‘Flowering Skin’

A new day and a new painting for Dark Movements just off the starting blocks. This afternoon I’ve been playing with pattern examining the the shapes made by my dis-articulating Jordan Morley maquettes. I want the figure in the new painting, titled Flowering Skin, to be half in and half out of his jacket. These paper garments have become quite complicated affairs, constructed from shapes that swivel on both fixed and travelling points of attachment, so that by means of sliding bars, they can actually be moved off and away from the maquette bodies they were fitted to.

I like the abstracted flying panels, and don’t worry at all about them conforming to how a three-dimensional textile garment  behaves  when wrapped about a body. Here, positive and negative shapes are what I’m most interested in, and at some level, the fact that all garments can be taken apart and rendered as the templates they’re constructed from. I find that intriguing, like hidden maps of the body.

Right now my drawings for this haven’t come together in the way I want. The segmented figure (see below) is too doll-like, the garment is too well organised, and the kinetic, frenzied dynamic is missing.

I have to get this piece moving. This is not the slumbering Jordan of The Quickening and Yarden. Moreover it’s complicated by the fact that the core element of the painting is to be the skin, and what is flowering on it. The recent tulips from Yarden have set my mind on an outcome that’s quite hard to quarry out of the surrounding rock. But as experience tells me, I don’t do this stuff to have an easy life!

And to get to the destination, I have to dance all around the bushes!

Sometimes to help navigate to the next stage of an idea, I compile a ‘mood-board’ of drawings from my archive to show aspects of what I need. Here are a few that seem to be speaking to me at the moment.

‘Yarden’, from start to finish

Yarden.
Acrylic, gouache and oil-based pencil on board. 65 x 84 cm. 2015

At the beginning of Jeffrey Beam’s poem The Big Bang: River Jordan, there is a note that reads:

The river’s name in Hebrew is ‘Yarden’ Derived from yarad meaning “descend” or “flow down”

The painting, from start to finish.

Above: first sketch.

Above and below: I use the maquette of Jordan to find the compositional shape I need, and begin the guide drawing for the work.

Below: the Mari Lwyd rears above the man.

My copy of George Stubbs’ The Anatomy of the Horse has become dog-eared with use over the years, though the the current Mari Lwyd imagery draws on beautiful old anatomical illustrations of humans.

Above: once the underdrawing is done and the colour laid in, my only tools are a pencil, a sharpener and a brush for cleaning off the pencil dust.

Below: once the Polychromos pencil rendering has been made, the underlying blue darkens considerably.

Below: tea break.

Below: working with the maquette of model, Jordan Morley.

Parrot tulips bloom in the night sky.

DSC06282

Mr Beam and Mr Hicks-Jenkins

So much by way of my collaborations with poets and writers… and theirs with me… happens through the medium of the e-mail. In this way there there have been repeated couplings with my long-time collaborator and word-smithing muse, Marly Youmans, and with the Welsh poet Damian Walford Davies, both of them writers whose published works regularly bear artwork made by me. (And both of them writers who have written published essays about the significance in my practice of image to written word.) Most recently the American poet Jeffery Beam, who I met through Marly… he’d contributed a paean of praise to Marly’s writing on the back-cover of a book for which I’d produced the artwork… have been conjuring a collaboration from the new work for Dark Movements that’s been emerging from my studio. Jeffery has taken images of the maquettes of Jordan Morley, the Dark Movements Toy Theatre and the first completed paintings made for the exhibition, and has produced poems from them that in turn have ignited my imagination and sent me careering in unexpected visual directions in response.

And so the ideas flow between us via the great electronic highways that connect, and the work for a new exhibition coalesces out of words, photographs, conversations, and shared ideas. A regular visitor to the Artlog, Maria from Spain, joins in the conversations in the blog comment boxes, and adds another layer of ideas to what unfolds there. Maria suggests that the tight-fitting lavender gloves worn by the Jordan maquette, together with the play of the puppet’s hands in the images I posted, remind her of the formal language of fans as expressed in a treatise on the subject given to her by her grandmother. Another friend, Jan, joins the debate.

Clive to Jeffery:

Dear Mr Beam

This is an extract of an e-mail between me and a friend. I think our exchange may be of interest you, seeing as you figure so significantly in it. She wrote:

Jan to Clive:

“The latest version of your Jordan maquette is just beautiful, gorgeously, ravishingly beautiful. He (!) must be taking on a life way beyond that you originally imagined for him and the real Jordan must surely be amazed to see himself so represented and transformed –”

Clive to Jan:

Jordan’s responses are insightful. As a performer he knows that those who watch ‘Jordan Morley’ on stage or on video, carry away versions of him that contain only a part of the truth. He understands the processes of transformation. So while he’s enjoying watching my transformations of him, he’s no such fool as to believe they represent the man he knows himself to be. He was taken aback by the erotic aspects of the maquette and the effect it has had on some of those who wrote about it. My friend Maria in Spain left comments at the Artlog about the erotic aspects of those tight, violet gloves, and Jeffery, having read them, started writing the poetry. I began to see the figure in a different way to how I’d intended originally, but that I wanted nevertheless to pursue. Jordan, meanwhile, smiles enigmatically and rises above it all. I think that he’s enjoying it. He has expressed misgivings that anyone meeting him is going to be disappointed, but he knows what’s what, and I think knows how to separate realities from dreams.

Jeffery to Clive:

Good to know that Jordan knows and knows we know that he has become something outside of himself and yet which is also himself. His gift to us has been giving our Imaginations the freedom Blake tells us to embrace, and there we acknowledge and discover him, but also the him in you, the him in me, the you in me, the me in you, the man/men in which we have MELDED.

Jan to Clive:

“My problem now is trying to reconcile the exquisite, be-gloved Jordan and the idea of the ‘swooning’ poetry you’ve mentioned, mainly because ‘swooning’ somehow conjures up Mills and Boon-type pictures of Barbara Cartland with a rictus smile, swathed in acres of pink! Perhaps unsurprisingly the combination isn’t working at all well in my head – and when it does resolve itself the results are such that I can’t imagine that Ms C would be able to find it in herself to approve!”

Clive to Jan:

Ha ha! Well, let’s say that may have been an ill-chosen description by me, though to be frank it was made in jest, partially because I hesitated at that early stage to describe the verse as homoerotic, though clearly it is.

Jeffery to Clive:

Of course we Queer boys know the joke-ness of “swoon” and understood we were speaking of language of laugh and, simultaneously, a language of mystical mythical experience.

Clive to Jan:

Anyone reading Jeffery’s ‘Jordan’ poems… and there are now several, all of them erotically charged… not knowing who the poet was, would find nothing to suggest that they are the words of one man longing for another. They could equally apply to the longings of a woman.

A while back, Maria from Madrid offered an Artlog comment explaining that the play of the Jordan maquette’s gloves in the photographs I’d posted, reminded her of a book, a treatise on the language of fans, gifted to her by her grandmother. Maria, herself now a ‘grandmother’, had recently acquired one of my preparatory studies of naked young men, made many years ago for the Old Stile Press edition of The Sonnets of Richard Barnfield. In an e-mail she described how much she loved the drawing and the sixteenth century poem it accompanied in the book. She was moved by Richard Barnfield’s erotically charged verse, a heartfelt paean to the beauty and allure of a young man. For Maria, the poet’s sentiments spoke both to her, and for her.

I rather like it that three gay men, an artist, a poet and a model/muse, encouraged by a blog-reading grandmother in Spain, can make work that is at once beautiful and erotically charged for both men and women.

Jeffery Beam to Clive:

I am still swimming in glove/fans and wonder if you know of Paul Claudel’s A Hundred Movements for a Fan. It is a work that has inspired me in the past but I have returned to it again, in case there is a Jordan G/love secret therein. The edition I have is actually a British imprint: Translated by American Gay Mystic Andrew Harvey and Iain Watson and published by Quartet Books in 1992.

I’d certainly love to see an English translation of Maria’s grandmother’s book. I wonder if there is one?

Jan to Clive:

“Jeffrey Beam’s poetry sounds intriguing – look forward to encountering it. I so love your multi-disciplinary view of life and art, the dark twists against the child-like (in the best sense, of wonder and fearlessness) innocence.”

Clive to Jan:

In our heads surely all of us are simultaneously many things: child and adult hand in hand, the innocent and experienced journeying together. It’s just that too many forget that, or don’t understand it or express it. But the artists, the poets and the makers… we must express it, if we are to do our jobs.

And here, a brief exchange between me and Jeffery, this time about Maze of Blood.

Clive to Jeffery:

Mr Beam, my long-distance poet/amour/penpal/inspiration, I hope you are well.

Here, the Maze of Blood cover is preoccupying me. I think it likely this will be the only painting I’ll ever get to make of a man who believed his girlfriend to be a cardinal bird, and blew off the top of his head hours before his mother died of tuberculosis because he couldn’t face life without her. Doesn’t bear thinking about too much, though Marly takes even the most unnerving material and stitches it through with the sublime. And here’s me, part way through reinventing her sublime wordsmithing into art for the cover of the novel.

Jeffery to Clive:

Oh that’s a perfect description of what Marly does…”unnerving material and stitches it through with the sublime” I trust she should use that as a blurb.

Clive to Jeffery:

Miss Marly always brings out the unexpected in me.

Jeffery to Clive:

And there you are, as you say, unexpected but perfectly right. Myth and psychology, and psychic tear (read as a rip and a cry).

Clive to Jeffery:

Sending love your way, Mr Beam. I read your Jordan verses and all sorts of heated imaginings roll around in my head. It’s as though you’re standing close behind me, whispering the words into my ear.

Jeffery to Clive:

Well honey, I am whispering… I have been known to do that with soul-brothers over the distance.

Marly and Clive talk heads

Marly:

Hi Clive, I expect you’ll solve this beautifully, but I did have some thoughts and questions that might be helpful or maybe just bothersome (though often I find the bothersome ones helpful, as they make me march off in another direction.) All four of the images on the Artlog are interesting, and here are a few reactions.

The first one could have a bullet for the eye? Bullet/eye–some degree of similarity. Could work with a number of them.

Clive: 

I tried a bullet in a couple of un-posted sketches, and couldn’t quite make it work. I think it suggested a kinetic quality… the speeding bullet… that seemed a tad more like the cover of a spy novel.

Marly:

Or how about the fourth one with the gun rotated 180 degrees to more of a position like the first one (so it is more a position that would have been used? I didn’t think of that myself; it was my gun guy, of course! I never would have thought of it.)

Could have a closed eye… just the slope of the lid? Would a vanished/lidded eye be a good resolution of that problem?

Clive:

I’ve made a small sketch with the eye closed and looking more like one of the screws in the gun. Works better than the open eye, which doesn’t work at all.

Marly:

That fourth one was Michael’s favorite. I do like the cracking-open images in 1 and 4… They have drama! But all have some punch and power, so I’m not trying to suggest anything.

Clive:

Understood.

Marly:

The gunsight in the second one is interesting visually and also a pun (though the gun is still turned in a way not natural to the event–does that matter? Since it’s not a “realistic”–dislike that categorizing word sometimes–picture? I have no idea.

Clive:

It both matters and doesn’t matter, to the same degree and simultaneously. Getting it ‘right’ in terms of a suicide… right gun, scale, angle etc… though at cost to the look and feel of the drawing, would be wrong. But then just going for visual effect would feel wrong to me, too. It has to walk a line somewhere in the middle, to feel right and be plausible within this created world.

The tone set so far has been surreal, and within the formality of that there’s the flexibility to be creative. The plants in the first drawing reference real ones, and yet are dream-like, and the same is true of the moth.

I have to be careful not to be too pedantic about the gun, or it will appear to be from a different world. I have to mess my drawing a bit, and stop being so hung up on the photographs I referenced. I certainly need to start drawing it without the reference material in front of me. I have to be wary, too, of leaving room for just the one reading, that being the suicide. Guns figure in his imaginative life in the cowboy stories. In a way the gun needs to be in his head in just the same way as the foliate burgeoning and the emerging moth.

If I get the drawing just right, it will suggest a multiplicity of ideas.

Marly:

Clive, That sounds exactly right–I agree completely. Mike and I both thought you were right on the crux of it! Great thoughts about having it be unleashed a bit. And it’s also true that guns go way back to childhood, and the last big section where he plays cowboys and Indians. So you could say that it is literally in his head from the start–from the night the meteorite falls and he hears gunshots. (Did you ever plan to do one with a child’s head, by the by?)

I asked Michael about the type of gun, and he said the barrels varied in length, and the most common probably would have been a reasonably macho 6 inches, though they were made in 3, 4, 6, and 8 and also in the “longhorn” style with a long barrel. Really odd looking, that one… He said that long barrels sounded like Texas… Don’t know if those bits of gun info will help, but maybe! Gives a certain amount of freedom, anyway.

Just for historical interest, here’s Al Capone’s Colt .38. It would be the right era, as he was locked up by ’32, and busy losing his marbles from syphilis. Colt 38 with no safety and what looks like a 6-inch barrel:

capone-Colt-38

I can’t remember if I had changed the gun to have no safety with your copy of the manuscript–so that he puts it “on safety” by putting the hammer down.

Clive:

I referenced a firearm with a very short barrel that once belonged to Bonnie and Clyde. When I tried a longer, ‘Texas-style’ barrel, it looked like chimney emerging from the top of Conall’s head! Silly.

Marly:

Okay, all my thoughts for now! Love, Marly

Later

The drawing completed

What those who’d watched from the margins had to say

Midori Snyder (author and writer of the review of Maze of Blood that’s quoted on the jacket) “Ayiiii…kind of takes my breath away. It’s very “true” to the novel.”

Sienna Latham “Unsettling and beautiful. The trigger looks oddly like a very low ear!”

Paul Tree “Revolver as bone structure. It’s a brilliant thing.”

Mathijs van Soest “I like this version very much, but it is somehow strange to see a pistol in your drawings. Your drawings tend to have some melancholic features, but this is very confronting….yet very good.”

Harry Bell “I was unsure of the first version but didn’t have time to suggest anything earlier. I like this new one *much* more.”

Frank McNab “Class.”

Jonathan Paul Hayes “All at once very dark but extremely beautiful.”

Peter Byrom-Smith “This looks really great Clive.”

And the last words must be from author Marly Youmans

“As Paul said, the gun works as bone structure. And the image fits well in the series, uses the gunsight in an entrusting way. The brain in this one is macabre, full of ghosts. Many hurrahs to Clive.”

Four heads for ‘Maze of Blood’

Here are three of six planned page division images for Marly Youmans’ forthcoming Maze of Blood, together with the cover artwork I produced for the book. Mary-Frances Glover Burt of Burt & Burt, is the designer to whom this project has been entrusted by the publisher. Mary-Frances and I have worked together previously at Mercer University Press, on Marly’s last book, Glimmerglass.