Resurrecting Trevor

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First there was my father, Trevor. In 1999 I was at his bedside as he died. I had to lean in and watch closely, to be sure of the moment. When it came it was as intangible as the faintest wisp of smoke, half-seen out of the corner of my eye. I looked so hard I almost stopped breathing, and then he was gone, his cool, unmoving hand a deadweight in mine.

From 2000 onwards I drew him into my grief, while my friend and his, Catriona Urquhart, watched and wrote what would become the text for my 2001 exhibition and an edition of poems published by The Old Stile Press, under the collective title of The Mare’s Tale.

I made many images. First the studies, wrenched out of sadness, and thereafter the giant drawings made on the floor of our dining-room in Plasturton Avenue. I begrimed myself with black Conté pencil that stained the cracks in my fingers and transferred in smears as I wiped my sweaty face. I must have looked like a madman, crawling over the images, buffing their surfaces to a slatey sheen with knees getting stiffer by the month. When finally I came to his likeness, I wept incessantly. It was too painful to make. I’d left it as an absence in the black surface, but with the drawing completed save for his face, the task couldn’t be put off any longer. I repeatedly had to dry the paper out, and so I know there’s hidden salt in the fibre of it. Sometimes I wonder whether one day it’ll emerge, like crusted sadness on the surface, the way salts emerge out of old bricks, and stonework. That would be an interesting one for the paper-conservators, charged with erasing grief from an artwork.

Above: Tend

A decade after I’d completed The Mare’s Tale, I was persuaded to give permission for a ‘performance work’ to be created for a chamber orchestra, inspired by the drawings and what lay behind them. This would require a collaboration with the composer Mark Bowden. I agreed, and elected Damian Walford Davies to be the librettist, because we’d worked together before. He knew my story intimately, and through me my father’s story. He also knew and had written about Catriona’s poems. (She’d died too young in 2005, The Mare’s Tale the only volume of poetry published in her lifetime.) Damian’s narrative was a fiction, a psychological ghost story, though conjured from some of the biographical facts of my father’s life. The title was borrowed from the original series of drawings, as were the ‘secrets’ buried in Trevor’s childhood memories. Two key scenes were lifted directly from my accounts of what had happened to him. Though this was hard-to-negotiate and dark terrain, I felt safe in Damian’s hands, and in Mark’s. Trevor became Morgan, in the new story, and he would be played by the singer Eric Roberts.

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In 2013, a single, fully-staged  performance of the fledgling work was given at Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon. I designed and directed it. Morgan’s nightmares… my father’s nightmares… were given form though the medium of puppetry and animation. The drama was played out on a set I created to reflect the bleached sepulchres of  the original Mare’s Tale drawings.

From drawing (above) to set (below).

Puppeteers Anne Morris and Diana Ford gave sinister life to the various apparitions, and scale was added by an on-stage video crew filming the effects and streaming them to a screen suspended above the action.

Topographical models were filmed and projected onto the screen, to compass Morgan’s cramped world.

From concept drawing…

… to rehearsal.

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I ruthlessly pared back the turbulence of my drawings from the stage imagery. I wanted the production to be visually stark, to give space to the music and text. Mark and Damian built from their own materials what I had once made out of densely-worked Conté pencil.

Eric Roberts was astounding as Morgan Seyes. In the scene where the character, fevered and enveloped in tangled bedsheets, believed that the Mari Lwyd had returned to claim him, the lines between performance and reality blurred, and Eric/Morgan became Trevor.

I didn’t set out to resurrect my father when I began work on the stage presentation of The Mare’s Tale. In rehearsals, as I began to understand where the last scene was going, it came as a shock. The visceral power of Eric’s performance shook everyone present. Our perceptive dramaturge, Helen Cooper, stepped quietly forward to continue helping, while I retreated to the back of theatre to let her, the music, the text, the lighting and the actor do their work.

 …

Chronology of The Mare’s Tale, 2001 – 2015

2001: The Mare’s Tale opens at Newport Museum and Art Gallery. An illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition

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The Old Stile Press publish The Mare’s Tale, their edition of Catriona Urquhart’s poems accompanied by Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ illustrations

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The Contemporary Art Society for Wales purchases Stumbles and Cannot Rise (below) from The Mare’s Tale, and the drawing subsequently enters the collection of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

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Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery purchase The Mari Lwyd Approaches (below) from The Mare’s Tale 

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2002: new works in the Mare’s Tale series form an expanded exhibition at Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery under the title The Tower on the Hill

Selected drawings from The Mare’s Tale appear in Dreaming Awake at the Terezín Memorial Gallery, and subsequently tour to four venues in the Czech Republic

2005: Catriona Urquhart dies. Her poetic text for The Mare’s Tale includes Pegasus, in which she reflects on Trevor’s last months and his death. However so apposite is the poem to her own failing health and intimations of mortality, that Clive Hicks-Jenkins reads it at her funeral.

2011: the artist’s sixtieth birthday is celebrated with a major retrospective in the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Many of The Mare’s Tale drawings are gathered for the occasion from private collections and institutions

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Lund Humphries publish Clive Hicks-Jenkins, a monograph. Montserrat Prat contributes an essay titled Metamorphosis of a Folk Tradition, in which she explores the drawings of The Mare’s Tale

2012: The Mare’s Tale, a work for chamber-orchestra and actor, is commissioned by the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra from composer Mark Bowden and librettist Damian Walford Davies. The piece takes its inspiration and its title from the 2001 series of Mari Lwyd drawings by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

2013: a fully staged performance of the chamber-work The Mare’s Tale, is given by the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra at Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon. It is designed and directed by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Helen Cooper is the Dramaturge. The role of Morgan Seyes is played by Eric Roberts

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2015: Eric Roberts and Damian Walford Davies read extracts from the libretto of The Mare’s Tale at a special event held during Clive Hicks-Jenkins most recent explorations of the Mari Lwyd theme in Dark Movements at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. At the event Mary-Ann Constantine reads from Catriona Urquhart’s collection of Mare’s Tale poems.

Below: Eric Roberts reads at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre

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Jane’s Dream, a film by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Pete Telfer based loosely on Damian Walford Davies’ libretto for The Mare’s Tale, is screened in the gallery throughout the Dark Movements exhibition. Original music for Jane’s Dream is by composer Peter Byrom Smith

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12 thoughts on “Resurrecting Trevor

  1. I was only taking a break from my penultimate unit and who do I see, (having first read about, the feather and the fox) but your dad, suited and booted and splendid and…there I was, polishing brass with him in Newport and sniffing roses with him, I think at Claverton and then, some tears. It was a good end really, surrounded by love although, regrettably, not snug in bed or even polishing the car. Why am I seeing leather driving gloves? He was a bit special your dad; interestingly I’m not sure I was ever present when Solly and Trevor met, the pirate and the captain.
    Ah me, love and memories
    B xxx

    • Ah me, indeed. Yes, I got thinking about something or another and suddenly I was off and away, the memories tumbling fast. You’re right, as ends go it wasn’t a bad one. (Though it had its moments!)

      They did meet didn’t they, though I can’t remember how or when. How can such things be lost? Well recalled, Bern. I know you’re right, but the detail elude me.

      Crikey, Brasso!!!!!

      • I can smell it still! AND I’ve remembered your mum telling me how my dad tried to pay for their meal at The Beaufort (something he frequently did to surprise the host) BUT he was on YOUR dad’s patch…and Trevor beat him to it! I think dad bought ‘Bampy’ a bottle of Chivers, or equivalent as a thank you. Lives to celebrate darling and with a swift shout of l’chaim…I’d better get back to it. Only 2000 more words before Tuesday, eeek and I’ve had plenty of time, sound familiar?
        Love as ever and always
        B xxx

  2. WOW! an amazing progression, lead by some sort of intuitive intelligence…and tenderly and respectfully laid upon the screen before me.. like ichigo-ichi-e…thank you for this experience in all its unfolding…

  3. I’ve cried my eyes out with this entry. It is so beautiful! And it really gives one hope. That those we love can live forever in our love, in our loving memories of them and in the lives of the people to whom we transmit those images, stories and memories. I think all of us who have read this must love your father…

    For the last two weeks I have been in a hospital, at my husband’s bedside, where he has been submitted to a very serious and totally sudden and unexpected operation.

    And I have seen in him, the sensation of helplessness, the saying good bye to life, and to all he loved…
    We are now back at home, with a new lease on life. We do not know how long it will last, but we are going to enjoy the reprieve.

    Thank You
    Love
    María

    • Dearest Maria, Peter and I send our love. This must have been a terrible shock to you and your family, though we’re heartened to hear that the operation was a success. We wish your husband a speedy recovery and many happy years ahead for both of you.

      I’m sorry I made you cry. You hardly needed that in the circumstances!

  4. Virgil’s lacrimae rerum… Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a worldwide show composed of artworks that are secretly the vessels of tears? If we only knew which they were…

    And yet how oddly happy I am to have seen those salt drawings!

  5. Yes, thank you Clive, what a beautiful and deeply moving post. Those feet touching in Tend get me every time and hurl me back to thoughts of my on father who is also gone.

    The moment of departure, something half seen out of the corner of your eye you say, like a wisp of smoke, but so profound; it’s like much of what is so precious in life, what I try and capture in what I’m doing.

    I’m sitting in the gym waiting for Jan to come out, tears dropping, he’ll wonder what’s the matter 😉.

  6. Wow, what an image: “charged with erasing grief from an artwork.” This is a beautiful post, Clive, and all you have created for the world from your relationship with your father is immensely powerful. I’ve always been intrigued by the “levels” of reality like this one: you felt something, you made a 2D (on paper) world from it, which was so powerful, it burst from the page and became, then, a stage presentation, which, in a moment, became so real, so much its own (and yet, with the life of your father inside it), that those involved in the process, even, felt a physical shock.

    *That* is the point, I think, of art. Thank you for this post!

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