Thank you, Hilary. I’m so pleased you decided to leave a message. The number of visitors who do so are relatively few, but the engagements that occur in the comments boxes are a breath of oxygen to the blog, and to me. One of the reasons I began the Artlog was to engage in words, as well as images. For me as an artist, the two are linked.

  5. Thank you for writing in such detail about some of the thoughts prompted by Sarah’s comments. When I read this kind of background to your work I always come away feeling like I have a closer connection to the painting in question – in this case a painting not yet completed though! The stories and ideas swirling about behind your work are always so rich, personal, and touching, Clive, and one of the great pleasures of the Artlog.

  6. “Gallop apace, you fiery – footed steeds, towards Phoebus’ lodging.”
    Leapt into my head straight away + memories of your lovely mum, comforting me, in her own way, after the death of mine.
    Thoughts of love and friendship as ever
    B xxx

  7. Stirring memories for me, Clive, for I remember your mum well. And our horse ride together round the reservoir, I was in much admiration of your horsemanship, especially as I am hopeless with them. It’s fascinating to see how your life figures so much in your paintings, that’s why they are poignant of course, and why they stir the deep emotions of the onlooker. (Particularly the cat from a previous post!) Your new series of paintings looks to be stunning, thanks for your insightsxxL

    • Of course, we went riding together, I remember. You weren’t hopeless at all. I recall you rode well!

      That cat is a strange little fellow with his art-gazing. No-one has yet given an explanation of what’s going on there. I discount the ones suggesting that the painting is a portal to hell, and the cat knows it!!! Ha ha!

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