the friends gather (continued)

Un-noticed by most, Megan Edwards quietly moved among the guests last Sunday, taking photographs that would shame many professionals. This girl has an artist’s eye. My thanks to her for allowing her work to be posted here.

Megan Edwards, photographer.

Richard Edwards, television producer.

Jane’s wonderful cakes.

Daisy, Jack’s mother. A frequent visitor here.

Wendy Lawrence, ceramist.

Two of the contributing authors to the monograph. Anita Mills wrote the chapter on drawing, and Monserrat Prat wrote about the Mari Lwyd series.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, painter.

David Rouse, classical guitar maker.

Montserrat Prat and Enza Burgio.

Alba Edwards.

 Philippa and Dave Robbins with my brother-in-law Martin Wakelin.

William Gibbs and Peter Wakelin.

Megan photographed by her brother Rhys.

Poppies flaming.

Ty Isaf.

My brother-in-law Andrew Wakelin, who designed both the books, and Rex Harley, who contributed chapters to the monograph on still-life and my work with the Old Stile Press.

Rhys Edwards with his sister Alba.

Paul Bommer, illustrator, and Nick Appleton, animator.

Martin Tinney, art dealer.

Pip Koppel, ceramist, Rosemary Burton, painter, Bob Meyrick, Head of the University of Aberystwyth School of Art and Charles Burton, painter.

Nick and Paul.

Paul, Richard and Nick.

I love brushes of all sorts, especially when they’re beautiful enough to be left out where they’ll be needed most. (Nothing made me happier than when I ripped out all the fitted-carpets our predecessor had left at Ty Isaf!)

Mary Husted, artist, and Marly Youmans, writer and poet. Marly contributed the chapter on the ‘miraculous’ to the monograph.

My sisters-in-law Sally Wakelin and Christine Townley Wakelin. Sally is a jewellery maker and web designer, and she designed both my website and the website of Grey Mare Press.

Francesca Rhyddech and Damian Walford Davies. Damian contributed the chapter on poetry to the monograph.

Pip Koppel.

Eleanor and Judith, who kept things running smoothly in the kitchen.

The sitting-room.

Meri Wells and Carys Green.

Anita Mills and Damian Walford Davies.

Marly and Richard.


national library exhibition part three: the friends gather

This post is for Rebecca Verity who has been superhumanly patient, and for the many others who have been awaiting news of my exhibition opening. (Rebecca, I will write when I can, I promise. Forgive me. It has been a tad hectic.)

On the evening of Friday the 5th The Book of Ystwyth launched in the bookshop of the Arts Centre on the campus of Aberystwyth University. Present were the five poets who contributed, all of who read from their works. Ian Hamilton, who had been the late Catriona Urquhart’s partner, came along too, and he and I read her words for her. Many attended the launch and the audience response to the contributing authors and their readings was warmly enthusiastic. My thanks to Nick Appleton for his photograph of the event.

Left to right standing: Callum James from Portsmouth and Dave Bonta from Plummer’s Hollow Pennsylvania. Left to right sitting: Damian Walford Davies from Aberystwyth, Ian Hamilton from Scotland, Andrea Selch from Hillsborough N Carolina, the Artlogger and last but not least Marly Youmans from Cooperstown New York, whose advance birthday gift to me of five poems titled The Book of Ystwyth got this whole Six Poets on the Art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins idea gestating in time for it to become both a book and a structure for the retrospective. All the Americans stayed at Ty Isaf, as did Ian Hamilton. The old place has been stuffed to the gunnels with writers!

At the National Library there was a heartening turn-out for the exhibition opening. Somewhere in excess of a hundred-and-fifty guests meant standing room only for a good many throughout the formal part of the occasion. In the above photograph the seats are beginning to fill up.

After Meri’s award (see last post) it was my turn to speak. I have no recall of what I said. I had no plan and had made no notes. I waited for the spirit to move me and it must have done so, because I’m told that I did alright. (It’s a blur to me!)

Peter, just right of centre, looking very serious! He knew that I’d speak about him and was bracing himself for the outpouring. He is a man who habitually steps aside from the spotlight, but on this occasion there was no gainsaying me and he just had to accept his due. Without him I simply wouldn’t have emerged as this late-flowering painter, and it had to be said.

Anita Mills, one of the American contributors to the Lund Humphries monograph, sits centre, while Alfie and Agnes Hellier wait patiently with their mother Eleanor for the speeches to be over. The following day they came to visit Jack at Ty Isaf, which I’m sure they thought was far more fun.

After I was done the peerless Damian Walford Davies took to the podium. He is the most fantastic speaker and I sat transfixed by his intellectual rigour, glittering wit and depth of humanity. All this and very easy on the eye too! (His wife Francesca is his match in beauty and intelligence, and their children Brychan and Cristyn are about as cute as can be found!) Damian knocks me for six every time I hear him speak publicly. The man has a great gift. He has declared in public that he is proud to be my friend, and I match the sentiment in my feelings for him. He wrote to me recently in respect of another project ‘I’ll be your wingman’, and I knew that all would be well. Everyone could do with a Damian.

I’m definitely holding out for Damian Walford Davies for every future event that requires someone to speak about me. Organisers, you have been warned.

Once the words had been said, the guests began to explore the exhibition. Here (left to right) Liz Sangster… who I first worked with long ago in the scenic workshops of Welsh National Opera… and Dave Robbins and Angharad Roberts are in a space dedicated to the large Mari Lwyd drawings. My thanks to Phillipa Robbins for this photograph and the five that follow.

Downstairs in the refreshment area (left to right) artist Rosemary Burton and ceramist Pip Koppel are deep in conversation, while artist Charlie Burton chats with another contributor to the Lund Humphries monograph, Montserrat Prat.

The following day we had open house and a garden party at Ty Isaf. We threw open the paddock to take the cars, and our friend Jane, who runs the wonderful café at MoMA Wales, loaded our dining room table with the most spectacular display of cakes. Montserrat brought many delicious home-made tortilla, Cathryn contributed delicious savoury tarts and a salad of mango, and Enza and Dave came laden with Sicilian delicacies, including an unctuous, caramel almond brittle that had been made by Enza’s mum. In the kitchen Eleanor and her friend Judith made gallons of tea and coffee and with great good humour washed an endless stream of cups, glasses, plates and cutlery. They skilfully kept the kitchen clutter-free for guests to circulate. There were fantastic cheeses and garlic and olives and bread, and big bowls of well-dressed asparagus salad. Down on the lawn David and Clarissa Lewis set up croquet lessons for all comers, while at the loose boxes, Stephanie supervised children come to pet the horses Basil and Seren. Jack got anyone with a free hand  to throw frisbee for him, and throughout the day there were various cries of despair as it lodged out of reach in the many trees and shrubs set as traps for the unwary thrower. Fortunately we keep long canes handy for these eventualities.

I talk to film-maker Pete Telfer and his partner Swsi, a puppeteer and puppet maker who made me a charmig marionette…

… so that I can be Saint Kevin and his blackbird!

Guests strolled across the paddock to our ravine where the shade is cooled by the stream as it runs down to the River Ystwyth. Nick Appleton took these beautiful photographs when all was quiet down there.

The sun shone and the garden blazed with bearded irises, flaming poppies and early, deeply scented roses. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ll post more photographs of the day soon.

national library exhibition part two: celebrating meri

Meri Wells is the recipient of the 2011 Richard and Rosemary Wakelin Purchase Award, administered by the Friends of the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea and granted to a Welsh artist of merit not yet well-represented in public collections.  The 2011 guest selector was National Librarian Andrew Green. However as the GVG is presently undergoing redevelopment, it seemed a good notion to present the award and show the work on Andrew’s home turf of the National Library. Meri’s home turf too, as she lives not far away, just outside Machynlleth. Moreover because the Library was already gearing up to my Retrospective opening on May 7th, they decided to hold the two events on the same day to maximise their impact. There are not many people I would have wanted to share my day with, but Meri is so dear to Peter and to me that I couldn’t imagine a happier way to celebrate her having been selected as the recipient of the award set up by him and his siblings in memory of their parents.

The guests gather in the Gregynog Gallery.

Andrew Green hosts the occasion. A master at holding the diverse threads together and  ensuring everything happens in the right order, on Saturday he acquitted himself  with honours. He has the lightest touch and yet holds complete command, a remarkable sleight-of-hand. In a corner I sit awaiting my turn to speak, next to Damian who will then open the exhibition.

Barry Plummer of the Friends of the Glynn Vivian announces that this years winner of the Richard and Rosemary Wakelin award is…

Meri Wells!

The work selected and purchased from Meri’s studio on display at the National Library.

Left to right: Ceramist Pip Koppel, our friends Pat and John Walker, the flower-laden award recipient, Barry Plummer of the Friends of the Glynn Vivian and Jenny Spencer Davies, Curator of the Glynn Vivian. I think the delight of this picture is not just Meri’s evident joy, but the pleasure writ plain on the face of Rhys Edwards, the son of our friends Richard and Montserrat, sitting beaming at Meri from the row behind her. (That’s him at the extreme right of the picture.)

There couldn’t be a more appropriate recipient of the award. Meri is an artist not celebrated as much as she deserves, and this recognition should help alert many to her marvellous talent.

Many thanks to Martin Wakelin, who provided all the photographs for this Artlog post.

Coming next: National Library Exhibition Part Three: The Friends Gather

national library exhibition part one: launch of the monograph

I will write about the Retrospective opening when I am a little more recovered from the day and the weekend of events that accompanied it. But here, just to show that I made it to the finishing line, is a photograph by Bernard Mitchell of me, the National Librarian and deft MC to the proceedings Andrew Green, and Damian Wallford Davies, who so eloquently opened the exhibition.

countdown to the exhibition: five days to go

Over the Bank Holiday weekend Peter and I set up camera and tripod in the dining-room at Ty Isaf, improvising an animation stand at first on the grey-painted floorboards, and afterwards… when my knees were feeling somewhat overworked from many hours on them… on the old table-top. We shot three passages of animation, each with a different maquette: the dragon, a naked man/horse figure made as a model when I was illustrating Equus, and an earlier clothed man/horse that I never used for the project. The first sequence was done in daylight, and in it the shadows strobe and creep across the floor and the sun comes in and out, effects I rather like. Our filming is a little ramshackle. My hands occasionally  appear in single shots and the cable control of the shutter switch snakes in for a few frames, un-noticed by us at the time. But despite these glitches… or perhaps because of them… the sequences have raw energy, which is exactly what I wanted them to convey. Not sleek and elegant animation but a sense of the maquettes in daily use tacked to the walls of my studio or scattered on the floor around the easel.

On Bank Holiday Monday Peter and I took Marly to visit film-maker Pete Telfer at his home at Ceinws, not far from Machynlleth. While Peter went for a walk down by the river with our dog Jack, Pete’s partner Swsi and the couple’s daughter Alis… who was very nearly born in Ty Isaf, but that’s another story… Pete recorded Marly reading segments of Kathe Koja’s text for the Maquettes chapter of the monograph, to use on the soundtrack of the film. Marly did this beautifully… she’s pretty much a ‘one-take’ voiceover artist… and the cadences of her American accent entirely fit Kathe’s poetic evocations. (I’d asked Kathe to record the text for me in America, but she lacked a programme on her laptop to do so.) Pete edited the film yesterday, and by tea-time he was able to show us a finished cut. It’s perfect, and at around about five or six minutes long is exactly what I envisaged to show in the gallery. We used about 2 – 300 frames per animation sequence, which when run sequentially make concise little films that Pete has surrounded with live footage at Ty Isaf of me preparing the maquettes for their film debuts. The soundtrack of the filmed sections features the rookery just beyond our bedroom window, where all is restless energy as the adult birds care for their young. It’s a sound I associate with Ty Isaf, and one I love.

Click HERE to see the animation.

(You will have to register on Culture Colony, but the viewing of this film is free.)

My thanks to all concerned with this project. To Peter who came up with the idea and was the patient stills cameraman while I animated. To the wonderful Pete who advised us soundly, encouraged us enthusiastically and calmly fitted the film-making into his already over-crowded diary. To Kathe who wrote the evocative words and to Marly who read them beautifully, between them conjuring the perfect tone for the film. The short couldn’t have been made without the unceasing support these good friends of ours have loaned to the project.

countdown to the exhibition: seven days to go

As regular readers may have deduced, quite a lot has been happening here in the week that has passed since my last blog. The ‘hang’ at the National Library is well underway, the apparent chaos of  paintings emerging from travelling-cases having been swiftly organised into Peter’s master-plan for the exhibition. A stroll around the space will take any visitor through sections on Still-life, Place, Maquettes, the Miraculous, The Temptations of Solitude, The Mare’s Tale and a separate gallery showing my work in collaboration with The Old Stile Press. White-gloved National Library staff have been on their knees for days condition-checking paintings and frames with all-revealing lamps. Massive glass display-cases are being assembled to hold maquettes and the toy theatre. In the Old Stile Press room twelve display cases hold the books and an array of related material, including my project-books and studies, and for the first time some of the engraved glass cliché verre plates that the images for The Affectionate Shepheard were generated from.

Last Tuesday the first of our guests, Marly Youmans arrived from the States. After supper that evening we digitally recorded Marly in the dining-room at Ty Isaf, reading her poem The Blue Marches. She was game for this despite being jet-lagged, and I greatly admired her pluck and fortitude in agreeing to be subjected to such a trial when she was reeling from weariness. (Her getting-to-grips with the pronunciation of Welsh names was particularly impressive.) In the gallery her voice will be relayed from an audio-hood above the painting that was her source material for the poem.

An add-on to the exhibition is an animated short that I’m making in collaboration with the film-maker Pete Telfer. In it some of my maquettes will spring to life in brief stop-motion sequences designed to show how I use them in the studio. A little crazed to be embarking on this in the final gallop to the finishing-line, but hey, what else was I going to do over the next few days? I’ll post more on this project before too long. With Pete’s permission maybe I’ll even be able to show the film on the Artlog. Watch this space.

countdown to the exhibition: 15 days to go

Not long to go now to the exhibition opening on May 7th. Yesterday I packed the car with copies of  the monograph for the Library shop, and files of un-framed studies for the books I’ve done with the Old Stile Press, together with the books themselves.  (The National Library will be showing their own Old Stile Press books, but we needed multiple copies for display purposes.) There were also two boxes containing nearly thirty objects I’ve used in my still-life paintings, due to be displayed in glass cases in close proximity to the paintings they appear in.

In the gallery paintings of still-life… seen here in images from the monograph…

… will be hung within sight of the objects that were their subjects. (The bonneted Scottish horseman above is one of a pair, and is the mirror version of the one loaned to the gallery.)

Finally the toy theatre went in, strapped jauntily into the passenger seat. By the time vehicle was fully packed, there was barely room for me. Twenty minutes later the car was emptied of its cargo at the Library loading bay, and for the rest of the day curatorial staff, white-gloved and absorbed in their work, opened the travelling cases of work that have been arriving at the Library for the past couple of months, diligently checking everything against the inventories. It was quite a sight. Gradually the works were laid out according to the plan devised for the exhibition. It’s a massive space, but even so I think that we have an excess of paintings to fill it. Peter went around moving the works and adjusting spacing.

Thousands of decisions to be made, and the clock is ticking. Audio recordings from the participating poets have arrived in e-mailed files, and they must be transferred so that they may be heard via transparent plastic audio hoods suspended throughout the exhibition. Visitors may hear the poems read by the poets who wrote them, next to the paintings that were the starting points for the writers. Plasma screens will show Pete Telfer’s documentary about me. Maquettes will be held by mono-filament, suspended in free fall through glass display cases. Texts have to be appropriately positioned throughout the gallery.

Watch this space. I’ll post progress on the Artlog whenever I’ve the time. But to all friends and correspondents who in a more usual situation might regularly expect to hear from me, please be forgiving if I’m not up to speed in responding to messages and e-mails. I’m flying so fast that I can barely catch breath. The first of the visitors who will be staying at Ty Isaf, Marly Youmans from Cooperstown, New York, will be arriving on Wednessday next week, followed by Andrea Selch and Dave Bonta at the beginning of May. That means all three of the American poets who’ve contributed to The Book of Ystwyth will be under our roof at the same time. Here also from the States will be Anita Mills, who wrote the chapter on drawing for the monograph Clive Hicks-Jenkins, and for a couple of nights only, our old friend Ian Hamilton, partner of the late Catriona Urquhart whose Pegasus and Poem about the Mari Lwyd from The Mare’s Tale (Old Stile Press 2001) also appear in the collection. Sooooo… floors must be swept, beds made up, lawns and orchards mown, pictures hung and provisions ordered to feed our visitors, not to mention the inundation of guests we expect for the open house on Sunday 8th. Ty Isaf may be a work in progress, but Artlog readers who have shared what we’ve achieved here to date, will be expecting the old place to be looking dandy for the party, and so Peter and I must not disappoint them. To all those coming, we’ll talk later, and to those who are unable to get here, I’ll do my level best to give a full flavour of the events on the Artlog.

last minute addition completed

Today I finished the toy theatre for the exhibition. This task has been hanging around for weeks frustrating me, as every time I’ve tried to get to it something else has taken priority. Still, all done now. (There will be some puppets too, though I shall have to make them pretty quickly as this has to be delivered to the gallery and cased on Thursday.) There’s a blank-windowed house (Ty Isaf of course) and falling leaves and a pair of doves, not to mention the full moon and leafy archway. All my favourite Neo-romantic iconography. Now I just need a beast, and I think that shall be Hervé’s wolf.

butler tanner & dennis

The printing company of Butler Tanner & Dennis in Frome are producing the Lund Humphries monograph, and on Tuesday we spent the afternoon on the works floor watching the first sheets come off the press, checking them for colour and signing them off. Justin looked after us all day and showed us around the plant, and Alex operated the press assigned to the job. An exciting experience for us. In the picture above you can see the press on which the book is being printed.

The first press pass. We checked everything on the sheet against the approved proof, and then once satisfied, Peter ‘signed off’ the sheet.

Peter checks the sheet…

… and signs off on it.

Alex explains how he’s balanced the colour on the sheet. It’s clear that our book is in safe hands.

Standing next to a pallet loaded with a stack of the first sheet off the press.

We were shown all the stages of processing that will lead to the final product. The building is a hive of  industry, packed with extraordinary machines and the skilled people who operate them.

The picture that says it all.

Finally, the dust-jacket, signed off and ready for printing.

This has been a long, long project. Our first contact  with the publisher Lund Humphries was back in 2009, and took place at the London Art Book Fair the week that The Old Stile Press launched their edition of Peter Shaffer’s Equus with illustrations by me. Over the following two years there was a steady development of ideas. Simon Callow produced an illuminating introductory chapter to kick-start the project. We contacted and briefed contributors and compiled over two hundred images of paintings and drawings. Once all the contributors had submitted their chapters, Peter painstakingly edited the text, working closely with the authors. The design process has been meticulous. Andrew has been endlessly patient and inventive, finding elegant solutions to all problems. Now everything is in the hands of the team at Frome, and in a very short time we’ll see the results of all this labour. I’m being patient, though I long to have one of the books in my hand. Not long to wait now.

I so liked the ghostly images from the book in this giant bin of  paper rubbish that I almost asked to have some rolled up to take away, but somehow didn’t get around to it. I have no idea what I would have done with them. I just thought they were interesting. Maybe I would have made painted ‘interventions’ on them, like the Chapman brothers did on the Goya etchings!