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)

Into the Woods

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With so many projects on this year, I’ve had to spread my working spaces throughout the house. The attic studio has been designated Hansel & Gretel territory, mainly because there are two tables up there and I can move between them. I make monoprint collage papers at one, and keep the other a ‘clean’ desk (the term is relative) for the drawing work.

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Whenever work is underway, the studio goes uncleared until the project is done. Right now it’s in such a mess that Jack and I have to negotiate its spaces via designated cleared paths. Piles of completed illustrations… protected with sheets of transparent-paper, I hasten to add… teeter on stools and spill over the floor, while from day-to-day the desk holds whichever image is underway.

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The picture-book has been a long project. (Longer than I’d anticipated, and I’m grateful to Simon Lewin of St. Jude’s for his patience.) Long in gestation, in the creation of the characters and their maquettes and in the design of the book in its dummy-form.

Certainly long in rendering the final illustrations. ‘Hansel & Gretel’ is to have panorama fold-out spreads interspersed throughout, and the design and careful alignment of them is a time-consuming though immensely enjoyable process. It’s been fun to make the fold-outs equate to the ‘shock moments’ in a horror film.

But what I’ve most relished about this, is that unlike my work on previous book projects when I’ve been called upon to ‘decorate’ texts, Hansel & Gretel has been pure story-telling through the medium of images. What few words there are been confined to those the characters say, kept brief and straight forward and hand-lettered into the images to become part of the page designs.

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I’m on the final push of completing the drawings. Come June they will be packed and dispatched to Simon, at which point the processes of scanning and layering with colour can begin. This has been and will no doubt continue to be a learning curve for me. It fulfils a life-long ambition of mine to have told a story entirely through pictures. As a narrative artist, at my easel I’m always looking to layer paintings with multiple meanings in order to suggest underlying narratives. I do much the same when called upon to make an image for a book cover. But here the visual narrative is extended and intense and has been wonderful territory to explore. I am definitely the old dog learning new tricks!

Dying Swan

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Stages of the painting and rendering

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In close-up details of the texturing become apparent. The rough gouache  yields a granular surface that the sharpness of the pencils scratch away at and even break through and laminate. I like the broken, chaotic quality of mark-making that’s imposed by this roughness, with the shadows speckled with chips and fractures in the paint surface.

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Blue pencil over pink for the cap and ruff, and red and black over blue for the face and jacket. The oak leaves that pattern the bird’s foliate plumage also appliqué the jacket, alongside diamonds and circles.

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I enjoy a drawing more… both the making and the viewing of it… when the components allow for multiple layers of reading. The boy’s colouring is hectic, though whether it’s a clownish rouge or the flush of exertion isn’t clear. The folds and ruffles of his collar break like waves over his shoulders while the skirts of his hobby-horse ripple, so there are suggestions of the wateriness befitting a swan.

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The wings are foliate-patterned. I hadn’t intended that, but once the idea was in my head I liked the effect better than plumage. I partially rendered one of the wings in red. The colour brings with it the suggestion of blood seeping through and the possibility that this is a wounded bird.

It interests me that even when so many components of the ‘fool’ are present… hobby-horse, elaborately beribboned and appliquéd costume, pom-pommed hat and ruff… there can yet be a sense of tragedy.  A mash-up of Petroushka and Pavlova.

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The three Beastie Boys.

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Boy with Swan

I needed a time off from ‘Hansel & Gretel’ and so I’ve returned to the ‘Beastie Boy’ theme for a day, by way of a break. Here’s my ‘Boy with Swan’ underdrawing, plus some rough sketches.

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I think I’m being fairly courageous showing these really crap drawings. However it’s a fact that sometimes the stream-of-conciousness-scribbles are what point the way forward, and so even what might be regarded as unfit for general consumption can have value for me.

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We all look back on work that we know we might have done better, and we all have to keep trying to improve on our last attempts. If not, why else bother to draw, or paint, or make? These clumsy Boy with Swan sketches are not exhibit-able, or fine or perhaps even informative for anyone except me. Most are rough as hell and I wouldn’t want to be judged by them alone. Nevertheless they show process and thinking. They have a job to do, and they’re doing it.

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Jonny Hannah’s Songs from the Mermaid Café Jukebox

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Songs from the Mermaid Café Jukebox (2nd edition) is a treat that grew from a suggestion made by Mr Simon Lewin of St Jude’s to artist Mr Jonny Hannah. Mr Hannah thereafter not only curated/compiled the collection, but  went the whole hog by writing and illustrating the booklet of notes that accompanies the disc, together with… not as though they were needed… producing some tasty value-added extras.

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The result is a little package the size of which belies the treats crammed therein. Quite the ‘Lucky-bag’ packed with delights! For your money, you get:

i) the sleeve with Mr Hannah’s artwork, as seductive and more-ish as a bag of old-fashioned mixed boiled sweets

ii) a double-sided title card

iii) a signed-by-Jonny Mon Oncle print, produced by the artist’s shed-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden-Cakes & Ale Press

iv) a densely decorated sixteen page booklet with track notes by the artist

v) the disc itself, slathered with more Hannah artwork and made up of a generous twenty tracks

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Credit is given in the notes to Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records, from whose archive the selection of recordings has been made.

Mr Hannah has a way with the words, as befits the progenitor of the continuing creative adventure that is ‘Darktown’, the artist’s compellingly believable community-of-the-imagination that reeks of brine and liquor, vintage clothing and chandlery bitumen. Sometimes salty and occasionally rhapsodic, I enjoyed his notes quite as much as I enjoyed the tracks! This is he on a mash-up of Ogden Nash, Noel Coward and Saint-Saëns.”

“Quintessential Englishness mixes with a French composer and American words. Dreamlike otherworldly sounds, way down below. A symphony for all fish and drowned lost souls.”

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There’s a crazed and eclectic bunch of musicians and performers gathered at Mr Hannah’s party, and I play the disc in the studio while working on my own St Jude’s project, which is a picture-book of Hansel & Gretel. I think my plucky German protagonists would not be out of place at a gathering that included Mel Torme, Robert Mitchum (yes, the actor), Miles Davies, Art Blakey and the charmingly named Pinky Winters.

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Kudos to Mr Lewin for setting this caravan in motion. It is a pleasure in all its parts!

Available from the St Jude’s website. (But I’m sure not for long. This will be sold out in no time.)

 

Clive Hick-Jenkins

May 2016

Read my review of Jonny Hannah Greetings from Darktown: an illustrator’s miscellany,  HERE

Dear Catriona

It’s been eleven years since you left us on May Day 2005. I was sitting in your chair at the top of the garden at Penparc Cottage thinking about you when the call came. I heard the phone ringing, heard it stop, picked up by someone inside. Our friends Susie and Michael and their daughters Minnie and Rosie were holidaying at the cottage. I don’t know who picked up the phone, but both Michael and Susie came out to give me the news, and their stricken, caring faces told the whole story before they’d even explained. They didn’t know you, but they knew about you, knew what the news would mean to me, and they were so, so tender. Nevertheless, the physical sensation  was unexpected. The sudden blow to the chest and an emptying, as though heart and guts had burst and were unstoppably flowing away.

Death was expected, of course. You’d been long fading. I’d been with you the day before, to sit and watch while Ian attended to business. I’d held your hand, leaned in and murmured softly to you, not wanting to pull you back through the easeful veil of drugs. You were floating so far away from me that I imagined myself a distant speck in the dreamy landscape beneath your wings. You were peaceful.

You died at a point of change in our lives. We were moving to Aberystwyth, though hadn’t yet found what was to become our home. Peter and I were staying with our friend Pip, who’d loaned us her guest cottage, the Ty Bach. Pip knew I was sad and was as kind as kind can be. But no concern, no matter how beautifully expressed, could pack back what had flowed out at the time of your death. Eleven years on and it’s still missing, like the cavity of a lost tooth that I can’t stop probing with my tongue, expecting the miracle of a return while knowing that it can’t grow back. This is not to say that there isn’t love in my life, because there is. But not your love, and I miss that more than I can express. My friend, confidante, co-conspirator and muse, I miss you every day.

I think that this emptying is what eventually undoes us. Every passing of a loved one pulls out another bit of my stuffing.

This is how it feels. (You’ll like this, Catriona. It’s a story!)

As a child I started out on a walk along a beautiful country lane, surrounded by a loving family. Gradually friends joined the walk, and as I grew, the throng multiplied. It was a merry crew, a constant discovery and delight. There were the older generation still with me, but mostly young and lively people of my own age. The walk was like a party.

Gradually the older ones began to drop back. It was sad, though it seemed natural. After all, they were older. When they stopped I waved goodbye and moved on. I missed them of course, but I was really interested in what lay ahead.

Then some of the ones who were the same age as me began to slow down, falter, stop. First one, and then another and another. And each one stopping in the road diminished my happiness and made me less myself. A bit more stuffing pulled out.

These days the group is slower, and much smaller. Every time I look around there are fewer companions. Now when I turn back I can see many figures dotted along the road travelled, just standing there. I keep walking while they diminish and then disappear in the distance.

Right now I still have enough people around me to remain optimistic. But our numbers decrease all the time and I fear that one day I will be the only one on the road. I’m not at all sure I ever want to become the unaccompanied traveller trudging forward, carrying an emptiness left by absence. But what alternative is there? And I wish… oh how I wish… that you were here so we could talk about it.

Sent with love by Clive to Catriona Urquhart

May Day, 2016

 

Catriona wrote the poetic text to the body of work that started my career as a painter. The Mare’s Tale poems appeared in 2001 in an edition with illustrations by me and published by The Old Stile Press. It’s a beautiful book and is still available from the press, based at Catchmays Court in the Wye Valley. Designed and printed by Nicolas McDowall, it’s a lasting testament to story-telling, friendship, collaboration and Catriona’s artistry with words.

By clicking HERE, you will find other Artlog posts about Catriona.

Beastie Boy 2

Here a flower-crowned mummer decked in a costume appliquéd with, birds, diamonds, hearts and a devil, rides a goat variant of a hobby-horse. Once again the image is a hybrid stitched from disparate elements. But then mumming has always liberally borrowed in order to evolve.

References

Below: portrait of a ‘hobby-horse’ mummer from Weisbach by Axel Hoedt from his book Dusk. The goat is first documented as a mumming figure of this type at the end of the 19th century.

A rare survival of a mummer’s costume from Yorkshire. 1829. Linen appliquéd with wool and felt motifs.

I drew on the tradition of the the mummer’s hat decorated with flowers and foliage, seen here beautifully executed by the ‘Green Man of Bankside’.

Below: preliminary sketch.

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Finalised underdrawing.

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Rendering sunflowers and roses in pencil over gouache.

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The colours appear to deepen as the pencil work adds density and richness to them.

The finished artwork

Beastie Boys 1 & 2

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Beastie Boy

 

DSC07660.jpgThis just popped out of nowhere. Well, not exactly nowhere, as I’ve clearly long been engaged by mumming traditions and the many variations on the ‘hobby-horse’. But this fanciful reveller came rather swiftly and unexpectedly, and now I have a notion to further explore the theme, not in any anthropological way, but by just giving free-rein to my imagination to wander and be playful.

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It could go either of two ways. A series of plausibly costumed performers in trance-like states… as in the present image… or down a more subversive and disturbing route. Odd and unexpected juxtapositions always intrigue me. Which shall it be?

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I’ve worked here in gouache overdrawn with coloured pencils. The paint dries to a  surface in which the brushes have left their striated trails, and the pencil marks on top of them have a wonderful broken and granular quality. Very pleasing in close-up and quite reminiscent of stone lithography.