What Lies Beneath: Part Two

Jordan flowering skin

I am the Bastard Angel and the Virgin Devil
I am Again and Then and Was and Ever
I am assembling and the wind is blowing
I am the tale telling itself again

― from Big Bang: The River Jordan by Jeffery Beam

In the first part of my guest post on the forthcoming Dark Movements exhibition, I wrote about how I saw the Horse as a totem for Clive, his guide to a place located beyond conscious thought. The artist describes his relationship with the Mari Lwyd, the skeletal horse of Welsh mumming tradition, using a quote from Picasso: “A form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange hostile world and us: a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors, as well as our desires”.  

The psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who was an artist himself, saw the creative process as having the potential to go beyond the individual into something deeper which reflects humankind. Although Jung acknowledged it was perfectly possible for art to be produced with its creator in conscious control, his fascination was for the artist who obeyed his impulses, as if possessed by an external force.

Montserat Prat, writing about The Mare’s Tale in the Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ monograph, published in 2011, describes how the final drawings in the series are imbued with a frenzy and intensity. These drawings were executed by the artist on his hands and knees, day in day out, over several months. His grief is palpable and raw. In the last drawing of the series, On the Mountain (2002), it as if the Mari, the artist and his father have become one, an embattled creature, weary and broken from a war that has been waged and lost. There are no victors here.

On the Mountain, 2002

On the Mountain, 2002

In 2013, The Mare’s Tale became a work for chamber orchestra and voice by composer Mark Bowden and librettist Damian Walford Davies, based on the Mari Lwyd series of drawings. Clive designed and directed the production. After a decade, the Mari of the artist’s imaginings had turned into an archetypal symbol from our ancient history, a Horse God galloping through time.

The Bronze Age Uffington White Horse

The Bronze Age Uffington White Horse

We are fifteen years on from when Clive created the series of drawings, which became known as The Mare’s Tale, and Jordan Morley, the artist’s muse, has stepped on to the stage. What will the new player bring to this theatre of the artist’s soul?

….

The Quickening (2015) shows the dancer lost in a reverie, dreams flowing into him from the artist’s hand, which change the once spectral beast into a majestic flesh and blood animal, with flowers blooming in its belly. Jordan describes the experience of being painted by Clive as “a runaway dream that has a life of its own”. He sees his contribution as bringing his own life-force and imagination to the Dark Movements paintings. The Muse and the Mari have merged as the artist’s conduit, catalyst and spirit guide. All are transformed.

The Quickening

The Quickening, 2015

“The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semi-human, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, “divine”. ― C.G. Jung

Carl Jung viewed the dreamscape as a place of the future where transformation can happen and potential is explored and unleashed. There is a sense of optimism in this cycle of the Mari paintings, which would not have seemed possible at the time of The Mare’s Tale. Are we witnessing the artist’s creation of a dream for the collective mind?

….

Jeffery Beam, the American poet, has said he felt compelled to join Clive and Jordan in their Dark Movements quest, describing: “A Troubadour-like romance, and born of it our collaboration”. In a recent post at the Artlog, Jeffery writes movingly of the collaboration: “I had been in a terrible Dark Night, unable to write much, fearing I was written out completely. As Jordan has become a muse for Clive, Clive has re-ignited the duende that has always been the source of my work.” And so the poet is transformed too. There is magic at work here.

Yarden, 2015

Your glove tells mysteries
Keep it there and my
Imaginations fill the Universe
Remove it every dream fulfills

from Glove by Jeffery Beam

As regular Artloggers will know, Derek Jarman, the filmmaker, artist, author, gardener and gay rights activist is a long time hero of Clive’s. The two men share a history common to gay men who grew up in a time before the legalisation of homosexuality.  They each went on to document their stories in a unique and deeply personal way, which ultimately spoke of universal truths. Both men found solace, meaning and inspiration in nature, Derek Jarman at Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Clive at Tretower Castle and later at Ty Isaf, his home in Wales.

Tretower Castle, 2004

Tretower Castle, 2004

Spring at Ty Isaf

Spring at Ty Isaf

prospect cottage

Prospect Cottage, Dungeness

Jarman, whose work was influenced by Carl Jung, wrote of his hopes for the future of the gay community, shortly before his death from AIDS in February 1994: “I had to write of a sad time as a witness — not to cloud your smiles — please read the cares of the world that I have locked in these pages and after, put this book aside and love. May you have a better future, love without a care, and remember we loved too. As the shadows closed in, the stars came out. I am in love.”

Derek Jarman 3

Derek Jarman and Keith Collins, February 1994

Whatever causes night in our souls may leave stars. ― Victor Hugo

In the time that has elapsed, since The Mare’s Tale, has the nightmare slowly turned into a dream and ultimately an awakening for the artist? The gay community is equal before the law and an HIV diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it once was, at least in some in places in the world. Could Dark Movements be an opportunity to celebrate battles won, instead of to grieve for battles lost?

Clive told me he was in an elegiac mood, as he prepared to meet the Mari once more, yet what is becoming increasingly evident is the thrum of a much-anticipated spring after a long, dark winter in the paintings he is currently creating. Healing, transformation and renewal are the themes that are coming to the fore.

In Flowering Skin (2015)  the fear which once permeated the landscape of the Mari is gone. Instead, we see a horse Clive might have ridden as a child descending towards a wild place that his father, a man of the Welsh Borderlands, would have recognised as home.  The flowers blooming across Jordan’s body are straight from the heart, an outward manifestation of enduring love, a sign of what remains after the grieving is over. The artist is kindling his own bright, burning light in the cosmic darkness.

I had only to open my bedroom window, and blue air, love, and flowers entered… ― Marc Chagall

One of Jung’s favourite quotes was from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, in which the White Queen says to Alice: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” I do know that Clive would consider himself a “poor sort” of artist if he allowed himself only to look to his past at this significant point in his career. Instead, the artist is looking towards his future, whilst re-examining his own personal mythology and the history, writ loud in many gay men’s lives, which has led him to his hard won state of grace. I have a feeling both Dr Jung and Mr Jarman would approve.

Flowering Skin, 2015

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart… Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens. ― C.G. Jung

Dark Movements, a multimedia exhibition charting the artist’s 15 year relationship with the Mari Lwyd, will be held at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre from 6 June – 25 July 2015. The Curious One is curating a board at Pinterest on the exhibition.

What Lies Beneath: Part One

The Second Fall

The Second Fall, 2001

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. ― C.G. Jung

In our correspondence, Mr Hicks-Jenkins has described me as a taxonomer of ideas, which is the most wonderful way of describing the sometimes intangible nature of the work that I do, which has recently evolved into The Curious One.  So to be invited by Clive to offer my own perspective on the evolution of the Mari Lwyd theme toward its present Dark Movements’ incarnation is a gift. I relish the opportunity to lay before you the collected thoughts of a passionately curious observer.

To set the scene, I will start by quoting Clive, as he re-examines his mercurial fifteen year relationship with the Mari Lwyd:

So many things are meeting in these new works: my original drawings for The Mare’s Tale (and my family history that underlies them), the recent collaborations with my model, Jordan Morley, themes of greening and renewal, my love and use of toy theatre in my practice, and of course, that old discipline of mine, long behind me but always present in my mind… and in muscle-memory… the dance.

Jordan and the Mari

Rather like the mind and memory, Clive’s narrative paintings seldom take a linear route.  Instead, past, present and future intertwine in his work, never more so than as he weaves the individual threads of his personal story into the rich tapestry of the Dark Movements exhibition.

I first met Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ Mari Lwyd in the immediate aftermath of my own father’s death. The powerful narrative style and emotional depth portrayed in The Mare’s Tale (1998-2002) series spoke directly to me.  I knew this work came from a primal place, a place we all go to when faced with the loss of a loved one. I am not always comfortable looking at these drawings, but look I must.

The Last Meeting, 2002

The Last Meeting, 2002

The writings of Carl Gustav Jung are a place I return to again and again for guidance. Jung studied ancient traditions, myths and practices to better understand humankind’s spiritual quest.  He wrote about an archetypal past that is hidden in every single one of us, a collective unconscious, which is an inherited collection of knowledge, images and inspiration that every human being has at birth, but of which we are unaware. However, at times of personal crisis, the psyche may open a door to the collective unconscious, oftentimes through dreams and the imagination.  By going through this door, we give ourselves an opportunity to heal.  Jung identified animals, such as the Horse, as ancient archetypes, which act as guides between the conscious and unconscious worlds.  When I came across Clive’s work I could see that the Mari had led the artist on his own journey, through the door, to the primordial source Jung described.

Hippodrome (self-portrait), 2002

Hippodrome (self-portrait), 2002

The dream is the theatre where the dreamer is at once scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience, and critic. ― C.G. Jung

From early on in his career as a painter, Clive instinctively gravitated towards the Horse, an animal which he has loved since childhood.  In the telling of the artist’s tale,  this ancient and magical beast has morphed, scene by scene, into father, mother, sister, lover, friend, muse and self.  What will the next act hold for the artist and his equine spirit guide?

At first glimpse, the stage of the Dark Movements Toy Theatre reveals a twilight scene, with the spectral beast looming large over a borderlands scene.

Dark Movements Toy Theatre

Instead of being at the mercy of wild beasts, earthquakes, landslides, and inundations, modern man is battered by the elemental forces of his own psyche. ― C.G. Jung

Are we preparing ourselves to navigate the frightening terrain where the Mari and Clive’s father, as he approached death, once met? This is the skeletal horse of Welsh mumming traditions, which inhabited Trevor Jenkins’ nightmares, the Mari that went on to haunt his son’s work for over a decade.

Prior to his father’s death, Clive had lived through the worst of the AIDS epidemic, working in a profession that was greatly affected by the disease. He has said of his decision to walk away from his theatrical career: “It all felt like a great well of grief I wanted to run away from.” In The Mare’s Tale series, which Clive began in 1998 and continued through to 2002, this well overflowed onto paper and the marks left behind formed an immensely moving portrait of grief, not only for the artist’s father, but for lost friends and colleagues.

Julian Mitchell, the playwright, said of The Mare’s Tale drawings, when they were first exhibited: “The sexy muscled young man, emerging more and more from the sheet as the series goes on, could be one of the dancers Clive directed. But the menacing horse’s death head he carries is a powerful metaphor for AIDS.”

Mari Dancing

Mari Lwyd Dancing, 2000

Given Clive’s history with the Mari, it is understandable that he instinctively approaches the spectral beast with some trepidation. However, like any good horseman, he long ago learned to intuit the character of his horse, especially one who has a reputation for being so quixotic.  On this occasion, Clive has made the decision not to ride out alone. The American dancer, Jordan Morley, became the artist’s muse at the end of last year, a chivalrous companion for those potentially perilous journeys to the borderlands.

Study of Jordan

Study of Jordan, 2014

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed. ― C.G. Jung

I believe Clive’s choice of a dancer, as his muse, is a milestone in the Mari story.  The anonymous and doomed young dancer/mummer of The Mare’s Tale is no more. Instead, we are in the company of Jordan, the 21st century muse, who embodies all the glorious promise of youth and new beginnings, whilst also giving the artist a means of re-examining a significant part of his creative past.

Could the Muse and the Mari be joining forces as the artist’s guides in the latest chapter of the Mari Lwyd story? I will explore this new twist in the tale in my final Artlog guest post.

The Awakening, 2015

The Quickening, 2015

The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach. ― C.G. Jung

The Tale of The Curious One

Photo: Marcus Mam

Photo: Marcus Mam

I am both delighted and honoured to be invited by Clive to be a guest contributor to my favourite blog, the Artlog. I would like, by way of an introduction, to tell you a little about myself and how I found my way here.

I am a wearer of several hats, all of them linked to a common theme – an innate desire to know more. My professional career has been in marketing, branding and trend forecasting, but I am also trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Jungian Psychological Astrology. I am endlessly curious about the world we live in and the ways in which people connect, but I also like to know what lies beneath.

I created The Curious One at Pinterest to explore my love of 20th century British art and design, along with the work of present day artists, illustrators, designers, photographers and makers, influenced by the aesthetic of this period.

In common with many of these artists, my passions lie in the theatre of the everyday and the ordinary beauty to be found in the familiar and sometimes overlooked.  The illustrator, academic and writer, Desdemona McCannon, wrote about what informs this very particular kind of British art in From Folk to Modern British , an article which appeared in Varoom magazine in 2009:

The response to the work of past artists, particularly those documenting a sense of Englishness, is heartfelt rather than cynical, a sensitive re-thinking of the same themes. A love of the same ‘folk’ objects, an interest in the landscape of Britain, its wild animals, its seasons, a preference for the theatrical in the everyday, and a sense of the past as something inspiring new work rather than something to emulate.

In one of my regular searches for the work of artists I admire, I first came across Clive’s blog. I instinctively knew I had found a kindred spirit in this compelling artist and storyteller. Being naturally shy, I remained a silent observer at the Artlog for quite some time, whilst becoming increasingly intrigued by the engaging wizard behind the curtain and the online community he has created. It soon became apparent to me that Clive is blessed with the gift of extra-perception and an ability to distil magic and mysticism into both pictures and words.

Then, much to my delight, who should appear at my Pinterest page but the Welsh magician himself, Mr Hicks-Jenkins. We started chatting, regularly, and our friendship grew. Now, as I prepare to venture forth with The Curious One (more on that soon!), I am honoured that Clive has agreed to join me as a travelling companion.

As fellow Artloggers will have observed and experienced for themselves, Clive works in a way which is intensely personal, but also supremely collaborative, which draws people in and I am no exception to his magnetic pull.

Our collaboration, which has evolved from an ongoing conversation first started at Pinterest, is intended to be an exploration of the different ways artists can connect with their audience online. Not only does Clive’s working style have a powerful impact on his artistic practices, but it also translates into an interesting, authentic voice, which shines through on social media and, in my opinion, he deserves to be heard (and seen) by many more people.

The borderlands of the Mari Lwyd are the first destination on our journey, as I curate a board at Pinterest in the lead up to the Dark Movements exhibition at Aberystwyth Arts Centre this summer. But more on that in the second part of my guest post.

DSCF9931

Borderlands IV

‘Flowering Skin': from start to finish

Flowering Skin

Acrylic, gouache and oil-based crayon on board. 59 x 84 cms

Below

First explorations

Under-drawing

Paint and pencil

Sunlight streams over my work-table as I pencil render

Flowering Skin

Acrylic, gouache and oil-based crayon on board. 59 x 84 cms

Lashes into Flowers: the Mari Lwyd revisited

Last year, when I began planning new works on my old theme of the Mari Lwyd, the starting point, again, was my father’s startling childhood experience of the Welsh mumming tradition that I’d examined in the last years of his life and after it. I wasn’t at all sure where the new journey might take me.

In progress: Flowering Skin. 2015

Looking at the drawing after I’d got to this stage, while I liked the emptiness at the left, it also made me oddly uneasy. Paying careful attention to the negative shape binding the two elements of the composition… man and settlement… I added the Mari, as though descending from above, hoof missing a house-chimney by a breath.

I’d already made something a little like this in the recent Dark Movements toy theatre:

I worked at the drawing board for days making the shape of Flowering Skin before standing back and seeing that I had built the new on the bones of the old, creating in the composition a mirror-image of an earlier work.

Red Halter. 2000

Painting is a mystery. I stand at the easel and think I’m in charge. But now I wonder.

Parrot tulips bloom on skin where once a red-ribbon halter streamed. It’s as though a whip lashed at flesh and brought forth not blood, but a Spring flowering.

DSCF3293

flayed and fly-eyed

Above, vignette for Maze of Blood.

The last of the full-page images for Marly Youmans’ new novel, Maze of Blood, has been completed. Here it is, followed by the full set of images and the cover. So richly rewarding is Marly’s text, that I could have made fifty illustrations from it, but six must suffice. It is not a text that requires images, but it has been a wonderful experience to explore the novel, and to produce decorations for it. Maze of Blood is due out in September this year.

The front cover