Spectral Pegasus

Over in the United States, poet Jeffery Beam rides tandem with me toward my forthcoming exhibition at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, his pen dipped in inky night and flowing with words.

Alongside some extracts from what was written by the late Catriona Urquhart for the first manifestation of the Mari Lwyd in my work (The Mare’s Tale, Old Stile Press, 2001), so Jeffery’s poetic text will accompany emerging paintings on the theme that have evolved for Dark Movements. Here is a fragment of his beautiful poem, Spectral Pegasus, written as he watched the Dark Movements Toy Theatre move from idea, to completion.

O rough and shuffling Thing merge your corrupting
wings into my ache
Wake me to your cove
Raise me to your White Vale White Village
Night Walk on four legs

I eat the Night I
welcome it
Mirror Horse of Heaven Haunt of Unseen Realms

From Spectral Pegasus, Jeffery Beam, 2015

Below: painting from the series Borderlands (2014), which formed the starting point of the Dark Movements Toy Theatre

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A reply to Sarah

My friend Sarah left a comment at my last post about the painting The Quickening (above), currently in progress. My response needed a little more space than a comment box allowed for, so I’ve replied here, instead.

Sarah. ‘I know in pre-Christian traditions that the darkest period of the year was traditionally believed as a time that the veil between this world and the ‘otherworld’ was thinner and so beings, like the Mari, could readily pass through to this one. In “The Mare’s Tale” your Mari was part horse/part human and rooted in the mumming tradition and all that means to your personal history. However, the Mari of “Dark Movements” appears to be wholly a glorious beast of the “otherworld”, with no such human ties. The horse was associated with ‘power, fertility and prowess on the battlefield’ in Celtic Britain. I am very interested to see this new Mari emerging in your work, which, in my opinion, embodies the qualities it was once worshipped for and seems to be about life, not death.’

Clive. ‘Sarah, horses have always been significant in my life and in my painting, and I see that this current incarnation of a flaming Mari Lwyd, its insides burgeoning with a foliate-ness refusing to be contained within the cage of its ribs and streaming out into the surrounding darkness, is carrying what I began fifteen years ago in The Mare’s Tale, to a conclusion I could never have imagined back then.

The beginnings. My grandfather kept horses, and I recall my mother speaking with evident pride of his horsemanship. There were stories of him travelling as a young man to the United States, honing his riding skills by learning from from native Americans and even joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, though with benefit of hindsight these sound of the tall variety to me.

While her love of horses shone from her, I never saw my mother riding one, and there were uncomfortable silences when I pressed for explanations. She once admitted of an accident and a horse-kick to the spine that made her lose her nerve, but further details were not forthcoming. Notwithstanding that, she encouraged me and my sister to ride, and later, when I was a young man, I noticed the pride in her eyes whenever she watched me on horseback.’

‘I was always happier riding bareback, and my mum used to laugh and say that was the influence of my grandfather’s native American habits, though the reality is that I have almost no memories of him, or of him teaching me to ride. (I remember better his German shepherd, named Turk, retired from duty as a patrol dog with the airforce. Turk was set to look after me when as a baby I was put to sleep on a blanket laid out in my grandfather’s orchard. I remember the dog’s head looking down at me, and the weight of his paw on my back to deter me from crawling away from the blanket.)

As a boy I had romantic notions of my mother as a horsewoman, probably born of my early exposure to, and liking for the paintings of George Stubbs. Much later, in the first stage-production I designed and directed, I devised an appearance for a fairy in which she entered riding side-saddle on a unicorn. It was intended as a private message to my mother on the opening night, to show her how much I valued what she’d encouraged in me by way of an appreciation for ‘the horse’.

Shorty afterwards I began a painting for her, as a gift. She died before it was done, and so I never completed it, though I have it still, this elaborately attired equestrienne fairy painted in her likeness, sitting side-saddle on a rearing unicorn, and still serving the purpose for which it was intended, that of being a fire-screen. Behind the figure ribbons stream, carrying a text… now almost faded away… of the lines the character spoke as she appeared on the stage:

“We are the stars in the sky, and we only come down to visit those who have been very, very good.”

I have a feeling she’d rather like the Mari Lwyd emerging here.

the mare steps out in 2014

2013 was memorable in so many ways, not least for the collaboration with Mark Bowden and Damian Walford Davies that saw my elegiac series of drawings that go by the collective title of The Mare’s Tale, evolve into a chamber-work for orchestra, narrator and puppets.

The large-scale Conté drawings on the theme of my father’s experience of the Mari Lwyd, had first been seen in 2001 at Newport Museum and Gallery. They were made in the aftermath of his death in 2009, and were accompanied by a poetic text from the writer Catriona Urquhart, who had been his great friend. For the exhibition Catriona’s texts were presented on large panels mounted throughout the gallery. However, quite late in the day Nicolas McDowall of The Old Stile Press spotted the final drafts of the poems on my kitchen table, read them, and made the instant decision to publish. He undertook to produce a fine edition to be ready in time for the opening of the Mare’s Tale exhibition. At the eleventh hour, and with new pen and ink illustrations produced by me in one weekend to decorate the pages, the project was underway. Nicolas designed the edition, manufactured the blocks and completed the printing in double-quick time. The books, beautifully bound in vintage dove-grey paper, were back from the binders in time for the exhibition opening.

Those who had known my father in life, friends, family and colleagues, pointed out his likenesses on the gallery walls. The images were intensely personal, and I was uneasy in front of them at the private view. The playwright Julian Mitchell opened the exhibition, and gave what I’m told was a wonderful speech, though I barely heard it because the blood in my ears was pounding deafeningly.

My exploration of the roots of my father’s fear of the Welsh hobby-horse tradition known as the Mari Lwyd, and the persistence of that fear throughout his long life right up to his death, made a startling debut exhibition for me. The venue was an appropriate one, as I was born in Newport and my father lived there all his life. The following year, augmented with more Conté drawings, the exhibition opened at Brecknock Art Galley as The Tower on the Hill. The reference was to Tretower Castle a few miles away down the valley, where I had worked for seven years as a custodian. In a simplified form the tower of the ancient building had became central to my iconography for The Mare’s Tale.

Above: detail from The Friends Gather, with Tretower in the background

Below: Journey’s End (1999) in which my late father’s coffee mug stands in front of the tower

After the last in the series of Mare’s Tale drawings were completed some time in 2002, I firmly believed the subject was behind me. I couldn’t continue working at such an emotional pitch. Whenever anyone asked me whether I intended to go further, I explained that I was done. In On the Mountain (see below), with the Mari Lwyd felled in a night-time desolation of bare branches and ruins, I believed that the series had drawn to a natural conclusion.

But it seemed the grey mare was only sleeping. In 2011 the series of drawings was re-assembled for my retrospective in the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales.

In 2013 she stirred again. Work began on the libretto of a proposed chamber-work to be based on my original sequence of drawings. Catriona had died in 2005, and without her present to guide the adaptation of her words into a libretto, I approached Damian Walford Davies with the idea of him using the drawings as the starting-point for a new expression of the Mari Lwyd theme. Damian constructed an icy psychological drama, a fiction incorporating the key biographical elements that had underpinned the original 2001 drawings and poems. Over this story-arc, Mark Bowden threw the darkly glittering canopy of his music.

Above: actor Eric Roberts rehearsing on the set of The Mare’s Tale. Beneath him the Mari manifests in the form of a puppet operated by Ann Prior and Diana Ford.

The pairing of Damian and Mark worked wonderfully well. In October the completed chamber-work was rehearsed for two weeks, and a single, work-in-progress performance of The Mare’s Tale was given to an invited audience at Theatr Brycheiniog on the evening of September 7th. I was the director and designer, and James Slater conducted the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra.

Mark, Damian, dramaturge Helen Cooper and I are currently working steadily toward taking the piece to its next stage of development.

Above: maquette/puppet for The Mare’s Tale

In 2014 the Mari will step into the light again, this time in a series of paintings and drawings for my next Martin Tinney exhibition at Oriel Tegfryn, Menai Bridge, taking inspiration from Mark Bowden’s music and Damian Wallford Davies’ libretto. The story continues.

horse

In the images above and below, workers in the Russian Republic of Tuva excavate fourteen sacrificed horses from a 2,700-year-old Scythian grave. The photographs are by Sisse Brimburg for an article in the June 2003 issue of National Geographic Magazine. This is a modest horse-sacrifice by Scythian standards, as excavations have opened graves containing herds numbering hundreds.

I find the images chime with so many things that move me, and it’s undeniable that here’s the abiding visual theme that’s haunted my work as an artist almost from the beginning.

Above: from the 1999 – 2001 series of work The Mare’s Tale.

Above: from the Old Stile Press 2009 illustrated edition of Sir Peter Shaffer’s play Equus.

Above: maquette for an animated sequence in The Mare’s Tale, a work for chamber-ensemble composed by Mark Bowden with a libretto by Damian Walford Davies, commissioned in 2012 by the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra. Rehearsals begin this August.

Above: imagery for the MWCO production of The Mare’s Tale.

Above: poster design for The Mare’s Tale.

Above: Mari Lwyd puppet for the MWCO production of The Mare’s Tale.

The Devil’s coach and horses from the MWCO 2013 production of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. (The first performance is on the 28th of this month at the Hay Festival.)

Caution!

Jacqui Hicks has experienced a frustrating time of it trying to purchase the new edition of Equus (with the cover by me) from the Penguin online bookstore. She writes at the Artlog this morning:

‘Hmmm… so I clicked ‘available here’ and ordered direct from Penguin and was so excited when the package arrived, only to find what they sent isn’t the image on their advert but a photo of some half naked youth and a horse. A tad disappointing. Going to ring them up and see if this is purely oversight and whether they’ll exchange. Will post update later.’

Jacqui’s later update reads:

‘OK, so the phone number for Penguin is:

0870 607 7600

A very nice woman said very sorry can’t guarantee what front you will get on the book we send out, even though the advertised one is Clive’s. It just depends what they have in the warehouse. Can’t guarantee when it will appear in the shops either, but did give me a freepost address to send the copy back. Does seem a bit daft to advertise the new cover then. If I order a blouse having seen it on the internet I do expect to get the one I saw, not something they decide to pull out of the warehouse. Oh well, if anyone spots Clive’s version in any bookshops, do let us all know!’

I’m not quite sure how to resolve this, though I may try dropping a line to my contact at Penguin to see if there’s any way around it. If there’s any news, I’ll post about it here. But in the meantime, like Jacqui says, if anyone out there sees copies of the edition in bookshop, please let us know. (And my thanks to Jacqui for flagging the problem.)

UPDATE  16/04/13

Thanks to John Gamblin, we now know that Penguin jumped the gun by putting up an image of the new cover at their online bookstore. It looks as though it will be removed until such time as the book really is ready for dispatch. So, the wait goes on.

UPDATE  19/04/13

Today I had this e-mail from Isabelle de Cat at Penguin. She explains what happened, and promises the book in August.

‘Dear Clive
Many thanks for your message and for alerting us to the cover issue.
After investigating with my production department, it seems that the re-print date of the book had been unexpectedly rescheduled, and that the cover could not be changed just yet. Unfortunately this was done without us knowing, hence the new cover design had been circulating still with our online suppliers.
According to our printers and the production department, the next re-print is now scheduled for August this year, when your beautiful cover will finally come to life!
We have now updated the circulating cover images with our suppliers, and no one should be mislead anymore until the new cover is printed.
I very much apologise for the inconvenience caused to you and your supporters.
Kind regards,
Isabelle’

Isabelle De Cat
Art Editor – Penguin Press

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it’s been a long wait…

… but it’s out at last:

my cover for the new Penguin Classics Equus!

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Available HERE.

Above: Maquette for Equus

Good timing in this year of puppets and horses!

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To read more about my relationship with the play Equus, click HERE.

capturing peter

From the moment I began to paint, my partner Peter’s likeness has been present in my work. Occasionally I’ve been unconscious of using him, and it was friends who first pointed out he was there in the wrestling angel of The Temptations of Solitude, though burlier in the paintings than in life, and shaved bald. Peter has never subscribed to the theory that the angel is him, but whatever was going on in my head when I was making the paintings, it’s clear it’s him.

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The Comfort of Angels Attending the Dying.

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The Man Who Lived in a Tree.

Struggle.

He was the model for Bluebeard when I was compiling an early illustration portfolio, painstakingly made as a pointillist drawing with a rapidograph pen. This time I reinvented him as darkly sensualist, a Russian oligarch in furs and silk cravat.

When I illustrated Equus for the Old Stile Press edition of the play (2009) I cast Peter as the psychiatrist Dysart, though for the longest time he had no idea I was using his likeness as I somehow neglected to tell him. It came as a bit of a surprise for  him when he found out, and it has to be said he wasn’t at all comfortable with the idea.

Above: a lost study of Peter made for Equus. I have no idea where it is, which is a shame as I think it rather good. I like the faint image of a ghostly horse looking over his shoulder.

Above: two studies of Peter as Dysart, referencing the psychiatrist’s dream that he’s trapped in a horse’s head, bridled with a bit clamped between his teeth.

Above: the image as it finally appeared in the book.

Many studies of Peter were made using conté pencil against  a red oxide ground. Some of the original drawings were included as ‘extras’ in the special boxed-editions of the book, of which there were ten produced.

Above: Peter on his old National Library of Wales identity card. I didn’t know him when the photograph was taken, though I’ve  conjured something of his appearance at that time for many paintings. Even the pudding-basin haircuts of the following images are based on the fact that his hair was cut in the style when he played King Henry V in a school play.

Saint Kevin

Saint Kevin

Saint Francis (Detail)

Angel Gabriel (Detail)

Quite a lot of mileage out of a single model!