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)

A Gawain and the Green Knight workbook

Gawain

Work-books are mostly for play. Of course serious stuff gets done in them, too, but all under the general banner of play. So in this little Moleskin book, I’ll make image after image, most of which won’t have any function other than to serve as warm-ups to the main feature, which will be worked out elsewhere in much larger sketch-books.

Green Knight

So far I’ve only made tiny portraits, though details of costume and armour will also be worked through in the pages, including deciding on whether I’m going for a fourteenth century ‘Age of Chivalry’ look, with Le Morte d’Arthur knights in shining armour and plumed helmets, or take the more austere approach of an earlier age. (Possibly even with a nod to Byzantium.)

Anyway, here’s my starting point.

Green Knight

Green Knight

Gawain wears a coif-de-mailles under a bascinet with a simple, shield-shaped face-guard that lifts up on a hinge.

Gawain

Soon I’ll be building complex maquettes: Gawain on his steed Gringolet, and a Green Knight with a removable head for the decapitation scene! There is also going to be a model of Camelot. It’s all go!

‘Maze of Blood’ arrives in Cooperstown, New York

Marly Youmans has taken delivery of copies of her latest novel, and has e-mailed me photographs. Here’s a box full of Mazes. That’s Marly’s foot bottom left.

Mary-Frances Glover-Burt has done a beautiful job on the design of the book. Judging from Marly’s photographs I couldn’t be happier with the result. For one of the page decorations I’d used scrolled paper-streamers to form the convolutions of a brain, and it was Mary-Frances’ idea to use the scrolled motif on the title-page. However she needed some extra drawings in order for the streamers to flutter horizontally, and I was happy to oblige by making and sending them. She also deftly lifted the lettering I’d made for the cover, and used it on the title-page, unifying the jacket artwork with the interior of the book.

But beyond the sensitive book design, underwritten by the excellent production values at Mercer University Press, lies the fact that Marly and her publisher trust me implicitly to produce the work. Before I begin we barely discuss what I might do for her, and for the most part she doesn’t know what’s going onto the cover of whichever book I’m collaborating on, until the finished artwork arrives.

This process suits me perfectly. I’m a painter, and like to get on with things in pretty much my own way. Luckily I can choose my projects, and work only on those that interest me, and with people I trust.

Making images for the covers and the pages of books, is a long process. I read texts repeatedly to find my way into the authors’ worlds. I have to ‘cook’ the material, let it simmer away in my head like a stew until the images begin to float to the surface, where I can retrieve them and go about my work. After that there’s the process of designing, which is not my job, though I like to be a part of it. Finally there’s the printing, and the new work comes into the world, hopefully as I’ve been expecting it to look. Sometimes the results are better than expected, and thanks to Mary-Frances, Maze of Blood falls into that category.

Out of the Woods: part 2

When making a book, once the initial excitement of producing exploratory images and compiling material is over, the hard job is to decide on which of the many ideas are going to be used, before assembling the dummy-copy.

That, for me, is the most difficult part, to put aside many of the ideas made along the way, because the book cannot hold all of them. On Hansel & Gretel I set aside the 1950’s vibe that had the children in school uniforms, and the ‘bad mother’ groomed as though for a day of shopping at Harvey Nicks and her husband for a day at the races. Clearly their priorities when cash became a tad short, did not include being impeded by children!

While it would have been a pleasant enough tipping-of-my hat to the post-war world of my childhood, and undoubted fun to draw formica-topped kitchen tables and Melamine breakfast services, ultimately it would have been too much of a knowing nod to the past. And so that has gone, and the images… and the cast of players… have become stranger and darker.

Out went Celia Johnson in the role of the Bad Mother…

…. and in came this hard-eyed substitute.

The Weak Father, with his tache and cap…

… transformed into this enigmatic cypher, his face constructed of empty shells.

Out went the school uniforms…

and in came the bonnet and cap of  ‘Once upon a time…’

And marching in, too, came the first of the maquettes. The Celia Johnson lookalike has shed her plump 1950s cocoon of sleek fox-pelt, pearls and perfect Avon maquillage, and out of it has emerged not a butterfly, but a predatory horror, stick-thin as a mantis and purged of all kindness.

The Bad Mother has arrived!

Watch the Artlog for developments.

The Penfold Press ‘Gawain’ edition of prints.

The collaboration between me and Dan Bugg at Penfold Press to produce a series of editioned screen-prints  on the theme of the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is underway.

The prints are to be produced and made available for purchase sequentially. I spent some weeks working in detail through Simon Armitage’s 2007 translation/re-working of the poem, making notes and finding the passages that spoke to me in visual terms. While I could happily have made a series of forty images, on the principle that less-is-more, I whittled it down to fourteen.

Developmental sketches of the decapitated Green Knight holding aloft his own severed head

I’ll hold back from sharing with you the aspects I’ll be illustrating because Dan and I want there to be the element of surprise as each new print is editioned and launched. I recently showed the completed list of fourteen titles to Dan and to Sarah Parvin. (Sarah was the moving force behind this project, coming up with the idea and then teaming Dan and me.) With the ‘list’ agreed and signed off by all concerned, I’ve started a workbook to begin building the images.

Dan and I will shortly be producing  Man Slain by a Tiger, a print inspired by Tipu’s Tiger/ The Death of Munrow that we’re using as a dry-run for the Gawain series. After that, the great work will begin.

Preparatory colour sketch for Man Slain by a Tiger

Rendering in lithographic crayon on True-Grain

Below: study for Gawain from my notebook for the fourteen prints.

Watch this space.

The Thank You

My thanks to the collaborators: to Jordan Morley, who modelled and encouraged, to Jeffery Beam, who wrote the glorious poetry, to Pete Telfer, who filmed, edited and supported, to Sarah Parvin, who never stopped believing, to Peter Byrom-Smith who made the music, and last but not least among the collaborators, to Maria Maestre, who inspired and cheered all of us from afar.

The Arts Centre staff have been wonderful. Eve Ropek, together with Tim Walley and Jen Loffman, worked tirelessly to produce, present and run the exhibition to the highest standards. It looked fantastic, better than I dared hope.

My framer, Anthony at Oriel y Bont, danced around my crazed schedule of delivering new works right up to the finishing line. His care and attention to every detail of the presentation of paintings and drawings, meant that I was able to pour my energies where they were most needed.

Finally the exhibition was ready and it was time to throw open the doors to the gallery.

Poet Gillian Clarke enthralled guests with her opening speech. Mary Ann Constantine wrote the preview for Planet Magazine, and later during the run of the exhibition expertly guided the evening of ‘Conversation’ in front of an audience in the cinema auditorium. Francesca Rydderch introduced Dark Movements in the handsome fold-out presented to visitors to the gallery. Eric Roberts, Damian Walford Davies and Mary Ann Constantine read the poetry of Jeffery Beam and Catriona Urquhart to visitors at a gallery event, and Damian read an extract from his libretto for The Mare’s Tale, the 2013 chamber-work by composer Mark Bowden based on my Mari Lwyd drawings. Eric, who had performed the original piece, sang to close the event, and we were all without words after his hauntingly beautiful performance.

Finally, I come to Peter Wakelin. Without his support there would be no Dark Movements. Let’s face it, there wouldn’t be anything. He is and has always been my rock. When I’m preoccupied, driven and obsessed, I know I cannot be an easy person to be around. Most of you see the best of me, but he gets all the dark stuff too, and yet he continues, unwavering.

On Saturday July 25th I’m to give a maquette-making workshop titled Illusions of Life at the Arts Centre, and at the end of business on that day, the gallery doors will close and the exhibition Dark Movements will be over. I’ll try to organise a few minutes alone in the space before I walk away from it. I imagine it will be rather like taking leave of a group of friends brought together for a special occasion. So many of you are tied up in the exhibition in so many ways, and your presences have been felt there… even those of you who because of great distances weren’t able to come… woven into the warp and weft of the work.

After such an intense period of collaboration and sharing, I know it will feel very odd indeed when the curtain has come down and the show is over. There will be a crash for me of some sort, and I must work out strategies for getting through it. This one feels as though it will be painful. I have never before in my practice as a painter worked quite so extensively and so enjoyably with so many. It will be the oddest sensation not to be daily in the company of such a group as this one has become.

Your support and creative energy have been fuel to the work. Your streams of e-mails and messages have kept me fizzing. There are other projects to look forward to, and the friendships will continue, I know. But this particular party, which I have so enjoyed, will be over.

Work begets work, and ideas develop from what gets made. I intend to continue building on what was started in Dark Movements. I feel the dance isn’t quite over yet.

Out of the Woods: part 1

Although I made a first pass at the dummy copy of Hansel & Gretel quite a while back, I’ve been re-visiting it and making significant changes. (It always pays to sleep on things for a while.) This is to be a picture-book, and the images have to carry the narrative.

With such an iconic story, there must be a balance between relying on what viewers already know of it, while not taking too much for granted. Plus there is the dream-like element that I envisage, and the surprise twists of the story that need to be conveyed without over-burdening the images with explanation.

I’ve restored the ‘bad mother’ theme. It seems that when the collection became popular, parents were uneasy with such notions, and the Grimm brothers obligingly excised them from subsequent editions.

But it seems to me that in fairy tales, the horrors lie not just in the realm of the unknown outer world, but in the familiar places that should be safe. What could be more horrific than an uncaring mother who puts her children in the way of a predatory cannibal witch?

From my workbook.

There is not enough food to go around.

This mother is implacable, and her meaning is clear.

The father is weak, and says nothing.

The Witch’s cottage has been through many guises, from brutal modernism… a concrete bunker bristling with lollipops… to gingerbread gothic. This is how it looked in the Hansel & Gretel piece I made for Random Spectacular that led to the current project.

More recent images from my workbook.

I envisage it hyper-coloured and sweating sugar-syrup!

I’m constantly paring back and simplifying. This…

… became this. The small format works better with cleaner outlines.

A dried plant stalk, picked on a mountain walk last year, has become a model for trees in the witch’s wood.

A threatening forest also recently appeared in the Dark Movements toy theatre…

… and something like it may well find its way into Hansel & Gretel.

More soon.

A day at Penparc Cottage

Artworks left at the cottage by artists Steffan Jones-Hughs and Jeanette Orrell, who stayed there last week. Steffan made the painting of the cottage viewed from the back garden, and Jeanette made two studies of plants.

The Cottage

Beautiful, soft sea-light on old plaster and tongue and groove.

Ceramics

Vintage charger painted by me in cold enamel.

Foliate head serving-dish that I made in the ceramic workshop of Pip Koppel.

Plate thrown by Pip Koppel and slip-decorated by me with a nautilus.

Jack-on-the-Beach

A happy day!