About Clive Hicks-Jenkins

I am a painter, born and living in Wales. I show with Martin Tinney in Cardiff and my work can always be found at his gallery. (Click on second link)

Reinventing Beauty

Featured

la-belle-et-la-bete-1946-00106

Yesterday I talked to the students at Hereford College of Arts about my work making a book in ‘homage’ to Jean Cocteau’s film, La Belle et la Bête, a dream project I’m collaborating on with my friend Joe Pearson at Design for Today.

 

IMG_6105

I can quite see that it’s a strange notion to attempt a picture book about another artist’s creation originally made in the form of a film. There are many visual reinventions that are required in order to successfully carry off the trick, especially as my intention has never been to make a scene-by-scene ‘copy’ of the film. I think of what I’m producing as a translation. I’m working to translate, rather than reproduce the actors’ iconic screen appearances into what will work in illustration terms, and the same process is being undertaken with the film’s studio sets and the locations. The canvas, plaster and gauze spaces of the Beast’s chambers, passageways and balconies that the actors performed on, are opening up in my imagination as I transport myself into their world, just as Cocteau described the experience of walking through the constructed rooms in his published Diary of a Film.

Cocteau on the set for Beauty’s bedroom, Saturday the 15th December 1945:

“I’ve never seen a set either in the theatre or in films to appeal as much to me as this one of Beauty’s room where I am working now. The studio hands like it too. Even the waitresses from the restaurant come and see it and are thrilled to pieces.

I’d like to hear this room described by Edgar Allen Poe; for it is, as it were, isolated in space with the remnants of the forest set on one side, and the beginnings of the stream set on the other. With the result that bushes can be seen through its walls of net, suggesting a whole incomprehensible landscape behind it. Its carpet is of grass and its furniture in the magnificent bad taste of Gustave Doré.”

 

belleetlabete2photo11 (1)

I’m working in colour, which Cocteau wanted to do but was unable to afford in those harsh, post-war days when the French film industry was on its knees in the wake of the Occupation. He describes in his diary the sky blue of Belle’s sumptuous satin gown, worn by Josette Day in the farm garden when Belle returns home, and how beautiful the colour was against the white bed-sheets hanging out to dry, with the black hens scattering in front of her.

hqdefault (2)

 

l-092fcd953beb637e05ba7c05e4155860

Above: the cast on location at Moulin de Touvois á Rochecorbon in Touraine, the small ‘manor’ that Cocteau chose  for the exteriors of Beauty’s home. From left to right, Josette Day, Marcel André, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, Jean Marais and Mila Parely.

The fact is that there have been echoes of La Belle et la Bête in much of my work of the last decade. Leonine creatures have appeared in many of my works, and always in them the combination of rage, anguish and yearning that hallmark Jean Marais’ performance as la Bête.

DSC00590

La+belle+et+la+bete+film+stills+(3) (1)

CHJ 3a (1)

IMG_2660

In the first of a new series of prints titled New Folktales that I’m making with Dan Bugg at Penfold Press, the recurring themes of beauty and beastliness are apparent in both the title and the image of The Tiger’s Bride.

IMG_9861

Above: preparatory drawing for The Tiger’s Bride.

And even in my recent cover for These Our Monsters I can see that I’m toying with ideas for the Beast’s garden, setting serpentine stems and muted, nighttime colours against a velvety black.

img611

Josette Day and Jean Marais haunt me at the drawing-board and in my dreams. I make and unmake them over and over as I strive to capture an essence of their stateliness and beauty.

18825963

 

IMG_9389 (1)

 

IMG_8457

Above: maquettes made preparatory to illustrating the book.

I see the book as being like a bottle of perfume that you unstopper in order to inhale something rich and dark. It’s a fight, but every time I make a small progress, it feels like triumph.

La+Belle+et+la+Bte+de+Jean+Cocteau+1946

IMG_6085

The Artist in Stiches

Featured

Throughout time artists have used the examples of those who’ve gone before, copying so as to learn, occasionally to pay homage to an admired artist or artwork, and sometimes to steal. Picasso, that ferociously creative innovator of the 20th century who taught us new ways to see, stole with impunity from anywhere and anyone, though his advice was to always ‘steal from the best’. He was a good thief and chose well, often greatly improving in the process. Peter has reminded me that I stole myself, from time to time in my earlier days as an artist, before I knew what I was doing or where I was going, and not always with acknowledgement. So I was circumspect when recently I came upon a design for a toy theatre proscenium that I had made long ago, all over the Insta page of a woman who had taken it, digitally recoloured it and was happily fielding flattering comments about it as though it were her own work. Indeed, worse, had been selling it as a screensaver download! When politely confronted she claimed that she couldn’t find who the artist had been in order to credit. I pointed out that not knowing who had made something doesn’t mean that you own it, or that you can take it and pass it off as your own. She agreed, and forthwith removed the many images of the stolen work from her site

But in the arts we have that wonderful word homage … from the French … which allows for the re-configuring of an idea and taking it in a different direction, while acknowledging the source. Recently some paintings of mine, with my permission,  have been re-interpreted as stitched work. I love the changes that occur when another pair of eyes get to work on an image, examining it and finding ways to express it in a different medium.

Karen Stonestreet contacted me to ask permission to adapt a ‘hare’ vignette made for the recently published Marly Youmans historic novel, Charis in the World of Wonders. Her adaptation of the drawing has given her own work the look of an American primitive, and I relish that translation to something unexpected and lively.

Charis Vignette 7

90509894_594944481363979_7703219768899141632_n-1

Note the lovely clouds of tiny stitches around the blossom in Karen’s interpretation of the textured elements in the drawing. In time her plan is to make a quilt using adaptations of the collection of  bird and animal vignette’s made for Charis. The drawings should translate well, as the inspiration for them was my love for early American stitched and quilted work. In another interesting connection, Marly’s husband Mike collects early American patchwork, and I’m told is a wonderful patchwork-maker himself.

Charis Vignette 1

 

Textile artist Amanda Warren first came to me when she wanted to make a piece based on a still-life painting of mine:

DSC02714.JPG copy

Using a detail rather than the whole image, I greatly liked what she showed me of the work when it was ‘in progress’. In the still life I’d incorporated a John Maltby ceramic on his ‘Pelican’ theme, and so it could be said that Amanda’s textile interpretation of my painting is an homage of an homage.

Here’s her finished piece. Note that she’s removed the fish hanging from the cruciform Pelican’s wings, and she was right to do so, because in terms of this simpler composition, they would have made the image too congested. She left out too the Scottie Wilson milk-jug with the pattern of swans and cygnets, concentrating instead on the three mackerel with their stripes and iridescence.

image3

I’m very much attracted by the dualities of roughness and precision in Amanda’s work. There’s something of the rawness of early sketches in her surfaces that can be lost when the artist becomes too concerned with meticulousness. From time to time I have to pull back myself, as a painter, from the allure of the too polished finish, and these landscapes of freehand stitchery, jagged and seemingly improvised, are a good reminder of how exciting mark-making can be when the energy is allowed to flow freely.

image2

More recently Amanda sent me an image of a textile work based on another of my still life paintings.

hicks-jenkins attic 007 (1)

image1 (4)

The interpretation has resulted in a piece of work that is both my mine and yet not mine.  It’s allowed me to look at the intensely familiar with new eyes, and that’s been a uniquely interesting and informative experience, which no amount at looking at the original painting could have done for me. I wrote to Amanda:

“I absolutely LOVE this. Love what happens in translation. I very much like the connection to my own work – which is clearly evident – but I love too the points of departure, and that your work has become entirely itself, with its own character and visual language of marks and colours. It’s almost as though I’ve provided a supporting tent-pole, and you’ve put the tent over it.

The mug was made at the Gwili Pottery, and is one in the blue and white ‘seashell’ range they produced. We have a number of them, hence the fact that they tun up in my paintings. At Gwili the artists work freehand with each piece, in the case of the seashell range using a ‘pattern book’ of assorted elements that they then arrange and interpret as the spirit moves them. In this way the range remains consistent overall, while also allowing the artists to be expressive. The artists leave their initials on the base of every piece worked on, and so next time I’m at the cottage I should check the mugs to see if your friend’s initials are among them.

All the objects in my still-life paintings are significant to me. The oval cardboard box had been plain when given to us by a friend, and filled with pralines. When the contents had been eaten I painted the box with a clipper. It sits on the cottage dresser, referred to always as ‘Rex’s Box’ and still smelling of cocoa and almonds when opened. The curtain in the painting is a ‘fake’. The ‘real’ curtains in that window are what were hanging when we purchased the property, and they’re rather chintzy. Pretty enough in their own way, but not right for the painting. So I used a vintage linen tea-towel as a stand-in.”

 

Later, in an online conversation with author Marly Youmans, Amanda wrote this:

“I used several of the textiles in Clive’s photo, natural fabrics, cotton and silk scraps, many hand dyed from my stash. The shadows are made from some strange stuff that was wrapped around a bunch of flowers, definitely synthetic! There is machine and hand stitching, mostly hand, with stranded cotton threads.

Studying the work of other artists is a strange combination of mindlessness and mindfulness. Decisions have to be made about what will be included and what left out, and then there’s the decisions relating to how accurately to translate the painting into textiles, and ultimately, when to stop! The process certainly made me appreciate Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ facility with paint! I think that the reproduction I printed off to work from was, indeed, brighter colours, although not as bright as the materials I selected. I have very much enjoyed delving into Clive’s artlog since this was posted and reading about your Foliate Head work- the Green Man subject is close to my heart, especially in these HS2 times.”

Below: Amanda begins work on interpreting a painting through the medium of textiles.

image0 (1)

On the Passing of a Princess

Featured

Letter to my friend Lizzie in France, on hearing of the death of her cat, Lucy.

IMG_6494 (1)

“Christmas week 2018 at La Crabouille, sitting at your kitchen table making preparatory sketches for the unexpected commissioned magazine illustration that had come in via an e-mail and required I begin work immediately in order to meet the deadline. Lucy is outside, peering intently at me through the window pane. She yowls and pats at the window to test whether it’s open. It isn’t. She stares harder at me. More yowls, louder, and in a rising pitch. I get up and cross to the window to unlatch it. In she comes.

She sits companionably on a chair next to me. I go the taps to get myself a glass of water, and when I turn back she’s curled up RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF MY DRAWING, a scattering of garden ‘bits’ around her. She gives me a stony look, daring me to move her. I pick her up firmly and put her to the floor. Pause. She stalks with stiff-legged hauteur to the kitchen door to be let out, and I oblige her. She exits without so much as an acknowledging glance, an imperious Princess expecting lackeys to clear her way.

Back to work at the table. Not two minutes later Lucy is at the window, again, patting at it. I ignore her. She all but tuts, rearing to her hind legs to emphasise the urgency, patting harder, her claws making little scratching noises, stopping from time to time to pierce me with a stare emphasising her meaning. I get up, cross to the window and let her in. This happens repeatedly throughout the morning. I must have let her in twenty times by the time G passes through the kitchen and says “Just ignore her.” I try to. I really try. But Lucy just thinks up more attention-grabbing strategies. Now she’s putting her shoulder to the panes, and her yowling has passed from urgent to Banshee-shrieks of rage. You come in, Lizzie, and go to the window to let her in, saying as she streaks past “Oh poor Lucy, wouldn’t Clive let you in?”!!! Lucy leaps to table, to stand defiantly in front of me, her nose inches from my face. Very slowly and without unlocking her gaze from mine, she sits on my drawing hand – the pencil still between my fingers – in the middle of my sketchpad!”

IMG_6493

 

R.I.P. Lucy.

2002 – 2020

>>><<<

Close of Play

Featured

 

IMG_6547

Today I completed my final work for English Heritage on the year-long Telling Tales project that arrived entirely unexpectedly just before Christmas 2018.

IMG_6548

IMG_0085

IMG_6628

It began with a commission via English Heritage Magazine to make an illustration of Saint George for a series of articles on English myths, legends and folk tales, and ended today with the last in a group of paintings commissioned as prizes in the five categories of a short story competition for young people, for which I made an illustration for each winning story. 

St George (1)

One of the winning competition stories tells of an unhappy young Princess who makes friends with a fierce and much reviled fire-breathing beast, so my year with English Heritage began and ended with dragons.

img615


Throughout it there has been a relentless schedule of deadlines. The first was to conceptualise and then complete all the visuals for an interactive ‘Myths Map’ that required daunting quantities of artwork from me, including producing thirty drawings of EH sites and designing and building the many puppets required for the map’s animation sequences.

thumbnail (1)

 

CHJ116 (2)

Following that I designed retail products and produced illustrations for EH Magazine, for several educational projects and for the anthology of short stories titled ‘These Our Monsters’.

 

img611

IMG_8504

In November 2019 much of my output was on show in Grand Tour: Works Commissioned from Clive Hicks-Jenkins by English Heritage at Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff.

Martin Tinney Invitation

In some ways producing illustrations as prizes for the Telling Tales short story competition winners was the most challenging part of the project, because there was the added responsibility of wanting the experience for the young writers to be the best.

img614


Telling Tales was English Heritage’s theme of 2019, designed to promote interest in the many sites around which the project had been built. Had it come a year later things would have turned out quite differently as right now all the sites are closed until future notice, and their retail outlets with them. Most of the EH team I worked with are on furlough. Even so a few weeks ago it was suggested I work on an extension to the project, and while pleased and flattered to be asked, I declined. Any commission is hard work, but this one was particularly challenging because the briefs were demanding and I was answerable to a great many stakeholders over a long period. Sustaining concentration and the energy to deliver to schedule throughout it was exhausting, and while I greatly appreciated being the artist entrusted with the challenges, now feels like the moment to be moving on.

 

IMG_7084 (1)

A Tale of Two Covers

Featured

img611

EH_These Are Monsters_Dust cover (3)

>>><<<

EH_These Are Monsters_Dust cover_NEW_F cf E

‘These Our Monsters’ is the only book for which I’ve been commissioned to make two covers in order to appeal to different markets. It was soft-launched in November with a cover bearing an image based on Graeme Macrae Burnet‘s Bram Stoker themed story set in Whitby, The Dark Thread, and now bears a cover with a hare from Paul Kingsnorth’s Goibert of the Moon. The two covers were a clever idea by Editor Katherine Davey that, with promotion and in circumstances other than we‘re currently in, would have been eye-catching. But with most English Heritage staff having been furloughed for the duration of the crisis, the change of cover has been slipped out unannounced, and I think the sleight-of-hand is now likely to go un-noticed.

These Our Monsters_Covers A (2)

The first cover was to catch the attention of a readership attracted to the horror genre. There was a lot of anticipation last year at the prospect of the new Mark Gatiss three-part adaptation of Dracula at the BBC, which I hoped our cover with the vampire count might benefit from by dint of zeitgeist. By contrast the second was a subtler mood-drenched image drawing on current interests in Folk Horror Revival that might attract those for whom the more overt grotesquerie of the Dracula cover was not so appealing. (Though look closely and those foliate elements are not as pretty or innocent as they at first appear, and the building on the back cover has been tweaked into the likeness of a skull.)

 

img583

 

2020 V&A Illustration Awards shortlist nominee for ‘Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes’

Featured

 

PastedGraphic-14 (3)

I’m honoured and thrilled to share here that I’ve been shortlisted for the V&A 2020 Illustration Award in the category of ‘Illustrated Book’ for Simon Armitage’s contemporary re-working of the Brothers Grimm, ‘Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes’.

My thanks to publisher Joe Pearson and designer Laurence Beck at Design for Today for their unflagging belief in this project and the tireless work they put in to make it everything we’d hoped it might be.

The announcements of the award winners will be made in June.

 

‘Putz’, Pastille Burners and Palaces: the making of ‘Bird House’

Featured

 

Krakow Cathedral

When Joe Pearson enquired whether I’d like to produce a title to fit in with his ongoing project of making both selected re-prints and new titles in the old Bantam series of tiny picture-books, I didn’t hesitate for even a moment before saying yes. I’d taken a lot of pleasure in Joe’s reprints of Hilary Stebbing’s two titles for Bantam, The Silly Rabbits and The Animals Went in Two by Two, poring over them repeatedly. I’m a big Stebbing fan but original copies of her books are hard to find these days, so the re-prints were an easily affordable treat.

tumblr_pjmbj9t9W61snt1oto1_1280

There are just fourteen pages per Bantam book plus front and back cover, a constraint that can either focus or defeat the illustrator/author. Stebbing rose magnificently to the challenge with vibrant images that all but leap off the page. The Silly Rabbits reprint has been at my elbow as inspiration throughout the process of working on my own book. If I could capture even a fraction of the vivacity of her approach, then I’d be content.

Joe came straight to the point with his suggestion of a subject: birds. There had been birds of many varieties in our first book together, Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes, and Joe suggested that if time was too short for me to make new work, we might profitably look at some of the unused drawings made for that project.

PastedGraphic-2 (19)

But once the idea was in my head, I was off like a rocket to make new work. I thought briefly about whether I’d write or commission a new story, but greedy for all the space I could grab for the illustrations, decided in the end to make a picture-book, pure and simple. I considered producing a sort of nursery primer Guide to British Birds, and began sketching. But the more I sketched, the more I realised that I wanted to make not a book of birds as observed in nature, but something imaginary.

My first thoughts focussed on combining birds with some of the foil crèches I’d collected which are a folk art tradition of the city of Krakow in Poland. Only a few weeks previously I’d been making assemblages for my Instagram page that combined foil crèches and vintage tinplate birds. So out came the clockwork cockerels again and the tiny wooden buildings from the Erzgebirge toy-making region of the Black Forest, and rather strangely it began to feel as though the idea might have been cooking in my head from a time before Joe came to me with the project.

IMG_9570 (1)

I began arranging the foil crèches on my work table, combining them with small painted wooden birds, another Polish craft tradition of which I have many examples.

9701004-2

IMG_7396 (1)

Below: Polish ‘folk art’ foil nativity from Krakow, to which I’ve added tiny painted wooden birds for the photograph. All things Polish and folk-artish in my collection come from the wonderful online emporium, Frank & Lusia.

IMG_0082

For about a day the title of the new book was to be Palace of Birds. But it changed as soon as I came up with the more direct, Bird House.

Krakow Cathedral – Version 2

Suddenly the dining-room table, where I’d temporarily set up my work space, was piling high with Polish birds, Russian tinplate chickens and foil crèches. Here a hen stands atop a ‘Head’ by artist Peter Slight.

IMG_8512

There were other possibilities stirring. I’d fairly recently acquired a box full of vintage Chinese chenille birds, and they too came out.

IMG_0083

Below: worktable with the many Polish painted birds that contributed their services to the project. Note the copy of Hilary Stebbing’s The Silly Rabbits.

IMG_0005 (1)

Ideas for bird houses developed fast. I researched at the computer, sketchbook in lap, filling it with drawings of Staffordshire pastille-burners in the forms of fanciful castles and follies.

Old-Staffordshire-Flat-China-House-Castle (1)

Below: project-book sketch of a Staffordshire folly and a Polish bird.

IMG_9869

Then there were vintage versions of the glitter-encrusted Christmas decorations known as ‘Putz’, which before World War II had been popular Japanese novelty exports to the US.

kthyHOM2b

I made many fully worked-up trial images in preparation for beginning my work in earnest. In this one from my project-book you can see how I adapted the Putz House shown above.

IMG_0077

And here – in a detail from the finished illustration – a change of bird strengthens the image.

Version 3

Recalling the china pagodas that decorated the goldfish bowls of my childhood, I began trawling for examples that might go nicely with my chenille birds. So many ideas, so little space!

e8e5d9def61ebbb5e13616e36843ad98

IMG_0007

Below: project-book drawings of Russian clockwork chickens.

IMG_0008

 

IMG_0079

Bird House will be published later this year. Produced in a very small edition, I suggest that if this book appeals and you fancy a copy, then you contact Joe at the Design for Today Instagram page. There you’ll find a post about it where you can leave a comment to notify him of your interest. On this one I fear it will be ‘reserve early to avoid disappointment’.

>>><<<