Reinventing Beauty

Featured

la-belle-et-la-bete-1946-00106

Yesterday I talked to the students at Hereford College of Arts about my work making a book in ‘homage’ to Jean Cocteau’s film, La Belle et la Bête, a dream project I’m collaborating on with my friend Joe Pearson at Design for Today.

 

IMG_6105

I can quite see that it’s a strange notion to attempt a picture book about another artist’s creation originally made in the form of a film. There are many visual reinventions that are required in order to successfully carry off the trick, especially as my intention has never been to make a scene-by-scene ‘copy’ of the film. I think of what I’m producing as a translation. I’m working to translate, rather than reproduce the actors’ iconic screen appearances into what will work in illustration terms, and the same process is being undertaken with the film’s studio sets and the locations. The canvas, plaster and gauze spaces of the Beast’s chambers, passageways and balconies that the actors performed on, are opening up in my imagination as I transport myself into their world, just as Cocteau described the experience of walking through the constructed rooms in his published Diary of a Film.

Cocteau on the set for Beauty’s bedroom, Saturday the 15th December 1945:

“I’ve never seen a set either in the theatre or in films to appeal as much to me as this one of Beauty’s room where I am working now. The studio hands like it too. Even the waitresses from the restaurant come and see it and are thrilled to pieces.

I’d like to hear this room described by Edgar Allen Poe; for it is, as it were, isolated in space with the remnants of the forest set on one side, and the beginnings of the stream set on the other. With the result that bushes can be seen through its walls of net, suggesting a whole incomprehensible landscape behind it. Its carpet is of grass and its furniture in the magnificent bad taste of Gustave Doré.”

 

belleetlabete2photo11 (1)

I’m working in colour, which Cocteau wanted to do but was unable to afford in those harsh, post-war days when the French film industry was on its knees in the wake of the Occupation. He describes in his diary the sky blue of Belle’s sumptuous satin gown, worn by Josette Day in the farm garden when Belle returns home, and how beautiful the colour was against the white bed-sheets hanging out to dry, with the black hens scattering in front of her.

hqdefault (2)

 

l-092fcd953beb637e05ba7c05e4155860

Above: the cast on location at Moulin de Touvois á Rochecorbon in Touraine, the small ‘manor’ that Cocteau chose  for the exteriors of Beauty’s home. From left to right, Josette Day, Marcel André, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, Jean Marais and Mila Parely.

The fact is that there have been echoes of La Belle et la Bête in much of my work of the last decade. Leonine creatures have appeared in many of my works, and always in them the combination of rage, anguish and yearning that hallmark Jean Marais’ performance as la Bête.

DSC00590

La+belle+et+la+bete+film+stills+(3) (1)

CHJ 3a (1)

IMG_2660

In the first of a new series of prints titled New Folktales that I’m making with Dan Bugg at Penfold Press, the recurring themes of beauty and beastliness are apparent in both the title and the image of The Tiger’s Bride.

IMG_9861

Above: preparatory drawing for The Tiger’s Bride.

And even in my recent cover for These Our Monsters I can see that I’m toying with ideas for the Beast’s garden, setting serpentine stems and muted, nighttime colours against a velvety black.

img611

Josette Day and Jean Marais haunt me at the drawing-board and in my dreams. I make and unmake them over and over as I strive to capture an essence of their stateliness and beauty.

18825963

 

IMG_9389 (1)

 

IMG_8457

Above: maquettes made preparatory to illustrating the book.

I see the book as being like a bottle of perfume that you unstopper in order to inhale something rich and dark. It’s a fight, but every time I make a small progress, it feels like triumph.

La+Belle+et+la+Bte+de+Jean+Cocteau+1946

IMG_6085

The Artist in Stiches

Featured

Throughout time artists have used the examples of those who’ve gone before, copying so as to learn, occasionally to pay homage to an admired artist or artwork, and sometimes to steal. Picasso, that ferociously creative innovator of the 20th century who taught us new ways to see, stole with impunity from anywhere and anyone, though his advice was to always ‘steal from the best’. He was a good thief and chose well, often greatly improving in the process. Peter has reminded me that I stole myself, from time to time in my earlier days as an artist, before I knew what I was doing or where I was going, and not always with acknowledgement. So I was circumspect when recently I came upon a design for a toy theatre proscenium that I had made long ago, all over the Insta page of a woman who had taken it, digitally recoloured it and was happily fielding flattering comments about it as though it were her own work. Indeed, worse, had been selling it as a screensaver download! When politely confronted she claimed that she couldn’t find who the artist had been in order to credit. I pointed out that not knowing who had made something doesn’t mean that you own it, or that you can take it and pass it off as your own. She agreed, and forthwith removed the many images of the stolen work from her site

But in the arts we have that wonderful word homage … from the French … which allows for the re-configuring of an idea and taking it in a different direction, while acknowledging the source. Recently some paintings of mine, with my permission,  have been re-interpreted as stitched work. I love the changes that occur when another pair of eyes get to work on an image, examining it and finding ways to express it in a different medium.

Karen Stonestreet contacted me to ask permission to adapt a ‘hare’ vignette made for the recently published Marly Youmans historic novel, Charis in the World of Wonders. Her adaptation of the drawing has given her own work the look of an American primitive, and I relish that translation to something unexpected and lively.

Charis Vignette 7

90509894_594944481363979_7703219768899141632_n-1

Note the lovely clouds of tiny stitches around the blossom in Karen’s interpretation of the textured elements in the drawing. In time her plan is to make a quilt using adaptations of the collection of  bird and animal vignette’s made for Charis. The drawings should translate well, as the inspiration for them was my love for early American stitched and quilted work. In another interesting connection, Marly’s husband Mike collects early American patchwork, and I’m told is a wonderful patchwork-maker himself.

Charis Vignette 1

 

Textile artist Amanda Warren first came to me when she wanted to make a piece based on a still-life painting of mine:

DSC02714.JPG copy

Using a detail rather than the whole image, I greatly liked what she showed me of the work when it was ‘in progress’. In the still life I’d incorporated a John Maltby ceramic on his ‘Pelican’ theme, and so it could be said that Amanda’s textile interpretation of my painting is an homage of an homage.

Here’s her finished piece. Note that she’s removed the fish hanging from the cruciform Pelican’s wings, and she was right to do so, because in terms of this simpler composition, they would have made the image too congested. She left out too the Scottie Wilson milk-jug with the pattern of swans and cygnets, concentrating instead on the three mackerel with their stripes and iridescence.

image3

I’m very much attracted by the dualities of roughness and precision in Amanda’s work. There’s something of the rawness of early sketches in her surfaces that can be lost when the artist becomes too concerned with meticulousness. From time to time I have to pull back myself, as a painter, from the allure of the too polished finish, and these landscapes of freehand stitchery, jagged and seemingly improvised, are a good reminder of how exciting mark-making can be when the energy is allowed to flow freely.

image2

More recently Amanda sent me an image of a textile work based on another of my still life paintings.

hicks-jenkins attic 007 (1)

image1 (4)

The interpretation has resulted in a piece of work that is both mine and yet not mine.  It’s allowed me to look at the intensely familiar with new eyes, and that’s been a uniquely interesting and informative experience, which no amount at looking at the original painting could have done for me. I wrote to Amanda:

“I absolutely LOVE this. Love what happens in translation. I very much like the connection to my own work – which is clearly evident – but I love too the points of departure, and that your work has become entirely itself, with its own character and visual language of marks and colours. It’s almost as though I’ve provided a supporting tent-pole, and you’ve put the tent over it.

The mug was made at the Gwili Pottery, and is one in the blue and white ‘seashell’ range they produced. We have a number of them, hence the fact that they tun up in my paintings. At Gwili the artists work freehand with each piece, in the case of the seashell range using a ‘pattern book’ of assorted elements that they then arrange and interpret as the spirit moves them. In this way the range remains consistent overall, while also allowing the artists to be expressive. The artists leave their initials on the base of every piece worked on, and so next time I’m at the cottage I should check the mugs to see if your friend’s initials are among them.

All the objects in my still-life paintings are significant to me. The oval cardboard box had been plain when given to us by a friend, and filled with pralines. When the contents had been eaten I painted the box with a clipper. It sits on the cottage dresser, referred to always as ‘Rex’s Box’ and still smelling of cocoa and almonds when opened. The curtain in the painting is a ‘fake’. The ‘real’ curtains in that window are what were hanging when we purchased the property, and they’re rather chintzy. Pretty enough in their own way, but not right for the painting. So I used a vintage linen tea-towel as a stand-in.”

 

Later, in an online conversation with author Marly Youmans, Amanda wrote this:

“I used several of the textiles in Clive’s photo, natural fabrics, cotton and silk scraps, many hand dyed from my stash. The shadows are made from some strange stuff that was wrapped around a bunch of flowers, definitely synthetic! There is machine and hand stitching, mostly hand, with stranded cotton threads.

Studying the work of other artists is a strange combination of mindlessness and mindfulness. Decisions have to be made about what will be included and what left out, and then there’s the decisions relating to how accurately to translate the painting into textiles, and ultimately, when to stop! The process certainly made me appreciate Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ facility with paint! I think that the reproduction I printed off to work from was, indeed, brighter colours, although not as bright as the materials I selected. I have very much enjoyed delving into Clive’s artlog since this was posted and reading about your Foliate Head work- the Green Man subject is close to my heart, especially in these HS2 times.”

Below: Amanda begins work on interpreting a painting through the medium of textiles.

image0 (1)

From Stage to Page

 

 

 

This short film was made as the Introduction to the Design for Today book launch of Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes at the splendid Artworkers’ Guild in Bloomsbury on the evening of May 22nd, 2019. The film illustrates the journey of the project from stage production to published edition of the poem that was its libretto.

PastedGraphic-2 (15).jpg

Live music for the launch event was provided by the splendid Alex Barrow on the accordion. There was a pop-up exhibition assembled by Joe and me of the mid-century Russian illustrated books, tinplate clockwork birds, model theatres and folk-art-inspired toys that had influenced the illustrations and design of the book. The highlight of the evening was Simon Armitage’s reading of his entire poem, proving yet again that he’s a mesmerising presence when presenting his work. It was a ticketed event that quickly sold out, and was a resounding success.

IMG_7684.jpg

Above: the Russian clockwork ‘singing’ bird from the stage production, meets her illustrated counterpart in the finished book.

Below: the transition from stage to page.

IMG_4814

PastedGraphic-2 (16).jpg

 Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes by Simon Armitage is published by Design for Today, and copies may be purchased

HERE

 

Clive1 (3).jpg

Acknowledgements

My regular collaborator, Pete Telfer, worked with me on all the film and animation footage seen in last year’s stage production of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes. The clips in the short film to promote the book are courtesy of his Culture Colony archive, and he was cameraman on the new animation that makes up the last third of the film.

IMG_4882.jpg

I couldn’t have made the stage production of Hansel & Gretel without Pete. He’s the facilitator who gives me the freedom to experiment with film and animation, while keeping a gentle eye on things to stop me from making a complete and utter hash of the job.

IMG_7546

My thanks to Simon Armitage, who wrote the words that became the libretto to the stage production. Thereafter he suggested we make a dedicated illustrated edition of the poem, and then gave me the freedom to figure out the best way to do it.

Clive3 (1).jpg

Working closely with Simon, first at Faber and then at Design for Today, on two texts so close to my heart, has been the most wonderful experience. I wish I could find better words to express what it’s meant to me, but I hope he knows.

Joe Pearson at Design for Today unhesitatingly agreed to work with Simon and me. His deep knowledge of twentieth century book design and his enthusiasm and passion for the project, saw it through the many stages to the perfect conclusion. He was unstoppable, even in the face of the 2018 New Year’s Eve fire that consumed the Design for Today warehouse and destroyed his entire stock of books. The man is a giant!

My thanks to Laurence Beck, our brilliant designer. Between Joe and Laurence, nothing was overlooked. I have never seen any book go through so many stages to bring it to perfection. No tweak or adjustment I requested was too much trouble. They were inspiring. Meticulous. Tireless.

PastedGraphic-14 (3).jpg

Print-maker and toy theatre seller, Benjamin Pollock has been an inspiration throughout my life, and my work over the past few years with Louise Heard at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop underlies much of what appeared in both the stage production and the book. My thanks to Louise and her team for their unflagging enthusiasm and support for what I make. Louise kindly gave permission for an image of the Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre I’d designed for Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, to be used in the stage production, and further permission to adapt the Pollock’s H & G Toy Theatre for the ‘Intermission’ page in the book.

52348504_10157080294578436_4550672834006876160_n

Before Hansel & Gretel Dan Bugg and I had a three year collaboration making the fourteen-print Penfold Press Sir Gawain and the Green Knight series that was used in the 2018 Faber & Faber illustrated edition of Simon Armitage’s translation of the poem. It was a given we wanted to work together again in some way on  Hansel & Gretel, so Joe Pearson commissioned Dan to produce the two ‘Lebkuchen’ prints that accompany the ‘special edition’ of the book. Dan and I also produced the Penfold Press ‘Gingerbread House’ enamel-pin that celebrates the book’s publication.

Penfold Press Horse (1).jpg

60553503_353745148827292_2780006054367330304_n (1).jpg

Special thanks to my trusty band of collaborators on last year’s stage production. Puppet-maker Jan Zalud far exceeded my hopes for what Hansel and Gretel might be, and Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths gave the children the tenderest backstories encoded into her beautifully detailed costumes for them.

2018_CF_Music_PAC_Hansel_Gretel-244K2A8036 (1).jpg

Peter Lloyd created magnificently detailed shadow-puppets that were a joy to animate.

ORG__DSC7027 (1)

 

IMG_4380

Phil Cooper was associate designer and my second-in-command in terms of the way the production looked.

IMG_4808.jpg

I completely trust his eyes and his artistry. He danced effortlessly between his many tasks, creating the ‘building-block’ models seen onstage, painting the filmed backdrops (see above), and designing and ‘baking’ the mad, wonky, witchy ‘Lebkuchen’ biscuits that we later animated in a ‘tribute’ to Hollywood choreographer, Busby Berkeley!

IMG_4304.jpg

It was Phil’s bone-white ‘Witch House’, with its incinerator-like chimney, that visually defined the ‘toy building-blocks’ aesthetic I wanted for the stage production, and thereafter his Lebkuchen ‘Gingerbread’ version that I carried forward into my illustrations for the book.

Below: production designer Phil Cooper, puppet costume supervisor Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths, and lead puppeteer for the audition day, Diane Ford.

IMG_2443 (2).jpg

 

Image-1 (2)

IMG_5546 (1).jpg

As if all that weren’t enough, Phil also assisted me with the animation sequences.

I am indebted to artist/embroideress Chloe Redfern, who later took Phil’s ‘Lebkuchen’ House, and re-booted it into something beautiful and transformative for the conclusion of the book.

IMG_6075 (1).jpg

Above, Chloe’s embroidered Lebkuchen Witch House, and below, my translation of it to an illustration.

PastedGraphic-1 (21)

I’m particularly indebted to Jonathan Street of the Moth Factory, Bristol, who kept me grounded and focussed during an insanely difficult three-day marathon of film editing. His thoughtful work on Pete Telfer’s gloriously atmospheric ‘Psycho Witch Doll’s House’ footage, was a triumph. Jon was vision-mixer for the tour, and was cameraman of the live footage streamed to a projection screen above the performers.

IMG_4881 (2).jpg

My warmest thanks to puppeteers Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. They were not only massively contributive creative geniuses on the production, following me fearlessly into sometimes choppy waters, but they are also damned fine people to be around. The three of us work hard but laugh a lot! In the photographs below you see them at the Cheltenham Music Festival for the May 2018 premiere of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, and then at the May 2019 London launch of the Design for Today illustrated edition of the book. They topped and tailed the stage-production-to-book journey, and I couldn’t have had better company on the adventure

Group4 (1).jpg

 

60782307_2590870120924423_4028440819819085824_n.jpg

Jan, Oonagh, Peter, Phil, Jonathan, Diana, Lizzie and later Chloe, whether they knew it or not, helped light the path for me from stage production to book. Their visual creativity was always present while I worked alone in my studio conjuring images out of Simon’s words. I’m the book’s named illustrator, but their influences are scattered like fireflies throughout its pages.

My love and gratitude in equal measure to my manager in all theatre matters, Susan James. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers, and I count myself fortunate to have had her wisdom and patience to guide and steady me. Hers are the eyes in the back of my head. She’s fearless, riding shotgun and being wing-man, seeing the bigger picture and the smallest details, talking me down whenever the frustrations of getting a production to the finishing-line catapult me into stratospheres of frustration. I doff my cap and bend my knee to her. She is ‘The Guv’nor’!

And finally, my love and thanks to Peter Wakelin, for his unstinting support throughout the long and occasionally rocky Hansel & Gretel journey, and to my friends James and Sarah Joseph. (They know why.)

 

IMG_6572 (1).jpg

Hansel & Gretel: the film of the production

52348504_10157080294578436_4550672834006876160_n

For all those who missed the tour of Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes

CLICK HERE

to see the production, recorded at the London premiere in the Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican, last October.

The film is by the extraordinary Pete Telfer at Culture Colony. Pete had been cameraman and editor on an animated book-trailer we’d made as a promotion for the original Hansel & Gretel picture-book published by Random Spectacular, and then in 2018 joined the Goldfield Production team to work with me on the filmed and animated footage to be projected onstage during the performances.

Pete followed all stages of the pre-production, chronicling the creative processes and interviewing the team in the lead up to the premiere at last year’s Cheltenham Festival of Music. This documentation was made as a part of his ongoing and ground-breaking initiative at Culture Colony to record significant cultural events with Welsh artists at the heart of them. Without his generosity and tireless effort, there would have been no comprehensive record of the making of ‘Hansel & Gretel’, and all of us associated with it, production company, production staff and performers, owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his outstanding work. Later, Goldfield found a modest budget to underpin Pete’s filming of the Barbican performances, and the film has been edited together from that material.

In 2011 it was Pete Telfer, together with my then partner – and now husband, Peter Wakelin – who encouraged me to diversify my practice as an artist by making some animation tests with my studio maquettes, and my rather clumsy efforts were edited by Pete into a haunting little film with a spoken text by the American poet Marly Youmans. In 2013 he was animation cameraman on ‘The Mare’s Tale’, composed by Mark Bowden to a text by Damian Walford Davies, and premiered in a single, fully-staged production performed by Mid Wales Music Theatre.

When Kate Romano asked me to work with her to create a new Hansel & Gretel for her company Goldfield Productions, Pete Telfer came to the project with me, together with artists Peter Lloyd (papercut puppets), Jan Zalud (puppet-maker), Philip Cooper (scenic design, models and animation assistant), Jonathan Street (animation editor and onstage cameraman), Di Ford (puppeteer) and Oon Cg, (puppet wardrobe). I approached Simon Armitage, who I’d been in conversations with since he’d invited me to contribute illustrations to the Faber & Faber revision of his translation of Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, and he came to meet Kate Romano and me to discuss whether he’d be interested in producing a libretto for music yet to be written by composer Matthew Kaner. Simon agreed, and we were up and away.

There were others who joined the team as the work progressed, but these were the collaborators who were in place from the beginning.

 

5491

‘Not a sugary dream, but a nightmare in eight scenes: make no bones about poet Simon Armitage’s contemporary retelling of the tale most familiar in the Brothers Grimm version. Hansel and Gretel’s plight becomes that of child refugees, whose parents’ agonising decision is to abandon their offspring to give them their only chance of surviving war. Armitage took his cue from the darkly imaginative illustrations by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who has now translated those original visions into a puppet show with new music by Matthew Kaner. In this premiere performance at the Chelteneham Festival staged by Goldfield Productions, what appeared at first to be a slight, small-scale affair in the end resonated altogether more deeply.

Kaner’s quintet of players – strings, wind and toy pianos – were arranged on either side of a screen whose animated shadow play featured first the parents and then the ravenous craw of the archaeopteryx-like witch. On the central trestle table were Hansel and Gretel, wooden puppets barely a foot high that were manipulated by Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. It was the intimacy of tiny gestures offering expressive detail, in turn mirroring Kaner’s musical mood, that spoke volumes. Armitage’s words are the constantly shining white pebbles guiding the piece; his final verbal riff on light and dark will be even better savoured on the published page. Narrator Adey Grummet – twice bursting into sung lines – emphasised the mix of humour and satire with the moments of dystopian horror, making this an all too timely reminder of some children’s living, waking, starving nightmare. (Rian Evans, full review in The Guardian)

 

First Appearances

IMG_3615

It’s always been my custom to share day-to-day design progress with the team during pre-production, not because I’m seeking comment or contribution, but because by the time we get to the rehearsal room I want everyone to understand how the visuals have evolved. The idea is to give everyone a chance to see the ingredients before we begin to cook the meal! Nevertheless, sharing design work-in-progress can create problems, and it’s a fact that the shadow-puppets of the Mother and Father that were being prepared for the stage production of Hansel & Gretel, caused consternation in my producer when first she saw them.

IMG_3614 (1).jpg

Peter Lloyd, our genius paper-cutter, had been ‘briefed’ with loose sketches I’d provided to define the ‘characters’ of the parents. Illustrated above are a couple I made of the Mother.

I told him that within the basic framework of the character design, he was free to develop and elaborate as he wished. And that’s exactly what he did. When he sent me snapshots of the paper-cut puppets under construction, I knew I’d been right to choose him for our team.

 

29340768_10160014443500462_1403097507_n

 

28945268_10160014443440462_884407794_o (1)

 

Some minor changes were made to her mouth in order to better define it, and later, transparent swivelling bars were added to facilitate easier animation of her eyes.

IMG_4261.jpg

Everything in the stage version of Hansel & Gretel, is as seen/imagined by the children. They use the contents of their toy box to act out and reinvent a chaotic world into one they can better understand and control. While the children are beautiful creations by master-carver, Jan Zalud, brought to life by onstage puppeteers, the baker/Mother, woodcutter/Father and forest-dwelling Witch are shown only as animated silhouettes projected onto a large screen.

 

IMG_4290 (1)

IMG_4690 (1).jpg

From the moment I read Simon Armitage’s script I knew that the parents needed initially to be as unfathomable to an audience as they clearly are to their children. Gretel in particular constantly mis-hears both eavesdropped conversations and what people say directly to her. (I do even wonder whether she’s perhaps a little deaf.) This results in the children misconstruing their parents concern for the family’s safety in a war-zone, into a more sinister plot to be rid of them.

IMG_4292.jpg

Above: at the shadow-screen, assistant animator, Phil Cooper, makes minute changes of position to the articulated puppets between shots.

In order to ensure the viewpoints of audiences would align with those of the children, the parents needed to be unconventional, strange and unreadable. On the surface they’d appear as peasants, almost bovine with their expressionless faces and physical stolidness. Peter Lloyd caught this completely. The stoutness and the mask-like, weathered faces are off-putting, but nonetheless arrest us and make us pay attention. And gradually, we begin to see these people for what they more truly are, which is careworn and deeply loving. In this case, first appearances have been misleading.

Peter Lloyd’s remarkable skill as a paper-cutter gave me everything – and much more – that I needed in terms of appearance. But having meticulously reproduced the fixed  attachment points of the tiny arms and legs I’d indicated in the first drawings, those limitations severely hampered expressive movement, a fact immediately apparent once I had the puppets in my hands and could play with them. So I spent a day re-configuring the joints using transparent plastic to make swivelling and elbowed bars allowing a much wider range of movement, and by the time the pair went in front of the camera, they were flexible and up for anything. Walking is always an indicator of how well a shadow puppet is performing, and the test shot of the Mother walking from edge of frame to centre, illustrates her dainty gait. (See it at the foot of this post.)

For the illustrated book of Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel poem that I’m currently working on, due for publication by Design for Today in Spring 2019, I began with a trial image that was a fairly close adaptation of the shadow-puppet Mother. She even retained the articulation points of a shadow-puppet.

IMG_4420 (1).jpg

But as I came to grips with fitting together images and narrative in print, I realised that with only three appearances scattered through the book, I’d need to express everything about the Mother in some kind of shorthand: one image to introduce and establish her, a second to demonstrate her tenderness toward her daughter, and a third in which she’s dead and in her coffin. To this end, the design evolved for a third and final time, and the Mother became slighter and more youthful, though still retaining the strangenesses – bifurcated nose, cheeks oddly marked with the outlines of scallop shells and a heavy Kahlo-esque monobrow – that had defined her in the animations for the stage production. Here she is in a rough sketch, recalling her first pregnancy. (There’s no indication in Simon’s text, but I’ve always sensed that Gretel is the elder by about a year.)

IMG_4125 (1).jpg

And here the finished illustration, though minus the colour.

IMG_5290.jpg

The book’s final image of the Mother shows her shroud-wrapped and in her coffin. It was a hard one to pull off, because it had to be shocking and yet tender. This is the coffin illustration in the process of being made, together with some preparatory thumbnail sketches.

IMG_5873.jpg

To her credit, Kate our producer revised her initial response to the shadow-puppet, and in the end grew to love and be moved by Peter Lloyd’s interpretation of the character. The shadow-puppet gets quite a lot of screen time in the production, and in the last scene, appears not as a corpse – as she does in the book – but as a fretful, glimmering ghost. I too have grown to love her in both her forms of shadow-presence and illustration.

 

 

 

Animation made for Hansel & Gretel.

Shadow-puppet: Peter Lloyd

Animation: Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Phil Cooper

Camera: Pete Telfer of Culture Colony

The Serpent’s Bite: a natural history of the witch. Part 3

After nearly two years of preparation, in 2018 rehearsals began for an adaptation of Hansel & Gretel into a new performable work, with a score by composer Matthew Kaner and a text by the poet Simon Armitage. What’s so extraordinarily clever about the text – which was written before the music – is that in it Simon presents the siblings as close-to-starving child-migrants escaping a war-torn country, their journey hazardous in ways echoing the Black Forest wildernesses of the Brother’s Grimm, and yet with contemporary references that bracingly season the old tale with with a dash of darkly glittering folk/horror. The music was written for the Goldfield Ensemble line-up of five musicians, and the work was commissioned and produced by Goldfield Productions, helmed by producer – and Goldfield clarinetist – Kate Romano, who’s definitely a woman-of-many-skills.

Below: Narrator Adey Grummet fronting the Goldfield Ensemble. (Photograph courtesy of Still Moving Media.)

2018_CF_Music_PAC_Hansel_Gretel-44K2A7830.jpg

Peter Lloyd was among the small group of artists known to me who were invited to work on the design and visual effects for the production. He would make the paper-cut ‘shadow’ puppets of the witch. These proved too elaborate and large to be operated live on a shadow-screen, and a plan evolved to instead film them as stop-motion silhouettes on a light-screen/animation table. In performance the film is projected onto a large-scale screen behind the small puppets of the children. However before Peter could begin work on the witch, I had to provide him with guideline studies. My sketches were intentionally rough, meant as starting points for the character. Peter was briefed to ‘freely elaborate’ on what I’d produced.

The first drawing was much influenced by Goya’s naked witches. I guess I knew from the outset that the idea wouldn’t get to the finishing line, but I needed to try it out.

IMG_3662 (2)

Peter was very keen to be given a design that would enable him to be freely creative with his paper cutting. He was scornful of the second image I produced that made her a bag-lady like an overweight sparrow in layered cardigans. (And he was right!)

 

IMG_3663

So I returned to the illustrations I’d made for the picturebook. In those I’d used the notion of the witch being short-sighted, her apparel sewn with eyes as an expression of sympathetic magic. (Simon’s libretto makes great play of the witch’s near blindness.) But we also wanted to make a slow reveal of her true appearance, and so her garment became an all-enveloping cloak to obscure her hybrid anatomy.

IMG_3694 (2).jpg

When I suggested to Peter that the design might include a crustacean’s carapace, like a spider-crab, he was off like a rocket! A tail was discussed, along the lines of a scorpion’s stinger. Thereafter he was keen to give her many arms, but I declined the idea because I knew the filming schedule was going to be very tight. Another four arms plus hands and all those extra fingers could have added days of work to the witch sequences. As it was, her mere ten spidery digits monopolised the lion’s share of her studio time.

IMG_3696.jpg

IMG_3698 (2).jpg

Peter Lloyd’s translation of the drawings into witch silhouette-puppet number 1.

30825346_10160170988160462_1594570988_o

Witch silhouette-puppet number 2.

30945320_10160183189755462_1303579259_o

When the puppet arrived for filming, I made only small changes to it, though significant ones in terms of movement.  I hid a sliding-bar attachment for the hips behind the puppet, so as to give her more flexibility, and changed her knees to backward facing (see below), so that her gait would be weirder. It made her much more interesting to animate.

IMG_4931

The superb quality and detail of Peter Lloyd’s paper-cutting really came into its own with the large head and hands he prepared for the close-up sequences. The hands were particularly good, with secret eyes embedded in the fingers and forearms. The jagged, slash-like cuts in her face loaned a wonderful texture to the puppet. Phil Cooper, model-maker and scenic painter on the project – and also my assistant animator – cut upper and lower eyelids to add to the puppet, so that we could make her blink. Blinking is a great way to add life to an animation.

IMG_4731.jpg

The stop-motion sequences of the witch were reversed to negative at the editing stage. We felt that she was much scarier when bone white against a dark background. Peter Lloyd provided her with an almost prehensile tongue.

IMG_4805.jpg

The pupils of her eyes were made in two sizes, pin-prick tiny and enlarged, again to add expressiveness.

30121860_10160095630095462_1620947150_o

IMG_4380

Click on the control bar below to see the Witch in action in this extended stop motion animation sequence. This was a first edit that I made with Peter Telfer, who filmed all of the animation sequences for Hansel & Gretel.

 

 

 

Below: on stage the witch’s nose sails into view, dwarfing the puppets of the children looking up in awe at it. (Photograph courtesy of Still Moving Media.)
2018_CF_Music_PAC_Hansel_Gretel-234K2A8033.jpg

Here the witch unfolds from her carapace and stretches her arms, legs and tail like a vulture waking from an afternoon nap. It’s a shot we didn’t use in the production, though I liked it a lot. Matt Kaner produced one music sequence in which strings create an unnerving sense of edginess, and it perfectly matched the restlessness of the witch’s hands, which are never still.

 

 

Photograph taken by Phil Cooper of me working at the light-box/animation table. The tape marks edge of frame, so that Phil and I knew the points at which to enter and depart a shot.

ORG__DSC7027 (1).jpg

The hands were wonderful to animate, more like insects than I would have thought possible. Their articulation was enormously elaborate. An animator’s dream!

29134103_10160005351310462_705624523_n

The witch’s house in the production is fluid and shifting, as though the magic holding everything together is unreliable and certainly illusory.

Below: salt-dough Lebkuchen made by Phil Cooper.

IMG_4276 (1)

What starts as an iced Lebkuchen biscuit resolves more corporeally into a slightly grubby construct, perhaps made of  children’s building blocks, or maybe from congealed sugar. Ominously, the out-of-scale chimney looks as though it would be more at home on an incinerator.

Below: Model designed and made by Phil Cooper and built from a combination of contemporary and vintage building blocks.

Image-1 (2)

Later, when the children make a tour of its interior, we’re transported to the rooms of a sinister doll’s house, decaying and mouldy. Nothing in this world quite fits together. It’s dream-like and fractured. The words and music that accompany us on this estate-agent-from-hell’s tour of the grim spaces, is the bone-chilling heart of the production.

Below: doll’s house built by Simon Coupland and Jana Wagenknecht, with contributions from Stephanie Davies and painted by me. Lighting by Pete Telfer.

IMG_4881 (1)

IMG_4865 (1)

(The full story behind the building of the ‘Witch Doll’s House’ is one that requires more space than I can spend on it in this post, but I will be returning to the subject later, to give the whole picture.)

IMG_4877

Hansel & Gretel is currently on tour. Details of performances are below. Contact the venues for ticket availability.

H&G flyer design pure white on black.jpg

Clive, Aleksy and the Green Knight

img103

The Green Knight Arrives, by Aleksy Cichoń

As Dan Bugg and I work over the summer on prints two-to-seven in the Gawain and the Green Knight series, in Poland, Aleksy Cichoń is going to keep pace, making a corresponding drawing for each print, conjuring his own vision of images based on the text. As the work unfolds, we’ll discuss the various ways in which we approach the themes of Gawain and the Green Knight. Here the conversations begin.

 

Clive:

Aleksy, what a wonderful image to find in my inbox this morning. This is a beauty.

I was trying to think of a word to describe how you draw, and fluency is the word that keeps coming to mind because it expresses the quality of being at ease in a language, and you draw with exceptional ease. Compositionally it is enticing and mysterious. The Green Knight doesn’t emerge through the door sitting high in the saddle, blazing with energy. This feels like old magic, something that starts slowly in darkness, stirs, rises and grows in strength, uncoiling into the light. I’m drawn by his averted gaze, the slumped body, his arm outstretched with palm uppermost, the sprig of holly held lightly between his fingers, and the energy in the horse’s stance, balking at the threshold and the throng of the Christmas revellers out of sight of the viewer. All these are unexpected choices that work wonderfully well. But particularly strange is the fact that he sits sideways on his mount, rather than astride. It’s entirely unexpected, visually arresting and psychologically intriguing. This green man doesn’t have to master his green horse the way mortal men master their beasts, between strong thighs and with commanding hands. These two, are as one, and whatever passes between them requires no signals or physical control. I’m touched that you made and shared this drawing with me.

One of the reasons that I wanted to be a painter rather than an illustrator, was because I feared illustration might turn out to be a job where I would only gain employment if I produced to order, which I felt I had neither the skills nor temperament for. So I made my way as a painter who exhibits and sells in galleries. But now, perhaps because of my profile as a painter, I occasionally get asked to make book covers. I’m quite sure I couldn’t make a living at it, but I like that my work as an artist has reached out and created these opportunities, because I have always enjoyed the art of the paperback book cover, particularly in the European tradition.

The poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is full of descriptions. Pages and pages of them. The poet offers forensically detailed accounts of what people wear, and the Green Knight’s appearance is described down to the the embroideries on his garters. So as I work on the print series, I avert my eyes from those descriptions, because the words make evocative images in the imagination that don’t need realising in the illustrations. Instead I make accompanying images to the text that prompt different trains of thought, opening unexpected ways of seeing.

In your drawing, you have done the same thing. You’ve created an image to make the reader turn his eyes away from the text, and toward something inward looking. It’s emotionally powerful in the way that a description of the Knight’s wardrobe, is not. This, for me, is the great skill of the artist/illustrator confident and skilled enough to rise to the challenge. I would love to see you express further ideas based on this text. Judging from your first drawing, you would find surprising solutions!

Do you know the work of Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), who was a painter, illustrator and muralist? Your drawings remind me a little of his.

 

Frank Brangwyn drawing of a leadworker

You have the same ease with a pencil, making lines flow across the paper with mesmerising energy. I can see connections, too, with the great illustrator Arthur Rackham. (1867-1939)

Arthur Rackham illustration for Aesop’s Fables

Aleksy:

Dear Clive,
Your proposition of The-Green-Knight-Challenge is so great! I’ll participate in it with pleasure! It’ll be an antidote to my laziness in drawing. This is an amazing theme to explore. Furthermore, my last readings’ll not go to waste. What a good news.

I hope you’re well and many thanks for nice words about my knight. (You might know what my reaction was.) Sadly I had only shitty Xerox paper, but it was very relaxing for me – I hope that I’ll paint something bigger and better based on this sketch.

Brangwyn! (funny thing – I was thinking about adding some ink to this pencil piece) I know some of his paintings – especially the one with shirtless workers. I like his applying of paint: thick and bold but without fatal manner of Leyendecker, for example. Leyendecker stuck in “everything satin” style of painting, extremely fashionable in his time. Certainly he would be something like Sargent in illustration but without success and … without talent. Leyendecker is wildly weak and still idolized by crowds of contemporary illustrators – let’s try to guess why. Just terrible example of popular artist.

I understand very well your dilemmas about being illustrator, especially when you starting career straight as illustrator – you’re required to do job just like more advanced storyboard maker. In Poland this is daily situation and it looks like you’re not professional who knows what to do – you’re only man-machine doing exactly what they want. No risk, only conformist form of everything. Few years ago I was working as illustrator for Cracow’s University of Agriculture – some pictures illustrated collection of polish agricultural proverbs. One of them was about goat killed by wolf. Right, interesting for every draughtsman. So I did one inky picture and author of book refused to publish it. “Too sexual!” she said. Haha, OK, your loss! By the way – the bigger copy of this piece is hanging in the office of the director of publishing house. Too sexual for book but not quite for the office.

Detail of a screenprint stencil in progress for The Green Knight Arrives, by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

So, you’re ‘approved’ painter and you’re becoming an illustrator… OK, hold on – I know nothing about it but when I’m looking at examples of covers made by you – I’m impressed. And I’m happy that you’re doing exactly what you want to draw/cut/paint. Because of that, these books are unique, well-designed and beautiful as objects.

Yesterday I showed your works friend of mine – in one word: she was chuffed! She’s studying fashion and business (really terrible mixture) in Denmark and she day by day write to me that she suffer because of all contemporary things. Not only rags, but art at all. So I’m some kind of super hero who brings cure for her pain – great pictures. This time the great ones were yours. She greets you and she told me that she’s happy because good painters are rarity. Especially with that power of colour!

And about your prints – are they lithographs? I’ve never did anything ‘really graphic’, expect one linocut – so you must forgive my question. I ask because the colours are extremely vivid. I associate litho with gentle palette.

Clive:

The Penfold Press specialises in screenprints. However, I’m making the separations on True-Grain, which is a transparent, granulated plastic film that was invented to replace unwieldy lithography stone. I work on the grainy surface with lithography crayon, which is why you might mistake the prints for lithographs.

Detail from Christmas at Camelot by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, editioned by Daniel Bugg at the Penfold Press.

Below: working on True-Grain film at the Penfold Press.

 

 

Peter and Clive and the exquisite corpse: Messaging 1

Peter Lloyd kick-started the Exquisite Corpse project just before Christmas during a first visit with his family to Ty Isaf. We’d hatched a plan to get together to swop some work. (More about that in a forthcoming post.) From the moment he and his wife Sharon arrived here, together with their children Theo and Rowan, everybody got on famously. Jack soon had Theo and Rown engaged in games of throw-and-fetch and hide-and-seek, and conversations between the adults were breathtakingly lively and diverse!

I have no idea whether Peter had been considering a papercut project for a while, but then decided while he was here that we might collaborate, or whether he dreamed up the idea at 5 am in our kitchen as we sat talking over tea. But after the weekend, it certainly wasn’t long before he messaged me with his plan for the project.

1044165_10156299670715462_7923192777521329638_n

05/10/15

Peter Lloyd
Hi Clive:) Are you in North or South Wales? Love your work, I’d swap in a heart-beat if you fancied:)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
West Wales, Peter, just outside Aberystwyth. Big old house in four acres.
The notion of a swop is heart-stopping (in a good way) so YES YES YES. Thank you. That’s a ‘yes’, in case you were wondering!

11/12/15

Peter L
Hello Clive:) I am just planning the Lloyd decampment to Liverpool for the festive period and wondered if we might be able to stitch a Hitch-Jenkins sleepover onto the end of the itinerary? Just to say hello and swap some lovely pictures. If you’re both willing and available then we could arrive on 27th then leave on the 28th Dec? No pressure at all Clive

Clive H-J
Oh Fuckbuckets!!! We’re away those dates, staying over Christmas at Lincoln with an old friend. I am sick sick sick at this. We would have LOVED having you. Oh FUCK!!!!!!

Peter L
Hold on to your fuckbuckets Clive… what about if we arrived on the 20th and left 21st Dec?

Clive H-J
That’s a deal!
GREAT!!!!

1544328_10156299670395462_896903477263720757_n

15/12/15

Clive H-J
I’m in a complete quandary about the print I’d like. I have a number of favourites. Might it be possible to bring these four, for us to select from?
a) Lord Muck
b) Weekend Warrior
c) Natural Disaster
d Stocks and Shares

The very last sat nav instruction will tell you to take the left fork off, but ignore it and continue along the lane.

Peter L
I’ve been forked off in much graver circumstances:) We’re wellied up and really looking forward to visiting! Very good choices, I’ll delve into the studio and see what I can channel from the plan chests. Really looking forward to meeting the three of you.

DSC06532

21/12/15

Peter L
Arrived home, safe and sound:) We had a brilliant time and we’re really grateful for the beautiful prints and the opportunity to spend some time with Peter and yourself. Thank you X

Clive H-J
We loved having you, Sharon, Theo and Rowan here, and we had a wonderful time. (Jack too!) I’m feeling buzzed by our conversations and the ideas we shared. And I REALLY want to do that papercut/’Exquisite Corpse’ thing with you. We love our Mexican wrestler prints and I’m going to be STRAIGHT down to the framer with them after the holiday!

1236190_10156315543775462_2627543582589441497_n (1)

24/12/15

Clive H-J
I keep looking at the wrestler prints in the dining room, and smiling with pleasure!!!
You and I SO have to do a book together. That Exquisite Corpse idea is nudging away in my grey cells!
Have a GREAT Christmas. Love to all. xxx

Peter L
Ha ha, I am so glad to hear that:) I never wake up early Clive, but something clicked that night and I just had to be up and about on the off chance that we might ‘make’. I’ve got an idea for a theme, I’ll run it by you later.
The Ty Isaf effect didn’t just rattle my creative cage, Rowan has constantly drawn since she left the house; in a way that she’s never drawn before?? You, Peter, Jack, the collection or the house is/are magic and have had a very welcome and profound effect on us all! X

DSC06529

28/12/15

Peter L
I’ve been thinking about our exquisite corpses. Papercut would be ideal because it’s accessible, easy to post and will look unified when we slot them together or print them or laser cut them or whatever we end up doing with them. You okay with Papercut as a process?

Clive H-J
You bet!

Peter L
In terms of a theme I wondered if we might invent a series of contemporary Folkloric characters? Beasts or people in ritualistic dress. I noticed that you had a copy of Arcadia Britannica, these are fantastic images but, as with a lot of Folklore, it harks to the past and relates to the countryside. Could we create a folklore for the city that deals with contemporary concerns and first world problems?

12524052_10156339596115462_5615952960943271556_n

Starting points for our creations could include…
The Mobile phone (it’s a God. We talk to it everyday, we invest and entrust our closest secrets to it and with faith and patience it solves our problems and helps us find our way in life. Amen to that.
Online dating (a wonderful minefield full of pathos, happy endings and lunatics)
The Proliferation of screens (smart phone, iPad, iWatch, desktop, laptop sat Nav, TV etc. Too many screens or not enough eyes? We could fix that…)
Connectivity through Satellites (we can connect directly from our front room to the celestial heavens and how do we harness this gift? we use it to order Chinese, buy off eBay and find the nearest cash point or greasy spoon)
Time (or the lack of it in our busy lives)
Social Media (it’s a many headed beast; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc.)
Sexting (our folkloric menagerie wouldn’t be complete without a bit of how’s your father)

Clive H-J
HA HA HA!!!!!
Well haven’t YOU the fertile imagination!!!!
Yeah, I’m up for all of that. I don’t have smart phone… though I know I should have… and will get around to it. My little Orange pay-as-you-go, that doesn’t even have a camera, is OK for letting Peter know where I am, or calling for help when the car breaks down, but I ache for something that’s less stone-age.
Interestingly, social media has been where some of my most interesting collaborations have begun. I LOVE it. Have a fantastic thing going with the American dancer and film-maker, Jordan Morley. We got very creative in ways I hadn’t at all expected. He was the model in all the Dark Movements images, and a damned enterprising one, too!
So, bring it on!
You’ve kick-started something here. It all sounds right up my street.
Juicy!

DSC06493

To be continued

Colourised

DSC06611.jpg

As Peter Lloyd and I produce paper-cut elements toward our Exquisite Corpse project, Peter has been playing with a digital colouring app. The image above is of three cuts made by me (head, text and fetish-boot), put together as a part of the process of trying different juxtapositions. The images below are the results of Peter playing with the image.

12625944_10156388375730462_808515743_n

This is all still at a stage of experimentation and development, and although we have ideas as to how we might take things forward, we remain pretty free-flowing while in the the process of creating the paper-cut building-blocks. Usually on projects I have very clear ideas of where I’m going, but because Peter and I have no expectations or deadlines with this, there is a wonderful lack of pressure, and an exhilarating sense of creativity and fun.

12647869_10156388345065462_1730913128_n

12665628_10156388407550462_1488622017_n

Here’s a ‘colourisation’ of a couple of Peter’s cuts.

12665880_10156388310650462_1171849124_n

Project status: ongoing

 

Space Face

Here’s my latest papercut head in the Exquisite Corpse collaboration with Peter Lloyd.

DSC06619.jpg

I always loved playing with my Mr Potato Head when I was a kid. I thought it was great, the variations you could get by simply changing the arrangements of the same few elements.

On the web, people present themselves the ways they want to be seen. Images are photoshopped, or even stolen to give new identities to those who want to present themselves as being more attractive than they really are. (Or think they are!) Nothing is as it seems. Straight women have online identities as gay men, and silver-backs enter chat rooms masquerading as teenagers.

DSC06621.jpg

So here we have a face made from a vintage space-age ‘Mr Potato Head’ box. (And yes, there was such a thing, and I found a picture of one on Etsy!) Here the man/woman of the future is a series of disconnected parts put together to suit the mood of the moment. It’s retro, with the hipster’s post-modern nod to a naive past when we all thought that by the twenty-first century, space travel was going to be the equivalent of the rail network.

DSC06620.jpg

Instead we remain earth-bound, though we use satellites as the highway to carry our endless chit-chat. We present ourselves at a distance. No direct contact, just images and words through the ether. Moreover, when the box has been emptied of all its plastic parts, it’s just a void with a picture on a lid. Hey ho!

I have no Mr Potato Head any more, so now I play with Mr Peter Lloyd. Our scalpels are sharp and so are our wits, and our heads are full of pictures.

DSC06622.jpg

Peter Lloyd: All that thinking, all those connections and personal observations tied together, practically and conceptually in the scaffold of a simple Papercut. What other process would allow us to knit these disparate thoughts together into one unified image? What a weird, surreal thing you have created, unlike anything I’ve seen you make to date… you’re there Clive…

Clive Hicks-Jenkins: What have you done to me?

Peter Lloyd: It’s what Bowie would have wanted!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins: Then all is as it should be. (Sigh!)

Below: the cut in progress

DSC06617.jpg

After making a swift sketch of the layout on the black paper, I launched in with the scalpel. Had I thought about it too much… which bits would be black on white and which the reverse… I think I never would have even started. Instead I cut away like a man demented. I find it’s the same when reverse-cutting blocks for printing. If I think too much about the process, I just get tied up in knots. Sometimes I find it’s best to work out the problems while getting on with the job. Too much planning can knock the momentum and energy out of it. If it goes wrong, you can always make another.

post-439-047056800 1290696195