‘Dark Movements’

Moving toward Dark Movements


In 2002, when I completed the drawing On the Mountain in the series The Mare’s Tale, I believed it marked the end of my work on the theme of the Mari Lwyd. The series had absorbed me for two years. There had been, in short order, two big exhibitions of the work in Wales, and some of the drawings had thereafter travelled with a mixed exhibition, titled Dreaming Awake, to the Terezín Memorial Gallery in the Czech Republic. The poet Catriona Urquhart and I had collaborated throughout the process of making the drawings, and she wrote a series of poems about my father that became the text of The Mare’s Tale at Newport Museum & Art Gallery in 2001 and an edition for The Old Stile Press which I illustrated.

On the Mountain, 2002

On the Mountain, 2002

While The Mare’s Tale was an exploration I needed to undertake, its underlying themes were based on distressing events. A point of emotional weariness came at which I realized it was time to bring the series to an end. Catriona Urquhart’s early death in 2005 seemed to me to draw a line under it.

In 2013, the composer Mark Bowden and poet Damian Walford Davies brought new insights to the subject with a chamber-work for ensemble and performer that was inspired by my drawings and by the poems and biographical events. The libretto was conjured as a new fiction to make a dark and glittering psychological ghost story. I designed and directed the production, also titled The Mare’s Tale. It was extraordinary to watch what had started with my drawings, evolve into a performance for an orchestra and a singer/actor. Eric Roberts played the role of Morgan Seyes, drenched in my late father’s terror of the Mari Lwyd.

That same year a plan evolved for an exhibition of my Mari Lwyd work at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, borrowing from public and private collections and adding the stage-designs, puppets and maquettes I’d made for the performance. I had no plans at that time to make new artworks. The exhibition would be a retrospective.

I’d been drawing an American dancer, Jordan Morley, intending a small series of paintings of him for a group ‘portrait’ exhibition I’d been asked to participate in at a gallery in Barcelona. Jordan and I were evolving processes of working together – in New York he acted out scenarios I suggested to him in e-mails from Wales, capturing them in series of photographs that he downloaded and sent to me. At some point we talked about the forthcoming Arts Centre Mari Lwyd exhibition and he began to steep himself in all the work that had gone before. Unexpectedly he produced a set of photographs of himself playing on the shapes and forms of the drawings I’d made fifteen years ago. Using those I built maquettes of him and arranged them into compositions. Ideas stirred. A title evolved, Dark Movements. For me, once there is a title, the art follows.

From North Carolina the poet Jeffery Beam watched what was developing. We were already working together on another project, but something in Dark Movements spoke to him, and new poems came as a result of what he saw emerging from my studio. Those poems inspired further paintings from me. Collaborations, when they work well, fly back and forth between the participants with increasing energy.

Interested parties watched and contributed to the process through social media. Maria Maestre in Spain left illuminating comments at my blog that carried painter and poet in some unexpected directions. Composer Peter Byrom-Smith in Yorkshire prepared his score for Jane’s Dream – a ‘visual poem’ edited by Pete Telfer and me from footage of puppets we’d filmed in 2013 – by watching animated segments posted at Facebook. (Jane’s Dream is being screened in the gallery throughout Dark Movements.) Sarah Parvin (aka ‘The Curious One’) curated a Dark Movements board at Pinterest, that presents her own take on how the project has drawn together many threads from my past themes.

In 2000, my collaboration with Catriona Urquhart took place around kitchen tables, on long walks in the countryside, and occasionally in phone calls when she would read drafts to me. Today the collaborations of Dark Movements have been conducted with social media, e-mails and selfies. I’d set out with no goal other than to visit the grave where I’d left the Mari in that last drawing fifteen years ago, but the habits of ‘making’ can’t be stilled. New collaborations emerge. New words, fresh paints, dancers, puppets and toy theatres kindle a phoenix-flame under the bones, and suddenly the old girl is up and off again, and at a fair old lick. It seems you can’t keep a good horse down, not even after it’s been buried.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

May 2015

3 thoughts on “‘Dark Movements’

  1. I want just to say “Thank You” to whomever makes the corrections here in the Artlog.
    Because, lately, my brain has been feeling it’s age and reminding me of it, and I often forget to finish my words, or write ” works of life” instead of “walks of life”. And it doesn’t happen only when I write in English but also when I write in Spanish.
    I see my mistakes when I read my comments after having written them, and am ashamed of myself, but, the next day those mistakes are corrected.

    So : Thank You, and may the gods bless you.


  2. Dear Clive

    Like Maria, I am delighted that the compelling way you use social media keeps bringing people together.

    I have just returned from meeting up with Johann Christian Rohl, another member of the Artlog alumni, who is now living near me in Yorkshire. I do think the people who gather here are kindred spirits, so I am happy to say that meeting Johann has been like meeting up with an old friend. I know that other Artloggers have had similar experiences to mine, such is the strength of the community you have created here.

    All I now wish is that social media evolves to a Star Trek level of technology, so we could all be teleported to one place when an occasion, like your exhibition opening, arises. That would definitely be the icing on the cake for me!

    I have benefited from this experience in so many ways, so I would like to thank you for your generosity in inviting me to be involved.


  3. Dear Clive:
    What a great story. I am not at all surprised that Gillian Clarke praises you as a WRITER, as well as a painter.

    I am rather new to your blog, and did not know your paintings and your drawings, until very recently, when a friend told me about the Artlog.

    I have come here every day ever since, and have bought books by authors who came here, whose novels and poems you have illustrated, and this blog has become a part of my life.

    The creating of this last exhibition, as you showed us your work in progress, has been awesome. And I think it has made us, people from all walks of life, and from all over the world, feel connected with each other through you. It has been a great privilege for me.

    So, I can only say Thank You for everything, and thanks also to your proper friends and visitors.
    ¡ Un Fuerte Abrazo !

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