I am the Bastard Angel and the Virgin Devil
I am Again and Then and Was and Ever
I am assembling and the wind is blowing
I am the tale telling itself again
― from Big Bang: The River Jordan by Jeffery Beam
In the first part of my guest post on the forthcoming Dark Movements exhibition, I write about how I see the Horse as a totem for Clive, his guide to a place located beyond conscious thought. The artist describes his relationship with the Mari Lwyd, the skeletal horse of Welsh mumming tradition, using a quote from Picasso: ‘A form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange hostile world and us: a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors, as well as our desires.’
The psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who was an artist himself, saw the creative process as having the potential to go beyond the individual into something deeper which reflects humankind. Although Jung acknowledged it was perfectly possible for art to be produced with its creator in conscious control, his fascination was for the artist who obeyed his impulses, as if possessed by an external force. Montserat Prat, writing about The Mare’s Tale in the Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ monograph, published in 2011, describes how the final drawings in the series are imbued with a frenzy and intensity. These drawings were executed by Clive on his hands and knees, day in day out, over several months. His grief is palpable and raw. In the last drawing of the series, On the Mountain (2002), it as if the Mari, the artist and his father have become one, an embattled creature, weary and broken from a war that has been waged and lost. There are no victors here.
In 2013, The Mare’s Tale became a work for chamber orchestra and voice by composer Mark Bowden and librettist Damian Walford Davies, based on the Mari Lwyd series of drawings. Clive designed and directed the production. After a decade, the Mari of the artist’s imaginings had turned into an archetypal symbol from our ancient history, a Horse God galloping through time.
We are now fifteen years on from when Clive created the series of drawings, which became known as The Mare’s Tale, and Jordan Morley is the new player in the theatre of the artist’s soul. The Quickening (2015) shows the dancer lost in a reverie, dreams flowing into him from his maker’s hand, which magically change the once spectral beast into a majestic flesh and blood animal, with flowers blooming in its belly. Jordan describes the experience of being painted by Clive as ‘a runaway dream that has a life of its own’. The Muse and the Mari are merging to become the artist’s conduit, catalyst and spirit guide. All are transformed.
The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semi-human, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, ‘divine’. ― C.G. Jung
Carl Jung viewed the dreamscape as a place of the future, where transformation can happen and potential is explored and unleashed. There is a sense of optimism in this cycle of the Mari paintings, which would not have seemed possible at the time of The Mare’s Tale. The evidence suggests that we are witnessing an artist creating a dream for the collective mind.
Jeffery Beam, the American poet, has said he felt compelled to join Clive and Jordan in their Dark Movements quest, describing: ‘A Troubadour-like romance, and born of it our collaboration’. In a recent post at the Artlog, Jeffery writes movingly of the collaboration: ‘I had been in a terrible Dark Night, unable to write much, fearing I was written out completely. As Jordan has become a muse for Clive, Clive has re-ignited the duende that has always been the source of my work.’ And so the poet is transformed too. There is magic at work here.
Your glove tells mysteries
Keep it there and my
Imaginations fill the Universe
Remove it every dream fulfills
from Glove by Jeffery Beam
As regular Artloggers will know, Derek Jarman – the filmmaker, artist, author, gardener and gay rights activist – is a long time hero of Clive’s. The two men share a history common to gay men who grew up in a time before the legalisation of homosexuality. They each went on to document their stories in a unique and deeply personal way, which ultimately speaks of universal truths. Both men found solace, meaning and inspiration in nature – Derek Jarman at Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Clive at Tretower Castle and later at Ty Isaf, his home in Wales.
Jarman, whose work was influenced by Carl Jung, wrote of his hopes for the future of the gay community, shortly before his death from AIDS in February 1994: ‘I had to write of a sad time as a witness — not to cloud your smiles — please read the cares of the world that I have locked in these pages and after, put this book aside and love. May you have a better future, love without a care, and remember we loved too. As the shadows closed in, the stars came out. I am in love.’
Whatever causes night in our souls may leave stars. ― Victor Hugo
In the time that has elapsed, since The Mare’s Tale, is the nightmare slowly turning into a dream and ultimately an awakening for the artist? The gay community is equal before the law and an HIV diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it once was, at least in some in places in the world. Man and horse are leading us beyond the battle ground to unexpected scenes of hope.
Clive told me he was in an elegiac mood, as he prepared to meet the Mari once more, yet what is becoming increasingly evident is the thrum of a much-anticipated spring after a long, dark winter in the paintings he is currently creating. Healing, transformation and renewal are the themes that are coming to the fore. In Flowering Skin (2015), the fear which once permeated the haunted landscape of the Mari Lwyd is gone. Instead, we see a horse Clive might have ridden as a child, descending towards a wild place that his father, a man of the Welsh Borders, might have recognised as home. The flowers blooming across Jordan’s body are straight from the heart, an outward manifestation of enduring love; a sign of what remains after the grieving is over. The artist is kindling his own bright, burning light in the cosmic darkness.
I had only to open my bedroom window, and blue air, love, and flowers entered… ― Marc Chagall
One of Jung’s favourite quotes was from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, in which the White Queen says to Alice: ‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.’ I do know that Clive would consider himself a ‘poor sort’ of artist if he only chose to look to his past at this significant point in his career. Instead, the artist is boldly heading towards his future, whilst re-examining his own personal mythology and the history, writ loud in many gay men’s lives, which has led him to his hard won state of grace. I have a feeling both Dr Jung and Mr Jarman would approve.
Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart… Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens. ― C.G. Jung
Dark Movements, a multimedia exhibition charting the artist’s 15 year relationship with the Mari Lwyd, will be held at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre from 11 June – 25 July 2015. The Curious One is curating a board at Pinterest on the exhibition.
Pingback: What Lies Beneath: Part One | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:
I have only now had time to sit quietly and read your post, as I’ve been away, and very busy, so I have been saving it up for the weekend. It does not disappoint, for it is beautifully written Sarah; your affection for Clive shines through your writing giving a calming, soothing feeling to the piece. Your insights into his work are so eloquently penned, it was a real pleasure to read. Thank you for an interesting and perceptive post.xL
Thank you Liz. It has been really encouraging to receive such a warm, positive response to my guest blogs from the Artlog community.
You are right when you say there is real affection – and admiration – underpinning what I have written about Clive. I am a relative newcomer among the many old friends, including yourself, who congregate here, but Clive’s genuine kindness and generosity of spirit have made me feel very welcome. I am glad to be his friend.
I have been a bit over tired, what with one thing and another, and been unable to read anything not related to work these past few days, but I am a bit better today, and have had a feast reading Sarah’s entry, Jeffery Beam’s posts, and Sarah’s replies adding to the story.
Thank you very much, this is a balsam for old bones…
Maria, I have been wondering if you were feeling any better and I am glad to see today has given you some time to visit the Artlog. I am truly delighted if my words have helped brighten your day. I would recommend taking a good long look at Clive’s ‘Flowering Skin’, which I think works better than any medicine. Please take care of yourself. Love, Sarah x
Oh Sarah, those words of Derek Jarman’s are about as heartbreaking as it gets; what courage he had, and what a life he lived. Thank you for a beautifully written post, it’s given me much to muse on today as the trees are greening outside and the birds are singing 🙂
Dear Phil, I first read Derek Jarman’s books in the 1990s. I was in my early 20s, working in the fashion industry in London, and reading what he wrote, with such searing honesty, humour, great compassion and love, was one of the best ways I found to make sense of the loss of a friend to AIDS. I remember reading the words I have quoted in my post then and they have stayed with me ever since. I had the same reaction when I came across ‘The Mare’s Tale’ and went on to read Clive’s monograph, especially the chapter he wrote.
I returned to Derek Jarman’s books before a holiday in Sussex last summer, when I visited one of my favourite wild places, Prospect Cottage. I then went on to visit Clive, Peter and Jack at Ty Isaf in February. As you know for yourself, it is also a place of exceptional wild beauty and is very much loved by the people (and animals!) who live there.
The two men have struck me as such kindred spirits the more I continued to explore their work and their lives, which is why I chose to reference Derek Jarman in my post.
I loved the provocateur in Jarman, a quality which is also very much present in Clive. This is why I am so excited about the new phase of his career, which is beckoning on the horizon, including the Skin/Skôra project, of which you are going to play an important part. ‘Dark Movements’ seems to be giving us a thrilling preview of what is to come.
Clive has told me he intends to exit this world, with his paintbrush in his hand. I firmly believe that when he does, he will be juggling half a dozen projects, as if by magic, and still looking to stir things up for himself at the same time! (-:
Hi Sarah, thanks for your reply; yes, kindred spirits indeed, although I don’t think I’ve fully realised how much until recently – the ‘Dark Movements’ work highlights just how much so for me, as do your insights. I have a holiday coming up so I’ll take some of Derek’s writing along to read again!
Enjoy your holiday Phil and enjoy the spring sunshine in Berlin. (-:
Beautifully written. I had a feeling that this process you describe was taking place, but you have put it so eloquently.
Thank you Janet. Clive has a talent for making friends of the people who visit the Artlog, which is clear to see with the comments box on his posts. Given the dark places Clive has gone to before in his dealings with the Mari, I realise I am not alone in finding it wonderfully life-affirming to see what is emerging as he prepares for the ‘Dark Movements’ exhibition. Nor will I be the only one continuing to cheer him on from the sidelines!
Thank you Nicky. It has been a real pleasure to contribute to the Artlog.
Dear Sara. Another extraordinary and perceptive posting by you. It’s not such a strange coincidence that although Clive and I have been imagining for some time that we would work together, that his “thrum of a much-anticipated spring after a long, dark winter”, as you have so beautifully put it, synchronically called to me. My husband, Stanley, and I married in November after 34 1/2 years together (finally legal in North Carolina). In three weeks we’ll be celebrating that civil/ecumenically Christian/Pagan/Hindu/Jewish/Rilkean service at Stanley’s Episcopal church with a Blessing ceremony. This metamorphic change in my status has fed my poems for Dark Movements – as has Clive and mine’s common experiences with death of those close to us either from old age or AIDS. I haven’t shared full poems through Clive’s blog, since they are gifts to him and thus I have wanted him to share them when he saw fit – either on the blog or once they are on the walls of the show. But I do hope he’ll share all the poems so far completed with you. It would be very interesting, either now or later, for you to carry on your discussion of the Clive/Jordan/Jeffery Dark Movements triumvirate and its meaning in art, dance, literature, and gay Being.
And forgot to mention Zen in my wedding ceremony. It was quite an event.
I am so pleased you enjoyed my post Jeffery. I found it a very moving piece to write. In a moment of synchronicity, I completed it yesterday evening, shortly before Radio 4 broadcast Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue’, which was made in the final year of his life. It was wonderful to hear his voice, speaking with beauty, compassion and humour and listening to this broadcast made the perfect end to my guest appearance at the Artlog.
Your ceremony last November sounds an extraordinary day and rightly so after so many years in the making. I was touched by what you revealed about your marriage, in your response to Clive’s recent post about your collaboration at the Artlog, and I send you and Stanley my very best wishes for your forthcoming blessing.
It would be a real gift to me to read your poems and I would be very happy to contribute, in whatever way I can, as I continue my own collaboration with Clive. It’s back over to the man himself now, as the leader of this merry band!