Liz, Zoe and Clive

Sometimes the best things at the Artlog are in the comment boxes. I love the dialogues that emerge there. Some of the names of those who leave messages are close to me in the real world, while others are those with whom close and lasting friendships have developed entirely from the digital world.

Yesterday’s post has generated interesting observations from Liz and Zoe. And so rather than leave them down where they may not be seen or read, here’s a new post, with our conversation foregrounded.

Below: painting by Zoe Blue


Zoe Blue lives in the USA, and has been a commentor at the Artlog almost since it began. She once asked me for advice in the matter of making maquettes, and thereafter began using the technique as a practice in her work as an artist. I have to say that the student outstripped the teacher, because she got rather better at making and using them than me. Though I consider us to be close friends, we have never met in person.

Zoe Blue on April 2, 2016 at 4:04 pm said:
Even back then, such gorgeous colors. I love these images. Your landscape styles really move me — I wonder, when you see the slides after so much time, does it give you an “instant” feeling of that time period? Once I heard a forgotten recording of a Rachmaninoff concerto I had played, and I actually started crying uncontrollably. It was bizarre. But I wonder if you see the painting and become that person again, temporarily. The feeling of that whole being, I mean. Does that make sense?

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on April 3, 2016 at 7:16 am said: 
At this distance much of my work from back then looks a tad overwrought to me. I seem to have been discovering that painting could reflect my emotional state, and my emotional state was… well, let’s just say, wobbly. I was emerging from a dark place.

I like the three paintings I posted. I can see that there’s a lot of bravura brushwork going on in the first two images, and I like the atmosphere in that last, sombre, slate-blue and ochre Carn Euny night-scape.

For me too, emotion is readily accessed through the medium of music. The other night I watched a documentary about the late Peter Maxwell Davies, whose music I’ve always loved, and particularly ‘An Orkney Wedding’, which had once been the doorway for me to his less accessible work. My late friend Catriona, loved it too, and it was played at her funeral. In the documentary they showed a performance of it at the Proms, with Maxwell Davies conducting. Barely had the first strains of music begun, when the tears started rolling. By half-way through I was sobbing and laughing in equal measure, aware of the ludicrousness of the situation. It wasn’t just re-ignited grief for the loss of Catriona… all these years on I miss her still… or even grief for PMD, but rather that ‘An Orkney Wedding’ immediately opens the sluice-gate behind which deep waters are usually contained.

What do I feel when I look at these early paintings? Mostly I feel surprise that I was able to make these works embody what I was feeling back then, though I don’t think I realised that at the time. And I certainly didn’t realise that many were as good as I now know them to be. I admire the fluency of brushwork. It’s blazingly apparent there’s a kind of dance going on. I can tell from them that in my DNA I was a dancer, and the paintings were dancing for me. I know now I was mourning what I’d lost, but in some fabulous act of alchemy, what flowed from me were not tears, but paint.

Liz King-Sangster and I met in the early 1980s, when she was head of the scenic department at Welsh National Opera and supervised the creation of a set that I’d designed. It was my first job as a designer, and Liz made good the deficiencies that were the result of my lack of experience. Her sound advice so gently offered back then, stayed with me and helped me build the foundations of my subsequent design work in the theatre. She lives in France, where she works as a painter and muralist.

Below: interior by Liz King-Sangster


Liz King-Sangster on April 3, 2016 at 7:29 am said: 
I love the sheer joy of painting in the first and second images, beautiful gestural brushwork, and the colours in them all. I love the moods you’ve captured. And aren’t we lucky to be living in this age where cataloguing is so simple? It’s great that Peter insisted, because now you have a diary of your own development. I’m afraid I’ve not been so assiduous in keeping track of my earlier paintings. I’m leaving it to future archivists to sort that out, if they are interested enough that is! On the subject of photography, now I have tens of thousands of photos to every one I had in those days. It’s almost too easy now! Love to you both xxxL

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on April 3, 2016 at 7:54 am said: 
Dear Liz, I and many others love your painting. I’ve always admired your fluency, and back when we worked together during your Welsh National Opera days, long before I became an artist, I learned from you that when paint flowed, it could be a vector for energy. Good lesson, that.

None of us can know whether after we’ve departed the room, anyone who cares enough will still be around to sort through our ‘stuff’ and order it. At any given time the fates and reputations of artists hang by the slenderest of threads. There’s serendipity in what survives, what’s seen, what hangs in private and what hangs in public. Some of those trumpeted during their times as ‘great’, fade into obscurity with the passing decades, while occasionally an artist unknown in life, gains the admiration of many after his or her death. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stood dumbfounded in front of some medieval masterpiece of an altarpiece, bearing the label ‘anonymous’, or ‘unknown’. I’d be happy if something of mine survived even unattributed where people could see it and look. The work is the dialogue between the artist and the viewer. Names don’t really matter.

Below: wonderfully vibrant i-pad sketch by Liz of Jack, made when she was at Ty Isaf last year.


Zoe’s ‘Blue Cat’ maquette stands sentinel opposite a Welsh dragon on our mantlepiece.



20 thoughts on “Liz, Zoe and Clive

  1. Clive , I’m eaves dropping (its a guilty pleasure!!!) on your friendship and really glad to hear your inner thoughts on being creative. You are very generous to blog it and let the world in!
    These paintings are beautiful above!
    I enjoy very much Zoe’s image–It reminds me of German expressionism. (I see Liza Minnelli and Joel Gray doing that song Money Money Money from whats that movie’s name…?)

    • ‘Cabaret’! Ha ha. Yes, I can see that.

      I was hugely impressed by the way Zoe took to making maquettes. But more importantly, she didn’t make them as an end in themselves, but to explore compositional form in her paintings. The results were a revelation. The use of maquettes really transformed her practice, encouraging her to foreground the figures and make them fill the frames of her pictures in wonderfully expressive ways. Before this Zoe’s figures were often quite small within the overall compositions, and the results while lovely, didn’t have the emotional impact of the work where they became the focus.

      Zoe doesn’t blog any more. One day I hope she’ll return to doing so. But if you check out her site, you can explore deeply and find some of the images she made, and the processes that led to them. Just click HERE and explore.

  2. You are always so generous, Clive, with your time and your talent and your knowledge and your kindness! And your artwork always sets my heart and mind whirling! And the nuggets gained from the discussions here, just as with the posts themselves, are always such inspiration…
    “Outstripped” is more than a bit ridiculous, though!
    And I love that drawing of Jack–what energy!

  3. They are a lasting wonder, aren’t they, these friendships? I wanted to thank you for your lovely welcome to Elfie. My blogging world has shrunk somewhat too, but I feel a resurgence in all sorts of ways, and am most glad you are still to be found here!

  4. The Artlog is such a JOYOUS place! Thanks to all three for that sparky dialogue with its showing of the wonderful processes that interweave between creative people… lucky, lucky we are that we live in this age where we can ‘see’ each other so easily and share so much.

    What fun it would have been if people we admire from centuries ago had had digital communication! Dear Giotto, my hero, could you just email me a file of that lovely ‘Kiss of Judas’ that you’ve just finished for the Scriveni chapel…… 🙂

  5. Me? Teach you? Is that possible? That’s a very generous statement, for I have learned so much from you over the years, especially when I was working on your designs in the opera company studios, when I was completely in awe of you. Funny how people’s memories differ. Maybye we were too shy to say how we felt at the time! Thanks for the special post. I am honoured. (As I expect Zoe is too.)

    I love the idea that you two are close friends when you have never met. It just shows the power of the word and of global communication bringing like minds together. You’ve mentioned it before, and I agree, it’s a wonderful time for artists to be able to meet up with others from such diverse backgrounds and countriesxxxxxL

    • I had no training for the job. My experience was that of a choreographer and director. I should have been employing a designer, but because I had ideas about how I wanted the production to look, I’d somehow got trapped by circumstances into taking on the responsibilities myself. The original suggestion from the producer had been that I sketch out some ideas to brief the selected designers to be interviewed. Somehow that got skewed. The designers were unavailable for interviews, time was passing and I had to fill the gap while we searched again, or we would be behind with the schedules. The ‘sketches’ proliferated, and then I built the model, and then… well you were there, you know what happened.

      Frankly I was completely unequipped for a project of such ambition and scale. Had the heads of departments at my presentation not been moved to support me, I would have crumpled and fled the building. When I stood in front of you all to present the sets, my mouth was so dry I could hardly speak and I was shaking so much that the model box rattled! I felt light-headed and about to pass out. It was only when I raised my eyes to see that everyone was leaning forward to better view my ‘toy theatre’, and many were even smiling, that I thought… ‘Crikey! They haven’t rumbled that I don’t know what I’m doing!’

      You were kindness itself to me throughout the long project to build the production. You learn from me? Believe me, it was the other way around. I was like a little sponge soaking up your knowledge. Why do you think I was at the workshops so frequently? I just loved the magic of it all. To me it was like alchemy, what went on in your department.

      • Poor Clive, and at the time I had no idea what was going on inside your head! I just saw (at last) a designer who knew exactly what he wanted, it was easy peasy from then on! Little did you know at the time how lazy some designers can be, and how I had to prise their wishes from them, almost as though they didn’t want to give anything away, you were wonderful to work for, and working together obviously provided a good strong foundation for our friendship……. Errr is that really 34 years? Gulp…xxxL

        • I’ve known some designers like that, and I have a theory. Once the designer has committed to a model and plans, then everything is pinned down, and for some creatives, at that point there’s a horrible sense of no going back. I think some just don’t handle the situation well because they can’t relinquish the many ideas that won’t be make it onto the stage. You can’t brief a team if you’re reluctant to edit and move forward.

          Recently I re-drew the dummy-copy of the Hansel & Gretel picture-book many, many times. Just couldn’t settle on how I wanted it to be. I mean, I knew what I wanted it to be somewhere in my head, but getting it down in detail so that all the elements… character design, narrative clarity, visual dynamics, dramatic effects etc… all hit the spot for me, took an age and much fine-tuning. All that was fine and dandy because I was only battling with myself. No-one else was involved. But if a stage-designer undergoing such a process has got to a point of having to brief the team before being completely clear about how the design will look and work, then trouble is not far ahead.

          Yes, thirty-four years. How can it be? I think the Time-Thief snuck in when we weren’t looking! But thirty-four years has also granted us the gift of ease with each other, a deep-down friendship that picks right up again no matter how much time has elapsed since we last saw each other. So there are the gifts, as well as the deficits wrought by passing years.

          • You’re absolutely right, of course, now I feel I was hard on those designers, although I used to meekly do my best whatever they presented me with! However, I suppose that description of doubt, agonising and frustration goes for us all in the arts, music, films, literature doesn’t it ? The funny thing is that when it works it all looks so easy, like your paintings for instance, particularly those early ones you posted, they look so fresh and easily accomplished, that’s why they work so well. Even the Hansel and Gretel drawings you have shown us so far, they look so right that I could not have imagined the immense hard work you have put into them…… your loving OAP xxxL

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