About Clive Hicks-Jenkins

I am a painter and illustrator, 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 Tale of Two Covers

Featured

img611

EH_These Are Monsters_Dust cover (3)

>>><<<

EH_These Are Monsters_Dust cover_NEW_F cf E

‘These Our Monsters’ is the only book for which I’ve been commissioned to make two covers in order to appeal to different markets. It was soft-launched in November with a cover bearing an image based on Graeme Macrae Burnet‘s Bram Stoker themed story set in Whitby, The Dark Thread, and now bears a cover with a hare from Paul Kingsnorth’s Goibert of the Moon. The two covers were a clever idea by Editor Katherine Davey that, with promotion and in circumstances other than we‘re currently in, would have been eye-catching. But with most English Heritage staff having been furloughed for the duration of the crisis, the change of cover has been slipped out unannounced, and I think the sleight-of-hand is now likely to go un-noticed.

These Our Monsters_Covers A (2)

The first cover was to catch the attention of a readership attracted to the horror genre. There was a lot of anticipation last year at the prospect of the new Mark Gatiss three-part adaptation of Dracula at the BBC, which I hoped our cover with the vampire count might benefit from by dint of zeitgeist. By contrast the second was a subtler mood-drenched image drawing on current interests in Folk Horror Revival that might attract those for whom the more overt grotesquerie of the Dracula cover was not so appealing. (Though look closely and those foliate elements are not as pretty or innocent as they at first appear, and the building on the back cover has been tweaked into the likeness of a skull.)

 

img583

 

2020 V&A Illustration Awards shortlist nominee for ‘Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes’

Featured

 

PastedGraphic-14 (3)

I’m honoured and thrilled to share here that I’ve been shortlisted for the V&A 2020 Illustration Award in the category of ‘Illustrated Book’ for Simon Armitage’s contemporary re-working of the Brothers Grimm, ‘Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes’.

My thanks to publisher Joe Pearson and designer Laurence Beck at Design for Today for their unflagging belief in this project and the tireless work they put in to make it everything we’d hoped it might be.

The announcements of the award winners will be made in June.

 

‘Putz’, Pastille Burners and Palaces: the making of ‘Bird House’

Featured

 

Krakow Cathedral

When Joe Pearson enquired whether I’d like to produce a title to fit in with his ongoing project of making both selected re-prints and new titles in the old Bantam series of tiny picture-books, I didn’t hesitate for even a moment before saying yes. I’d taken a lot of pleasure in Joe’s reprints of Hilary Stebbing’s two titles for Bantam, The Silly Rabbits and The Animals Went in Two by Two, poring over them repeatedly. I’m a big Stebbing fan but original copies of her books are hard to find these days, so the re-prints were an easily affordable treat.

tumblr_pjmbj9t9W61snt1oto1_1280

There are just fourteen pages per Bantam book plus front and back cover, a constraint that can either focus or defeat the illustrator/author. Stebbing rose magnificently to the challenge with vibrant images that all but leap off the page. The Silly Rabbits reprint has been at my elbow as inspiration throughout the process of working on my own book. If I could capture even a fraction of the vivacity of her approach, then I’d be content.

Joe came straight to the point with his suggestion of a subject: birds. There had been birds of many varieties in our first book together, Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes, and Joe suggested that if time was too short for me to make new work, we might profitably look at some of the unused drawings made for that project.

PastedGraphic-2 (19)

But once the idea was in my head, I was off like a rocket to make new work. I thought briefly about whether I’d write or commission a new story, but greedy for all the space I could grab for the illustrations, decided in the end to make a picture-book, pure and simple. I considered producing a sort of nursery primer Guide to British Birds, and began sketching. But the more I sketched, the more I realised that I wanted to make not a book of birds as observed in nature, but something imaginary.

My first thoughts focussed on combining birds with some of the foil crèches I’d collected which are a folk art tradition of the city of Krakow in Poland. Only a few weeks previously I’d been making assemblages for my Instagram page that combined foil crèches and vintage tinplate birds. So out came the clockwork cockerels again and the tiny wooden buildings from the Erzgebirge toy-making region of the Black Forest, and rather strangely it began to feel as though the idea might have been cooking in my head from a time before Joe came to me with the project.

IMG_9570 (1)

I began arranging the foil crèches on my work table, combining them with small painted wooden birds, another Polish craft tradition of which I have many examples.

9701004-2

IMG_7396 (1)

Below: Polish ‘folk art’ foil nativity from Krakow, to which I’ve added tiny painted wooden birds for the photograph. All things Polish and folk-artish in my collection come from the wonderful online emporium, Frank & Lusia.

IMG_0082

For about a day the title of the new book was to be Palace of Birds. But it changed as soon as I came up with the more direct, Bird House.

Krakow Cathedral – Version 2

Suddenly the dining-room table, where I’d temporarily set up my work space, was piling high with Polish birds, Russian tinplate chickens and foil crèches. Here a hen stands atop a ‘Head’ by artist Peter Slight.

IMG_8512

There were other possibilities stirring. I’d fairly recently acquired a box full of vintage Chinese chenille birds, and they too came out.

IMG_0083

Below: worktable with the many Polish painted birds that contributed their services to the project. Note the copy of Hilary Stebbing’s The Silly Rabbits.

IMG_0005 (1)

Ideas for bird houses developed fast. I researched at the computer, sketchbook in lap, filling it with drawings of Staffordshire pastille-burners in the forms of fanciful castles and follies.

Old-Staffordshire-Flat-China-House-Castle (1)

Below: project-book sketch of a Staffordshire folly and a Polish bird.

IMG_9869

Then there were vintage versions of the glitter-encrusted Christmas decorations known as ‘Putz’, which before World War II had been popular Japanese novelty exports to the US.

kthyHOM2b

I made many fully worked-up trial images in preparation for beginning my work in earnest. In this one from my project-book you can see how I adapted the Putz House shown above.

IMG_0077

And here – in a detail from the finished illustration – a change of bird strengthens the image.

Version 3

Recalling the china pagodas that decorated the goldfish bowls of my childhood, I began trawling for examples that might go nicely with my chenille birds. So many ideas, so little space!

e8e5d9def61ebbb5e13616e36843ad98

IMG_0007

Below: project-book drawings of Russian clockwork chickens.

IMG_0008

 

IMG_0079

Bird House will be published later this year. Produced in a very small edition, I suggest that if this book appeals and you fancy a copy, then you contact Joe at the Design for Today Instagram page. There you’ll find a post about it where you can leave a comment to notify him of your interest. On this one I fear it will be ‘reserve early to avoid disappointment’.

>>><<<

Russian Bird: the constant muse

Featured

The Russian Bird is a marvel of clockwork ingenuity. Though a little faded from too much sunlight in her youth (we’re more careful with her now) her mechanisms are still strong.

 

IMG_6259 (2)

When fully wound she turns her head from side to side, her beak opens and closes, her wings flap, her tail bobs and she sings with considerable brio. Her voice, powered by bellows in her chest, while not the sweetest nonetheless has an impressive vibrato. I always think her more a music-hall artiste than a concert-platform diva. More Vesta Tilley than Dame Kiri te Kanawa!

There’s certainly no point in anyone talking while she’s performing because she drowns out all competition, which is pretty impressive for a lady of her small size and considerable years.

IMG_1833 (1)

She moved audiences when projected onto a screen during performances of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, beautifully accompanying the music that conjured a forest full of birds. Here’s the sequence, though alas without the live music accompaniment. (She was not best pleased that the composer eschewed her voice, but stepped up to the challenge of conveying her role through the medium of mime like a born silent movie star!)

When the poem by Simon Armitage that had been the libretto of the production was published in an illustrated edition by Design for Today, the Russian Bird was awarded a double page spread, and in it she’s quite the Queen of the Forest surrounded by her retinue of smaller birds, all pecking away at Hansel’s path of scattered crumbs.

PastedGraphic-2 (19)

Deeply conscientious about her duties as artist’s muse, she’s a tireless model and will go to any lengths to facilitate whatever’s required of her in the studio. For her forthcoming appearance on the cover of the picture book Bird House for Design for Today, she carried a Byzantine palace knapsack-style on her back, standing unflinchingly for an entire afternoon while I drew her.

img603

She’s made guest appearances in several galleries and museums. Here at MoMA Machynlleth she takes centre stage on the Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre that toured the country in the stage production of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes in 2018.

 

IMG_8317

You can see in these snapshots that she loves demonstrating to an adoring public that she’s the inspiration behind what is clearly – in her opinion – the most important illustration in the book of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes.

IMG_8328

IMG_7684

 

IMG_8043

She’s never slow to be my messenger, and friends are always won over by her bright eyes and sprightly demeanour.

IMG_8696

Below: in a tiny theatre of her own, produced in a small edition for members of the Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop Harlequinade Club.

 

IMG_8257

When not making public appearances, Russian Bird is tirelessly creative in the studio, always game to collaborate with other toys on making scenarios she thinks may offer me new pathways to paintings and illustrations. Here she is in a stunning tableau vivant interpretation of Death and the Maiden.

IMG_9781

Here we catch her giving one of her renowned masterclasses to an eager young student.

IMG_9766

None of us at Ty Isaf knows where we’d be without her.

IMG_8018

 

 

Conversations with Ed Carey: Part 1. the makers and how they make

Featured

Writer Ed Carey and I have become fast friends since being put in contact with each other by Katherine Davey, editor of the These Our Monsters anthology of short stories for English Heritage.

These Our Monsters_Covers A (2)

By way of preparing to make an illustration to accompany Ed’s contribution to These Our Monsters, I also acquired a copy of his novel of the French Revolution, Little, which I read at a headlong pitch and overnight became his biggest fan.

81UsxhO6MwL._AC_UL600_SR369,600_

In some ways the friendship is unlikely. Ed self-illustrates his published works and so his contact with other illustrators is limited. However he so liked the drawing accompanying his English Heritage story that he wrote asking whether he might have it, and so we arranged an exchange: he has my framed drawing of a goblin child above his desk, while I have his drawing of a maquette/puppet made for Little.

 

Below: my drawing for Ed’s story that loaned its title to the These Our Monsters anthology.

Illustration for 'These Our Monsters' – Version 2

Below: Ed built this life-sized maquette of a woman as preparation for his novel, Little. His original drawing of it that appears in the book, was the exchange made for my drawing of his goblin child.

 

IMG_5132 (1)

5 copy

img_8742 (1)

We met for the first time a few weeks ago at an event celebrating These Our Monsters at Hatchards, Piccadilly, and in order to extend our conversation without the distraction of a crowd, again the following morning, for coffee in Bloomsbury, just before he returned to the US and I to Wales.

Dan Bugg suggested that an eavesdropped conversation between me and Ed might offer interesting insights about our processes of producing new work. The projects we talk about are my in-progress print,  The Tiger’s Bride, and Ed’s forthcoming book, The Swallowed Man.

Ed: Hello, Clive in Wales!
 

Clive: Hello Ed in Texas!

Ed: Clive, I’ve known and loved your work for years and over the last few months it’s been an absolute privilege getting to know you and even, last week, finally meeting you. What a joy to sit with you and talk about the Lewis chessmen for example.

Clive: Ed, I thoroughly enjoyed our couple of hours in a tiny coffee shop off Gt Russell Street last week. Even though some of the current events we were discussing are horrifying and daunting, we told stories and made each other laugh a lot. One of the great pleasures of illustrating These Our Monsters for English Heritage has been the several good friends made in the process: you, Alison MacLeod and the editor Katherine Davey. I arrived fresh to your writing with the project, but as I’d simultaneously set myself to reading your mesmerising novel of the French Revolution, Little, my responses to your English Heritage short story were being deepened by the wider sense of your creativity.

Ed: You inspire my work and make me think in new ways – to communicate directly is such a wonderful thing for me. And so here we are separated by a  pandemic and yet, thankfully, still able to communicate. 

Clive: That’s a generous comment. Thank you. The admiration is mutual. The neccessity –  or so I find it to be – of a solitary life for a writer or artist, is undoubtedly isolating. (And you, Ed, are both!) We hole ourselves up like hibernating bears because we need clarity and silence to function. However I find the immediacy and creative buzz of being able to bat ideas across great distances with friends and colleagues undergoing the same processes, and in an instant, to be a great joy and solace to what can otherwise be dauntingly lonely. Whether as rich as a prolonged joint creative endeavour, or a humorous two-liner to kick-start the morning before bending to the day’s endeavours, as a man who lives at the-well-at-world’s-end, the swift correspondences of e-mail and messaging have been life-changing for me. The entire process of making fourteen Gawain prints with Dan at Penfold Press was carried out through the medium of daily messaging and the exchange of photos made on our smartphones. I could fire images to Dan of a drawn image on a sheet of lithography film and within minutes be correcting it according to his suggestions. It was almost as though we were in the same studio space. You and I have been showing our individual work projects to each other in e-mails, confident of safely sharing our efforts and misgivings with a creative ‘other’ who understands. It works wonderfully.

Ed: I’m wondering, to start with, what would you say makes a project a Clive Hicks-Jenkins project and what doesn’t? What are you looking for? 

Clive: Narrative. Whether obvious or not, whether culled from a source or invented, narrative is always what draws me in. I am an inveterate story teller, and that’s always been my foundation, certainly as an artist but even before that, as a choreographer and director. 

Ed: And, specifically, did The Tiger’s Bride come to you or you to it. How did this all start off?

Clive: It started with my life-long love of Staffordshire. The strangeness of it appeals to me. It’s a uniquely of-these-islands combination of folk-art/fairy-tale/dream-world weirdness that always satisfies/disturbs me. The sheep and dogs the size of ponies in comparison to the human figures accompanying them. The theatrical fancy-dress that makes it seem that the handsome men and pretty women are on a stage. The flowers and the often cloying sentimentality, the cottages and castles, the follies and exotic beasts, the bright colours on shining white and the sense of sort-of-familiar yet elusive storytelling being played out on a mantelpiece. Every time I see a doll-like child perched on a monster-sized spaniel or pug, I think about the dog with ‘eyes the size of mill-stones’ in The Tinderbox. Then there are the Staffordshire ‘murder cottages’ and the penny-dreadful tendency to celebrate awful events, most notoriously the escaped tiger with a limp baby dangling from its jaws striding over the prone body of the mother from whose arms the child has been torn. My first print with Penfold took inspiration from the Staffordshire version of Tipu’s Tiger, in which a beast mouths at a slain man in a uniform. The child-like brightness coupled with horror is unlikely and yet compelling. 

11872674_1623274754618428_77315902_n (1)

The Staffordshire group titled The Death of the Lion Queen had long been catching my eye, and finally I took the moment to begin researching the story on which it was based. I couldn’t shake it. It lingered, took root and I was away.

156262 (1)
I like a long-term project. Gawain had been a nearly three year project. It wasn’t what I worked solely on, except during the last six months when Dan and I had to row like galley-slaves to get it to the finishing line in time to meet the Faber & Faber deadlines and the commitment to the Martin Tinney Gallery for the ‘completion’ exhibition. One of the pleasures of a dip-in&dip-out project is that it has the convenience of being easily set aside and yet ready to return to at the drop of a hat. It’s always simmering on the back-ring of the hob, never unappetisingly stone cold. All my projects tend to be worked on for long periods, and there are always several or even many on the go at any given moment. In the aftermath of Gawain I’d been compiling ideas for a print project that would combine several of my interests: vintage and folk art toys, Staffordshire figure groups, historic circus/fairground traditions and my fascination for toy-like buildings, whether Staffordshire follies and cottages, wooden building-blocks, doll’s houses or the foil and tinsel souvenir cathedrals produced in the city of Krakow. Somehow all this began to tie together with the notion of unspecified fairy stories, and New Folktales was born. The Tiger’s Bride is my riff on Beauty and the Beast, though I didn’t want that title anywhere near it. Angela Carter provided the solution. Here’s a piece I posted at Insta about the event underlying the Staffordshire group titled The Death of the Lion Queen, which was my starting point for The Tiger’s Bride.
“This image draws on the tragedy of Ellen Bright, AKA The Lion Queen, who in 1850 at Wombwell’s Menagerie entered a cage of big cats for the entertainment of a paying audience expecting to be thrilled by the spectacle of a girl commanding ferocious beasts. At just seventeen years old, Ellen was celebrated though relatively inexperienced, and it may be that on the day her ambition outstripped her judgement, because a reliable eyewitness in the audience afterward observed that from the moment she entered the cage the tiger displayed unmistakeable aggression toward her. At a sting to its face from her whip, the animal lay down. Ellen turned her attention to the lions, but then – perhaps for good measure, or perhaps because at that moment she intuited the dangerous state of the beast – turned back and stung it for a second time with her whip in its face. The tiger rose, reared and lunged at her head, seizing her in its jaws and bringing her down. 

Ellen sustained catastrophic injuries to her lower jaw and throat, and according to a doctor who was in the audience and attended her after the attack, she died within minutes without recovering consciousness. So horrified were the public by the tragedy that thereafter the law was changed, forbidding women to enter cages with big cats for the purposes of entertainment.” 
Below: contemporary illustration reporting the death of Ellen Bright at Wombwell’s Menagerie:
deathoflionqueen1850 (1)
The Staffordshire pottery workshops quickly produced, or perhaps adapted, an existing ‘Lion Queen’ group in order to commemorate the event, adding the wording ‘Death of the Lion Queen’ to capitalise on the public interest. (Ellen was not the first Lion Queen, as there had been several who’d gone by that title before her.) I’ve referenced elements from several Staffordshire groups of a girl performing with big cats, but have gone my own way in expressing the subject.
Below: early study and final layout-drawing for the print.
83558282_10157187795353198_895237197857292288_n (1)
IMG_9861
Ellen’s story is tragic, and not just because of how she died, but because large cats in 19th century menageries must have been driven insane by their ill-treatments and confinements. This piece is not about that – though the idea is running beneath it – but is an exploration of the fairytale theme of the beast/groom.
In the same way you’ve taken the novel of Pinocchio and used a lightly-touched-upon back story in it as the foundation of your new novel The Swallowed Man.
Pinocchio Carey
Do you find that using an existing theme/story as the bedrock for a new telling is a good method of creativity for you? Which came first for you here, Jonah and the whale or Pinocchio’s dad/maker? (I feel Pinocchio might profitably be examined in comparison with other ‘man/woman-making’ stories/myths, including Frankenstein and Galatea/Pygmalion.)
 
Clive
Ty Isaf
20/03/20

Leaving

Featured

I made images for what I couldn’t express in words.

 

IMG_9570 (1)

IMG_9609 (1)

IMG_9618

IMG_9648

At Facebook my friend, artist Ian Whadcock, wrote briefly, simply, poignantly:

“A week of witnessing tears in conversation, voices broken with emotion and goodwill sapped by expectation.
Meanwhile, the parallel world of ambivalence, blind ideology and sheer selfishness, looks away in the belief it has nothing to do with them.
On a station platform, the kindest most unexpected words serve as a reminder that we are not alone.”

Key

The assemblages were made from objects that surround me at Ty Isaf. All things that I love and make me happy, and some that have strong associations because they were gifts from good friends. If the assemblages have a European quality to them, it’s because they’re mash-ups of British and European toys. I am, as a person and artist, a European. The two can’t be separated.

 

DSCF7623

The lettering for all four assemblages was originally created for the credit sequence of the 2013 animated film of The Soldier’s Tale I made to accompany a performance with orchestra at The Hay Festival. The tulips are also from the film.

The foil crèche in Europe Forever is Polish, and this type of work is particularly associated with the city of Krakow.

The small wooden buildings, trees and villagers are from the German toy-making region of Erzgebirge, as is the jaunty yellow carriage and horses in Forever Europe. The beautiful and tiny pull-along duck at the bottom of Rejoin, is also from the Erzebirge region, and came from Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop.

The white archways in Forever Europe and Rejoin were constructed from a beautiful boxed-set of vintage German building-blocks, the gift of my friend Mathijs van Soest.

The set had been played with by generations of children in Mathijs’ family, and he gave it to me with the message that he felt sure I’d use it well. I’ve endeavoured not to disappoint him. It’s appeared many times in animations and artworks, and in 2018 it toured the country in the music theatre work, Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, and afterwards featured in the endpapers of the published edition of Simon Armitage’s text.

2018_CF_Music_PAC_Hansel_Gretel-54K2A7842

 

PastedGraphic-2 (1)

The two colourful wooden birds in Forever Europe are made by the artist Tadeush Shultz, whose work I discovered at the online shop specialising in Polish folk art, Frank & Lusia. The wooden birds in Rejoin were also sourced at Frank & Lusia, and are by one of my favourite ‘bird’ folk artists, ‘Zak’.

The toy theatre proscenium in Stronger Together was painted by me. The house between two lions is Ty Isaf, my home.

There are three tigers in the assemblages. One is Indian, a gift from my friend Stephen Weeks in Prague, another is a jigsaw-puzzle tiger given to me by my friends Charles and Mary, and the third is very tiny and you will have to search very hard to find it. It’s based on a famous Staffordshire group called The Death of Munrow, but made for a dolls-house. It was a gift from my friend Angela Beaumont, who knew I would love it because I’d made a print of the Staffordshire group with my friend Dan at Penfold Press.

DSC06879

The assemblages feature a number of lead toys. The two rearing Liberty Horses from Britains’ circus range are favourites of mine. In Rejoin there are two lead horsemen: the soldier on a rocking horse is by the company Wend-al, while the mounted bugler in a red turban I think is by Britains, and was a gift from my friends Sarah and James. There are also figures from Britains’ farm range: a cow, a sheep, lambs and lots of chickens.

The two tinplate cockerels in Europe Forever are Russian.

There are two birds drawn by me: a blue bird in Europe Forever, and small multi-coloured one in Stronger Together and Rejoin, the latter one of three made for the cover-flaps of the soon to be published Charis in the World of Wonders by Marly Youmans.

Charis French-flaps (1)

The Art of the Cover

Featured

 

DSC06649

When the race has been run and my brushes and pencils have been set down, my output of book covers is going to be very small in comparison to that of any commercial illustrator. I pick and choose very carefully from the offers that come in, and I spend incalculable amounts of time reading manuscripts and making notes and developmental sketches. I care with a passion about what I make.

IMG_8647

IMG_8648

Below: for Charis in the World of Wonders Ignatius took the unusual step of allowing me to design their publishing imprint for the front cover. Interestingly because the imprint is now so integral to the narrative imagery of Charis’s story, it has a much stronger presence on the cover than it might otherwise have had, though the publisher can’t have known that when granting me permission.

Version 2

Though things are different now, in the past I underwrote the time it took me to make book covers with the income from my work as an easel artist. I did it because I simply love books. I love the art of the book. I love the way that a cover can reach someone who may never walk into a gallery to look at art.

IMG_8045

These Our Monsters_Covers A (2)

I work with publishers I’m comfortable with and who are comfortable with me as we all progress toward the desired conclusion. I don’t make covers for books I don’t like, or for authors I’m not convinced by or for publishers who haven’t taken the trouble to discover how I think and work. I don’t have the time to make those kinds of errors.

To date I’ve made more covers for Marly Youmans than I have for any other author. She was the first to suggest I might come up with a cover image for a book. Until then publishers had asked only for permissions to use my paintings – or details from them –  for covers, and with mixed results. So the idea of making a cover from scratch was an attractive one. The first book for Marly was her novella Val/Orson, and I’ve been been working with her ever since. Thinking about it, I see a pattern emerges, and at the heart of it is the certainty that I don’t want to make banal covers. All the authors I enjoy working with create layers of mysteries and ambiguities in their writings, and those qualities give me the space to grow images that interest me. If I’m not interested, I don’t want to make the cover.

Below: the front and back wrap-cover for Val/Orson (PS Publishing, 2009), before the title and author were added. It was a hardback without a dust-wrapper, which is quite unusual.

DSC01978.JPG

Below: front and back wrap-cover for The Book of the Red King. (Phoenicia Publishing, 2019) After Val/Orson I began to include title and author to the cover artwork of all my books for Marly, the better to integrate words with images. It’s a practice that whenever possible I’ve held to with other authors.

72309736_10158613550177289_5159389658286653440_o

Since becoming the artist most associated with the published works of Marly Youmans, other writers have approached me with requests to make covers for their books: Damian Walford Davies, Mary-Ann Constantine and most recently Simon Armitage, who wanted not just a cover, but my entire suite of fourteen Penfold Press Sir Gawain and The Green Knight screen prints to illustrate the Faber & Faber revision of his translation of the medieval poem. Simon and I have since produced Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes for Design for Today, and I’m currently working with him on a yet-to-be announced book.

Below: Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes (2018, Design for Today) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2018, Faber & Faber)

PastedGraphic-1 (14)

IMG_5483

I’ve been in love with books all my life. Because as a child I read prolifically and precociously, from the moment I was allowed out by myself I could be found in book shops where wall-to-wall paperback covers offered endless visual stimulation. I was gazing raptly at the covers of novels long before I experienced art in galleries. To begin with it was the covers that led my reading. At best the book cover can be an invitation to a new realm, but it needs to catch your attention or it’ll remain unexplored. When opportunities allow for an image to wrap to the back cover, I enjoy the possibilities of springing a surprise. The front cover for Judas (see below) only offers a part of the picture. The spine runs a centimetre or two to the left of the title, and so it’s only when the book is flipped in the hand that the monstrousness of the distorted animal becomes apparent.

DSC05883

Whenever I begin making a cover, the guiding principle is to make it catch the eye of a passer by. I will never deceive, but there has to be an element of the sideshow barker calling attention to the tent and the wonders within. All I have to do is get the punter to the tent-flap, to lift it and to look inside. Thereafter it’s all down to the author.

DSCF9310

DSC04514 - Version 3

Charis in the World of Wonders by Marly Youmans and with cover artwork and interior decorations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, is due out from Ignatius in the US in the Spring of 2020.

Charis Vignette 1

Refuge and Renewal: Migration and British Art

Featured

https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-79793885-131509991747-1-original.20191107-125900.jpg

Above:  a detail from ‘Miracle in the Internment Camp’, 1941 by Martin Bloch (1883–1954). Oil on canvas. © Martin Bloch Trust. Photo credit: Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge.

Refuge and Renewal: Migration and British Art

The Royal West of England Academy, Bristol
Sat, 14 Dec 2019 – Sun, 1 Mar 20 2020

The migration of creative individuals and groups has always been a source of innovation and cultural cross-fertilisation. The exhibition Refuge and Renewal curated by Dr Peter Wakelin, explores the work and stories artists who have found refuge in Britain during the past hundred and fifty years, escaping dispossession, torture, intellectual oppression or war. Their arrival frequently enriched art in Britain.

Following the isolation of most émigrés in the First World War, artists who escaped Nazism in the 1930s became part of art communities in places as far apart as Hampstead, Glasgow, Merthyr Tydfil, the Swansea valley and St Ives. Gabo and Mondrian influenced Nicholson, Hepworth and Lanyon, while younger artists were inspired by the radical ideas of Kurt Schwitters and John Heartfield and by the Expressionists Bloch, Herman, Kokoschka and Koppel. Lotte Reiniger brought innovations in animation and Bill Brandt and Felix H. Man showed the potential of documentary photography. Refugees have come since from China, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

The experiences of artist refugees have followed many patterns. Some stayed a short time and moved on, some made their lives in Britain, teaching, exhibiting and inspiring. In the 1940s, refugees contributed to the war effort and the defeat of fascism. The stories of later refugees’ contributions to British art are still unfolding.

Among others, there are works in the exhibition by: Camille Pissarro, Joan Eardley, Naum Gabo, Ben Nicholson, Humberto Gatica-Leyton, Mona Hatoum, Barbara Hepworth, Lotte Reiniger, Josef Herman, Samira Kitman, Josef Koudelka, Hanaa Malallah, Zory Shahrokhi, Kurt Schwitters and Walid Siti.

 About the curator:  Peter Wakelin is a writer and curator. He was formerly director of collections at the National Museum of Wales. He has contributed to Art Review, The Burlington Magazine, The Guardian and Modern Painters. His exhibitions have included Romanticism in the Welsh Landscape at MOMA Machynlleth, Four Painters in Raymond Williams’ Border Country at the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the 80th anniversary retrospective of the Contemporary Art Society for Wales. He lives near Aberystwyth.

 

Refuge and Renewal is a part of the 2019 Insiders/Outsiders nationwide arts festival celebrating refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture.

 

RR-cover.jpg

 

A substantial book by Peter Wakelin, published by Sansom & Co. accompanies the exhibition and is available from the galley, by order from bookshops or direct from the publisher.

Gentle Charis and her Friends at Ignatius Publishing

Featured

 

Charis Vignette 10.jpg

We live in a world where there is so much by way of argumentative dialogues, endless competitiveness, jostling for pole positions, public crowing and an unwillingness to listen to others, that when creative endeavours are conducted with kindness and gentleness, it’s a blessed relief from what we’ve all had to become more accustomed to.

Marly Youmans and I have long been friends who like to collaborate. She is a wonderful friend, but also a poet and novelist greatly admired. I first came across Marly when I saw her name signed to a comment on a blog where she was defending me as an artist, though we’d never met or had any previous contact. I wrote to thank her and we became e-correspondents. Later she came to Wales to stay with us at Ty Isaf. She’s the narrator of a short documentary about my maquettes, a contributing author to the 2011 Lund Humpries monograph about my work and she was present at the Gregynog Gallery of The National Library of Wales for the opening of my sixtieth birthday retrospective of paintings. We’ve been working together almost from the start of our friendship. I make her book covers and when time and budget allow, the chapter headings and decorations too.

In part Marly moved from her previous publisher because of me. I’d decided I no longer wanted to work there, though I hadn’t expected my leaving would precipitate Marly’s departure. I had thought there would simply be a change to another artist, but I had not taken into account that though Marly is the gentlest woman, she is nonetheless stubborn about the things that matter most and her loyalties are fierce. I was rather shaken by the events, but though I repeatedly said that she should stay, she quietly went about doing things her own way.

Ignatius are the publishers of Charis in the World of Wonders. Marly gently brokered an arrangement that her editor there would look at my work, and if the Ignatius team were confident that Marly and I were a good match, then we would all proceed together. From the outset the mood has been collegiate. Everything discussed with thoughtfulness, everyone with eyes on the goal to make a beautiful book. I doff my cap to Roxanne Lum who guided me through the way things are done at Ignatius and who was so receptive to my ideas, and to Diane Erikson who has worked so hard to make Charis in the World of Wonders the lovely edition that it is going to be.

This week Marly and I saw the almost finished page layouts, with my drawings in place making the announcements to the eleven chapters. The matching of images to chapters was done at Ignatius. I offered no guidance and as it happened neither did Marly. Both of us agree that whoever made the matches did so with great care. Marly writes:

“Diane,
Well, I shall let Clive be the arbiter of images! But we are both entirely pleased with the care for clarity and detail, as well as the beautiful spacing that really gives the pictures so much more presence. And I have to say that I’m happy that Ignatius is so responsive and also so polite in working with a visual artist. That made me glad, as Clive is dear to me.
Just now I went through the list, and I do suspect that somebody has thought carefully about placement, where possible. It is absolutely right that the horse begins and the ewe (so many good symbolic sheep associations) ends the story. I especially liked the amusing placement of the rabbit for Wedlock (preceded by the ancient emblem of married constancy, the swan), the owl for a chapter of wild wanderings, and the open-mouthed dog for the “frampled” household chapter. Some were logical, like the bird at a chapter with birds, or the various domestic animals scattered in chapters set in villages. Somehow I really like the luminous peacock–the most mystical thing in the group–as an image representing “Path in the Dark.” The squirrel with his little acorn bag (I know it’s not that, really, but it looks that way, accompanied by Far-faring!) is another that amuses me. And the cockerel crowing out the news of the epilogue…
So yes, I do think that we are happy and content. Thanks to all who helped to make us feel so pleased with the way the book-to-be appears: well dressed and lovely.
In good cheer,
Marly”
(Forgive me Marly for sharing the e-mail. I think it illuminating to show how well things may be done when a team toward the best outcome. This has been the most positive experience. I’ve been extremely lucky with all my book commissions throughout 2019, for Design for Today, English Heritage and Phoenicia Publishing, every one of which has been a pleasure.)
IMG_8702.jpg
Above: sketch from my project book of the Ignatius imprint for the cover.

The Laurel Prize

Featured

 

Laurel_Prize_Logo_500px

I’m both honoured and very happy to have been asked by Simon Armitage to create the logo of his ‘Laurel Prize’ for eco-poetry, an annual award that’s been launched today by Sally Carruthers, executive director of the Poetry School.

My early sketches had included a stash of drawings of an ark, its rainbow replaced with arching branches of laurel.

IMG_8782 (1).jpg

 

IMG_8788 (1).jpg

 

IMG_8789 (1).jpg

But at the last minute I roughed out a single sketch of a paper boat adrift on rough water. Simon wrote back:

IMG_8897.jpg

“A strange synchronicity for me: I’ve often described the act of writing a poem being like making a paper boat and putting it into the river – you don’t know if it will make it across the ocean or sink before the first bend. 
To me it symbolises hope, fragile hope, the traditional art of writing and doing so against rising sea levels. I also think it’s no bad thing to move away from the direct “ark” idea since the ark is more particularly connected with the olive tree, as far as my memory of bible stories tells. So in a sense we’re creating our own symbolism. S”

So the paper boat was given the go-ahead by the organising team and several trial versions later –

IMG_8946.jpg

IMG_8916.jpg

Laurel Prize 4. (400dpi) (1).jpg

– the finished render was agreed that has become the symbol of the new award.

Laurel_Prize_Logo_500px

Simon writes in today’s Guardian newspaper:

Ted Hughes was often seen as being unfashionable for his nature writing and it was something he doggedly persevered with, to the point where he was a campaigner as well at low levels. It’s interesting to me that poetry has been able to swing back in the direction of nature; it didn’t fit in with a lot of the psychologies of the 60s and 70s and 80s, it wasn’t metropolitan, and maybe attached itself to the Romantics – Wordworth and Coleridge and particularly John Clare. Now nature has very much come back into the centre of what poetry can, and should, be dealing with.”

Afterword

Sometimes here at the Artlog, the most interesting things get written not in the posts but in the comments. ‘Keviniz’ wrote to me: “Love seeing the development of your finished piece. Thinking through your changes was like choosing words and images in poetry. Wonderful!”

I replied:

“Kevin, it was a happy process. These days Simon is a busy man but he nevertheless found time to answer questions and offer observations. To me it was crucial that the image should have personal resonance for him. We’ve worked together quite a bit now and I figured he’d asked me because he believed I’d have connection and insight. But it also had to be a masthead that made sense to anyone coming to The Laurel Prize for the first time.

Logos are sometimes abstract, more of a visual aesthetic than a figurative representation of a product or organisation. The Laurel Prize logo, while stylised, is figurative. It offers clues as to what idea it represents. During my research I looked at examples of icons that have lasted the test of time and have been robust and flexible inasmuch as they’ve been regularly re-designed without losing their recognition factors. The Lloyds Bank ‘black horse’ and Penguin’s penguin have magnificently lasted the course. Because Simon’s brainchild is The Laurel Award, we had to work out how ‘the laurel’ might figure in it. The difficulty is that the intact ‘laurel wreath’ has become the signifier of excellence for film, and so I almost immediately discarded any notion of a laurel crown. For the longest time I toyed with an open book to represent poetry, and I tried in every way to incorporate it to the point where I had it transforming into other elements.

I have clumsy sketches in my project book of an ark with its pitched roof formed from a book. There are drawings of an open book beneath an ark, and others where the shape of the upward facing open book is one of the waves keeping the ark afloat. The more you try to pull off these weird transformations, the further away you get from a simple, graphic solution. Nevertheless you have to try many ideas just to be sure of what works and what doesn’t. The book in one form or another stayed in my drawings for a long time, first with the ark and afterwards with the paper boat, before it gradually dawned on the team that in terms of meaning, it had become redundant to the image. We went at a stroke from four elements – a book, a paper-boat, water and laurel sprigs, to three. And that’s how it stayed to the conclusion. We had storm-tossed seas and calm seas, a placidly sailing paper boat and one being thrown about in a tempest. Laurel sprigs arced like rainbows or arose sparkling from the water like Esther Williams in one of those super-kitsch Hollywood musicals. In one of my favourite drawings a pair of laurel sprigs curved upwards either side of the paper boat like unfurling wings. But in the end we wanted the dynamic of movement, too, and so the laurels were detached from boat and waves to be added as sprigs blowing around to suggest blustery weather. Climate change is implied, though without turning the image into anything overly apocalyptic.

In a way I had to very thoroughly over-think the brief before coming back to something so simple that it doesn’t seem as though much thought at all has gone into it. But that’s probably the way many simple solutions are arrived at. The destination is not so very far from the starting-point, but we travel to it not as the crow flies, directly, but by a tortuously circuitous route that ensures we take in all the landmarks along the way. Just in case any one of them might give us the solution.

I filled a project book exploring ideas for The Laurel Prize, and then made ten fully finished versions for the team to select from. It was quite an adventure and makes me appreciate even more than I usually do the convoluted processes that have to be gone through to arrive at an effective, simple result.”

Bernie wrote: Wonderful, it also reminded me of the points of a star.
B xxx

 

I replied:

“I keep on thinking what a nice animation might one day be made showing the wind of climate change tearing the pages from an open notebook, one of which blows through an open window and onto the desk of a poet who writes a poem on it that gets snatched away by a thieving magpie before dropping onto a beach where it’s found, folded into a paper boat and set upon the waves by a child!”