Lashes into Flowers: the Mari Lwyd revisited

Last year, when I began planning new works on my old theme of the Mari Lwyd, the starting point, again, was my father’s startling childhood experience of the Welsh mumming tradition that I’d examined in the last years of his life and after it. I wasn’t at all sure where the new journey might take me.

In progress: Flowering Skin. 2015

Looking at the drawing after I’d got to this stage, while I liked the emptiness at the left, it also made me oddly uneasy. Paying careful attention to the negative shape binding the two elements of the composition… man and settlement… I added the Mari, as though descending from above, hoof missing a house-chimney by a breath.

I’d already made something a little like this in the recent Dark Movements toy theatre:

I worked at the drawing board for days making the shape of Flowering Skin before standing back and seeing that I had built the new on the bones of the old, creating in the composition a mirror-image of an earlier work.

Red Halter. 2000

Painting is a mystery. I stand at the easel and think I’m in charge. But now I wonder.

Parrot tulips bloom on skin where once a red-ribbon halter streamed. It’s as though a whip lashed at flesh and brought forth not blood, but a Spring flowering.


25 thoughts on “Lashes into Flowers: the Mari Lwyd revisited

  1. Times remembered again and with ‘flowers and becoming’ I was pushed back to The Owl Service and the last part, something like, ‘She wants to be flowers and you’re making her owls.’ Or was it the other way round?
    After a gap, good to ‘glance back’ in more ways than one.
    Love as ever and always
    B xxx

    • I need to go back and read. I think it was the first way around… ‘she wants to be flowers’… because of course, becoming an owl was her punishment.

      What doorways Alan Garner opened for us. Do you think that the young read him still? I suspect not, though he is a wonderful writer. And although his novels been dramatised for radio and tv, there has never been a film. I’m rather relieved not to have Brisingamen undone for me by being rendered in relentless, mind-numbing CGI!

      • The Wierdstone is on the current list of 50 books to be read by young readers…thought springs to mind, your view of a Stromkarl etc…
        Now wouldn’t, couldn’t that be something? You never know.
        B xxx

      • Just to say I believe I am older than anyone here, but I had not read any Alan Garner. So I’ve gone to Amazon, and now “The Weirdstone of Brisingamen” , and “The Owl Service”, are in my Kindle.
        I can’t wait to begin reading them.
        So many things I had been missing, and have come to love , thanks to this blog and to it’s visitors and contributors !!!

        Thank you All.

        • Maria, as a boy I loved ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’ (1960), though you will need to seek out the follow-up, ‘The Moon of Gomrath’ (1963), to go with it.

          The two books were published and that was that. Garner has always been surprising, always gone his own way, and though readers no doubt wanted the series to continue, it seemed the author had completed what he had to say about Colin and Susan and their adventures on Alderley Edge and beneath it. He produced other wonderful and unexpected books, but then in 2012 ‘Boneland’ appeared, the conclusion to ‘Brisingamen’ and ‘Gomrath’, and it was not a children’s book at all. It makes complete sense, of course, because the generations who first read the books are no longer children, yet it was a bold decision, and a fascinating one.

          Garner has been a master of myth throughout his career, recounting the old in compilations of folk and fairy tales, and spinning new novels from his rich cache of storytelling knowledge. He has effortlessly spanned the gulf between writing for children and writing for readers of all ages. He created one of his most alluring yet disturbing creations from the stuff of the Welsh Mabinogion in ‘The Owl Service’ (1967), a novel that had a profound effect on me when I first read it. Well worth seeking out.

          I’ve written previously about Alan Garner at the Artlog, HERE.

          • I have almost finished The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and as I’ve liked it very much, I have bought The Moon of Gomrath and Boneland, and they are waiting for me in my Kindle.

            I am old, but I still enjoy lots of books meant for children, like the Just William series. And I admit to having all the Harry Potter books on my shelves, in the American editions, because I like the illustrations better than the original British ones. (And because in American hard covers, pages are sewn in signatures, not just glued.)

            When I finish the trilogy I’ll read The Owl Service, and then, and only then, I shall return to the “serious” books, about history, about economy, and all that. which I have left unfinished to read the Alan Garner you were all talking about. (I did the same with the Angela Carter books, so you see, this blog of yours is a real treasure trove for me.)

            Thank you, Clive, and all your friends who recommend books, or films, or whatever.

            • I’m so pleased you’re enjoying the Alan Garner books. Good writing is good writing, whether for children or adult readers, and I found that when I returned to read Brisingamen and Gomrath two or three years ago, all of the old magic was still intact.

              The Owl Service will not disappoint you. It’s a strange tale, but Garner is a master of atmosphere, and I’m sure you will lose yourself in it. I’m happy too to have led you to Angela Carter. She is a lasting treasure as a writer, and one I never tire of.

            • Ah, Just William, wonderful. May I recommend, if too busy to read, the wonderful solo re-creation of him by Martin Jarvis, probably down loadable from the BBC radio collection.
              B x

      • I would not consider myself a youth anymore but have read Alan Garner. Red Shift sits on my shelf. This is the only book I have read by him but I did enjoy it.

        • Jordan, you can read more about him HERE. He is an extraordinary man, yet not as well known an author as he should be. Hard to know why. The fact that Garner is bi-polar may have impacted how able he was able to put himself forward, though I suspect that he would have been reserved even had he not struggled with depression.

  2. Loving as always the fine comments here and your responses, feeding not only your imagination with paint, but mine with words. Thanks to all. I’ve shared with Clive the beginnings of the Flowering Skin poem. One question for Clive. Parrot tulips? What do they mean to you other than, as we all know, their outrageous and seductive forms. Jordan’s not tattoos seem very Druidic, Celtic, now in spirit and growth. I love that the Green Man we adore now takes on an Edenic flower robe.

    • Parrot tulips. Ahhh. Well who would not love them, with their tattered fringing and bleeding stripes? I grow them, of course, and I like to paint what I grow, having a predilection for the unruly in the borders at Ty Isaf. I love the slightly sinister, too. Snake-head fritillaries and ‘black’ hellebores, the former chequered in the most unlikely manner, and the latter plummy and reserved, growing in the shade.

      But parrots I like to paint because they are such glorious shapes, and I rejoice in their independent, chaotic spirit. The idea of them necklacing and braceleting Jordan was just too seductive. He presently has no tattoos, but he’s toying with the idea, and has told me he loves flower patterns, though what he described was not this tulippy abundance, nor are my parrots decorating the parts of his body he favours for inking. This is a fantasy projected onto him, and not what may come about if he decides to decorate himself. Of course, he doesn’t have blue skin, either!

  3. Just a beginning, but you’ve got me going. The parrot tulips and the red-ribboned halter will find their place but this beginning for your wondrous one…

    Father I never
    Knew what passion bloomed on your skin
    But being a man and your Son
    I know that bruise and bone born of the blood
    That wretched wonderment stain
    Honey-milk sweet

    Love from Golgonooza
    Miss S(Tick)

    • What a thrill, to see such loveliness tumbling from your pen at the Artlog. My brushes and pencils have been busy, and I am much further ahead with this than may be seen in the above photographs. I shall have to take more and make another post. Sending love from Wales.

  4. Mm, ‘Tend’ has the same effect on me as it does Sarah, and for the same reason. I’m loving the ‘Borderlands’ imagery coming into these new Mari images; I was fortunate enough to see those Boderlands paintings in the flesh at the Mall Galleries last summer and I was mesmerised by them, they had such presence.
    In this new work, though, those flowers across his chest are so sexy!

    • I’m with you on the parrot tulips, Phil. I think there will be queues forming for one of these tattoos!(-:

      • The parrot tulips are blossoming fit to bust. Must be the weather.

        Thank you, Phil. I’m pleased that the tattoo is having an effect! I’ve no idea where all this is going, but it’s a pleasure to be on a journey where the Mari is manifesting so vibrantly.

        And thank you, Sarah. As ever you have your finger right on the pulse of what I’m about.

  5. Your borderlands are a landscape of the psyche to me, Clive. A dreamworld where your subconscious is free to roam.

    I discovered ‘The Mare’s Tale’, shortly after my own father died, and it spoke to me on a deep level. I still can’t look at ‘Tend’ without it bringing a tear to my eye.

    When I visited you in Wales, you told me that your father considered himself first and foremost a man of the Welsh Borderlands. This brought another level of meaning to this body of work for me and I understood more why I had always been attracted to the wild place you portrayed, a place your father loved.

    You recently posted about your mother and how her passion for horses was passed on to you. This passion is writ loud and clear in “Flowering Skin”. I can imagine you as a boy riding bareback on the beautiful animal you are currently painting.

    I do know from my own experience of bereavement that what remains, after the grieving is done, is love. This is what Jordan’s flowering skin is to me – a manifestation of love.

    In the post about your mother, you told us how, in the first stage production you designed and directed, you devised an appearance for a fairy in which she entered riding side-saddle on a unicorn, as a secret tribute to your mother. You later made a firescreen of this character, as a present for her, but she sadly died before you had the chance to give it to her.

    The words spoken by the character – and attached to the unicorn you made for your mother – seem particularly appropriate as the Mari descends, unexpectedly, from the heavens in your latest painting:

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

  6. When we outsiders look at an artist’s oeuvre, we like to be able to see him in every one of his different phases. Like we can see Picasso in his pink period, in his blue period, in his “classical” period, in his cubist period. It is always Him we love…

    And the same happens with books. If you love Shakespeare’s plays (especially his great insults), you have to love the sonnets, even if they seem to be quite different. I am sure He felt the sonnets were a totally different matter from the plays. But we know otherwise.

    So, it is good that you keep returning to your old themes, and renewing them.

    That does not mean you repeat yourself. It means that there is a lot of You Yourself in all you do. And that is the best for a creator of any kind.

    Thank you

    • Thank you Maria. You are quick off the mark today, as the post was barely up before you commented! (-;

      Yes, revisitings are good. Picasso was a master of examining his life in paint, and when I began thinking about what I wanted to achieve in my work, his was the model I looked to. (I had big ambitions for a late-starting artist!)

      And so here I am again in the theme that was once the means of grieving. But grieving is not the driver this time, though I’m trying not to think too much about what’s happening. Just going with the flow.

      Sending love from Wales. xxx

      • I don’t post every time, but I visit at least twice a day. I come early when I work from home, and late on the days I have to start early, and be personally at my office table , in the city center by 8 ( which means getting up around six, and leaving, with my car by seven ).

        Love back from Madrid

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