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)

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.

Feather, Fox and Blackthorn

Yesterday three things I saw caught in my imagination. On each occasion I had no camera, and so writing here will help the memories stick. Having no camera to hand, I have found, makes me remember in ways that are better for my drawing. Of the three I suspect the last will stay with me the longest, and have me reaching for my pencils.

1) AM, through the bathroom window, a chaffinch wrestling with detritus dropped from a jackdaw’s nest. The tiny creature stood on a tangle of horse hair, twigs and fluff, tugging at something caught in it. He was pulling strenuously against his own weight and had stretched the knotted stuff to his full height, looking less like a bird than a piece of feathered chewing-gum. Suddenly the recalcitrant item came free. It was a small, fluffy and entirely unremarkable feather, but the chaffinch flew off to his nest-making triumphantly wearing it like a moustache!

2) In our strip of woodland with Jack, I stumbled across a young fox. Rendered nearly black against the green and blue of the bluebells by a trick of the light, it crashed away noisily through the dry brash of fallen trees. Jack held his ground at my heels, lifting his nose to taste the scent. With all the wisdom of his years, I swear he raised one eyebrow and threw me a look that said, ‘That pup better learn some stealth or he’s not going to last long!’

3) Impaled and crucified in a blackthorn, a young buzzard, rigor mortis-ed in the trajectory of its flight. An awkward, angry death. I wondered whether it had been pursuing prey and made a misjudgment in the excitement of the chase. I’ve watched young buzzards practising their flight-skills in our paddock, and they can be clumsy when inexperienced. They don’t have the dexterity of the small hawks. One once knocked me flying when it cannonballed out of the tree-line like a bin-bag in a gale. We both sat upright in the grass and looked at each other, and I couldn’t say which was the more astonished.

But this one was not so lucky, and the thorns were long and stabbed deeply.

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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The Dryden Plates

A friend who had seen my Hansel & Gretel enamelware tea-service made four years ago…

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… enquired whether I’d be up for a commission to make a plate to celebrate his wife’s birthday.

We began discussing the notion of a pair of eighteenth century-style commemorative plates, possibly featuring the characters that I’d created for my Christmas cards of recent years.

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I suggested he might select a text, and he opted for a quote from John Dryden, divided between the two plates.

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Pains of love be sweeter far
Than all other pleasures are.

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The plates were dispatched today, just in time for her birthday.

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

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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

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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.

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

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out of the analogue past

Above: an image originally stored as a transparency, now transferred to digital. It’s of Carn Euny in Cornwall. I forgot to add details to the slide label, but judging from the style, I figure it was made in 1997. If so, then I haven’t seen this painting in the nearly twenty years since it was made, exhibited and sold.

Before digital, images of my work were recorded and stored as small transparencies. Peter took the photographs, and it was my job to check the contact-sheets when they returned from the laboratory, using a light-box and magnifier. The rejected images… out-of-focus, wonky or colour-imbalanced… were thrown away. The rest were snipped and inserted into plastic holders. Then began the arduous task of labelling before storing them in fat ring-binder files.

The information had to fit into a tiny space on each slide. Sometimes I wrote on slivers of gummed paper, and sometimes I wrote directly onto the plastic with a mapping pen and indian ink. Neither technique was foolproof. The paper labels could drop off, and the indian ink, even when set, would sometimes stick to the insides of the polyurethane slide-holder sleeves, and would require a wrestling-match to get them out.

Each tiny slide would have to contain:

my name, a unique studio ref number, title, date, measurements and media.

This for every painting, study, drawing, print and preliminary thumbnail that I produced. A red dot denoted that the work had been sold. Other colours denoted ‘out for exhibition’, or ‘on loan’. It was an unwieldy system, and time-consuming and difficult to keep up to date. But it was the only way.

Above: transparency transferred to digital. This one is of Tretower Castle, where I once worked.

It was boring and damnably fiddly work, and I hated it. But if I didn’t do it regularly, the backlogs became massive and disheartening. Occasionally I’d spend two or three days working non-stop to get everything up to date. I always resented the time spent on it, but Peter was insistent. (He was, of course, right.) The worst thing was when I’d get the top-copies ordered into the ‘archive’ ring-binders, and the duplicates for ‘sending off’ into even bigger ring-binders, before discovering that I’d missed a pile of slides. Then I’d have to move all the images in the transparency sleeves to get the missed ones into the right numerical places, which could mean moving on hundreds of slides.

Then the ring-binders had to be carefully stored. If they weren’t, and light got to them, then the colours of the slides would quickly fade or turn yellow.

There was also the inconvenience that nothing could be ‘touched-up’. Today, with everything digitally recorded and edited in i-photo, images can be ‘tidied’: trimmed and levelled, errant specks of dust or hair removed and the colour adjusted to better represent the original works. It was not so back in the days of slides. Daylight could colour-cast images too blue, and electric light too yellow. It was a constant struggle to accurately record, and the results were often too ‘approximate’ for comfort. Black and white were hell to get right. Blacks, no matter how dense in reality, would look grey in the slides, and white could just look… well, not white. If I added up the hours, I think I’d find that Peter and I have very likely spent months of our lives trying to generate and then store good images of my work.

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The duplicates were the slides for sending to galleries, publications, competitions etc. I always put in stamped SAEs for them to be returned, which meant a fiddle at the post-office getting the SAEs weighed with the slides in, before packaging the entire thing in another envelope to the recipient. My trips to the post-office always included taking packaging-tape and scissors with me. Every part of the process was time-consuming. At the end of all this, I probably got one set of slides returned in every fifty that I sent. Somewhere in the world there’s a landfill-site where my transparencies went to die. But the ones I kept are still with me, filling a chest of drawers in the studio.

Very few have been transferred to digital. To do all of them would be weeks or more likely months of work. But this week Peter did a little clutch, and I shall shortly make some posts of them for the Artlog. The fact is that there are hundreds of images of work made, sold and gone from my life so long ago that I look at them now with wonder, barely remembering having made them.

Above: the detritus of a defunct system, piled higgledy-piggledy into studio chests of drawers.

Below: analogue to digital transfer of an image. The painting is of Carn Euny, and probably dates back to 1997.