equus revisited: part one

The Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s Equus was published in 2009. A forthcoming Penguin Classics edition of the play in new livery and with cover artwork by me will be out later this year. Right now I’m up to my knees in Mari Lwyd imagery again, as I embark on the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra project for which composer Mark Bowden and writer Damian Walford Davies have been commissioned to create a new music/theatre piece, The Mare’s Tale, inspired by my 2001 series of drawings for which that title was coined.

I’ve been trawling through the horse-related material I’ve produced over the past twenty years, and find there is plenty of it. Here, to kick-start what promises to be my ‘year of the horse’, is the ‘afterword’ I wrote for the OSP edition of Equus, together with some of my illustrations for the book. It was edited by my friend Marly Youmans, who kindly cast her writer’s eye over it for me and made numerous helpful suggestions.

The cover of Equus

Afterword by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

In the mid 1980s I was asked to direct a murder mystery play by Anthony Shaffer. Whodunnit was an opportunity to work with an interesting cast on a national tour, and I accepted the offer. However, I also harboured a faint hope that in so doing I might meet the playwright’s twin brother Peter and, by dint of the wonderful work I planned to do, convince him I would be the perfect director for a new production of his great play Equus. Anthony declared himself delighted with the production, but I never met Peter and I never directed Equus. A few years later I left my career in the theatre to concentrate on painting.

The illustrated lining of the folding slip-case

Page opening

Title page of my own copy inscribed by the playwright to the illustrator

Part two of the Equus Afterword tomorrow.

a time of gifts

Earlier this year the artist and illustrator Ed Kluz contacted me to ask about purchasing a piece of my work as a birthday gift for his partner, the curator and art historian Simon Martin. However after some discussion, we agreed instead on a like-for-like transaction. Ed selected an acrylic study of an unused illustration, Fallen Conquistador, made for the Old Stile Press 2009 edition of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus. Later I selected a collage he had made, Dean Terrace, Edinburgh, as my Christmas gift to Peter. This is one of  the most delightful perks I can think of as far as being an artist is concerned, the happy exchange of artworks between  those who admire each other. I’m relieved to report that both recipients loved their presents!

Ed’s Dean Terrace, Edinburgh, selected by me for Peter.

My Fallen Conquistador from Equus, selected by Ed for Simon.

Merry Christmas to you all!

full circle


Above: National Theatre poster for Equus. The image is by Moura George

Peter Shaffer’s Equus enthralls London audiences when first presented by the National Theatre at the Old Vic. The play is directed by John Dexter and designed by John Napier, starring Alec McCowen as Martin Dysart and twenty-year-old Peter Firth in his breakthrough role as Alan Strang. I see the play and I’m swept away by its power.


Above: Gilbert Lesser poster for Sidney Lumet’s film of the play. (My thanks to John Coulthart at Feuilleton for identifying the designer .)

Sydney Lumet directs the screen version of Equus, adapted by Shaffer himself. Richard Burton and Peter Firth head a cast that includes Eileen Atkins, Joan Plowright, Colin Blakely and Jenny Agutter.


I’m asked to direct a murder mystery play by Anthony Shaffer. Whodunnit is an opportunity to work with an interesting cast on a national tour, and I accept the offer. However, I harbour a faint hope that in so doing I might meet the playwright’s twin brother Peter and, by dint of the wonderful work I plan to do, convince him I’ll be the perfect director for his great play, Equus. At the opening Anthony declares himself delighted with the production of Whodunnit, but I never meet Peter and I never direct Equus. A few years later I leave my career in the theatre to concentrate on painting.


Above: Red Halter. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

My first major exhibition in a public gallery, The Mare’s Tale, opens at Newport Museum and Art Gallery. The main body of work in it is a meditation on my father’s childhood memory of the Welsh mid-winter tradition of the Mari Lwyd, and how he was marked by the experience and haunted by it right up to his death. The Mari Lwyd was from the ‘hobby-horse’ tradition of mumming, and manifested as a horse’s skull on a pole with a sheet draped to cover the man who carried it. But in my drawings the Mari appears in many forms, some of which echo Shaffer’s horse-worshipping boy.

Above: Stumbles and Falls II. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

Above: The Mare’s Tale. Poems by Catriona Urquhart and images by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Published by the Old Stile Press in 2001.

Catriona Urquhart produces a ‘poetic text’ for the exhibition, originally intended to be printed onto gallery panels. However, Nicolas and Frances McDowall at the Old Stile Press are so impressed by the poems, that they publish them to coincide with the opening. Titled The Mare’s Tale, the edition is illustrated with pen and ink images that I make specially for it.

Tend: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

I’m invited to show two works from The Mare’s Tale series in the exhibition Dreaming Awake at the Terezin Memorial Gallery in the Czech Republic.


Deposition III. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

A second Mari Lwyd exhibition, The Tower on the Hill, opens at Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery, with all the drawings from The Mares’s Tale plus a handful of new works on the same theme. Among the new drawings is Deposition III, which is acquired by Nicolas and Frances McDowall of The Old Stile Press.


Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Collage made as a trial image for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus.

Equus has continued to transfix audiences and actors over three decades, and diverse productions of it have been staged in countries around the world. Finally a major London revival of the play appears when Thea Sharrock’s production opens at the Gielgud Theatre with Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe as Dysart and Strang. A performance is attended by Callum James, who has seen my drawing Deposition III while staying with Nicolas and Frances McDowall at their home in Wales. Later that weekend Callum meets with Nicolas at a London book fair, and whispers the words ‘Equus‘ and ‘Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ in his ear. Nicolas approaches me with the notion of making an illustrated edition of Equus. Permissions are sought and agreed with the author and Penguin Books. After a trial image made from collage, I begin work by making a series of preparatory maquettes before starting on some drawings.

Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Maquette made in preparation for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus.

Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Preparatory drawings for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus. Conté pencil and acrylic on paper.


Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Images for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus.

The Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus is launched at the London Art Book Fair. Simon Callow, who has been playing Dysart in the national tour of Equus, turns up at the event to lend his support. His insights into the text have been fundamental to the way I’ve approached it.


Above: Both Fall. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper. Collection of Simon Callow.

My sixtieth birthday retrospective opens at the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales. The National Museum of Wales, Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery and private collectors from across Wales lend works for the exhibition, and for the first time since 2002, all the large Mari Lwyd drawings are assembled in one place.

Above: the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales, 2011.

Lund Humpphries publish a monograph of my work to coincide with the retrospective, with an introduction by Simon Callow in which he describes that it was a drawing from the Mare’s Tale series seen in a Bath art gallery, that led him to seek me out. A Mari Lwyd drawing from his own collection hangs in the gallery.


I’m approached by Isabelle De Cat, picture editor at Penguin, who asks permission to use an image of one of my maquettes on the cover of the play, due to be re-editioned in new livery by Penguin Modern Classics. The new Penguin edition will be available in mid-2013, forty years after I first saw and fell in love with Equus at the Old Vic.

the penguin modern classics cover

I fear I had to make you all wait for this, but here it is at last.

It’ll be a little while yet before the book is available for purchase, as it’s not due out until mid 2013. The maquette is currently in Saint Helier, on show in a display-case at the Jersey Arts Centre.

Last year it starred in a documentary by the film-maker Pete Telfer, in which some maquettes went through their paces in short animated clips. The clips were really just a light-hearted way of illustrating the range of movement the maquettes are capable of. In reality they get blu-tacked to a wall of my studio, and I change their arrangements almost daily. I’d often said that if someone took daily photographs of the ‘maquette wall ‘, then after a year there would be an interesting animated film to show for it.

equus: what you didn’t see!

The process of illustration involves creating plenty of images that will never make it through into the final book. On Equus this was truer than on any other Old Stile Press project I’ve worked on. As we approach the first anniversary of the publication of the book, I’ve been sorting through the box-files of drawings set aside at the time I completed the project and was clearing the decks ready for the next one. Here are a few of the drawings for illustrations that were abandoned, or else evolved into something quite different.

There’s a conversation in the play between Alan’s mother Dora, and Dysart the psychiatrist:

Dora And then I remember I used to tell him a funny thing about falling off horses. Did you know that when Christian cavalry first appeared in the New World, the pagans thought horse and rider were one person?

Dysart Really?

Dora Actually they thought it must be a god. It was only when the rider fell off, they realised the truth.

My first thought was to illustrate the episode, and I started with the notion that the image might show the bones of both the horse and rider, as though the ‘pagans’, on realising that here was a mortal enemy and not a god, had killed both where they had fallen. I started with some drawings of a horse skeleton.

Then I added in the fallen conquistador. Suddenly the drawing was  looking as though it might need to be full page.

At this point I began to realise that although I liked the image a lot, it might be getting too specific for what I felt should be the general feel of the book. So I decided to jettison it, though not before making this detailed study of the fallen man.

In another scene Alan’s father Frank reveals how he spied on his son through an opening in the boy’s bedroom door late one night. He tells of watching as Alan fitted a makeshift horse-bit made from string into his mouth, and then proceeded to beat himself viciously with a coat hanger. The drawings I made were initially explicit in a way that the play in performance could not be. This was at a stage that I was toying with the idea of never showing Alan’s face in the book.

This approach was abandoned, and the illustration eventually appeared in a sexually frank, though less explicit drawing, for which the image below was one of the studies.

And here a drawing in which I attempted to get into Alan’s nightmares after the horse-stabbing incident. I never pursued this idea as it seemed immediately clear to me that there was too much information in the image.

There were literally hundreds of Equus drawings made during my year on the project, of which these are just a handful. Some may evolve into paintings one day, but most are just remnants of a process of work. It’s interesting looking back at the ideas that were abandoned. There were any number of ways that the book could have been done, and I explored various possibilities for as long as I could, given the need to have Equus in readiness for its launch at the 2009 London Art Book Fair.

With a painting there can always be more than one version and I frequently return to the same subject to try it again in another way. For example, I’ve painted three quite different versions of the Annunciation. But this was my only crack at an illustrated edition of  Shaffer’s play about the boy who blinded horses. There’s no returning to it to have another go, something I’m regularly haunted by in the matter of making books. What Nicolas and Frances produced at the Old Stile Press is it. I still enjoy looking at their creation in its ingenious folding slipcase, though it will be forever my nature to ponder ‘What if?’

the boy and his horse

This work dating from 2004 shows that long before I was booked to do the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Sir Peter Shaffer’s play Equus, I was drifting toward the subject matter of  man and horse. In the year it was made the painting was shown and sold at my exhibition Prospects of Wales at the Martin Tinney Gallery, but the owners have generously agreed to loan it to the National Library of Wales for my retrospective next year.

The buildings in the background are those of Big Pit at Blaenavon. The construction at right is the headframe containing the winding apparatus.

first equus sketchbook

The first steps toward the creation of any book can be difficult to take. The material, no matter how inspiring, will not have been digested. With Equus my initial scribblings were all in a single, small sketchbook. Given the way the edition turned out, it’s interesting to look back and see how many of the initial impressions made it through to the final work. These are very rough drawings… aesthetic wasn’t a consideration at this stage… so be forgiving as you view them.

The collage at the top of this post is not from the sketchbook, but was a ‘mood’ piece made immediately after the sketchbook had been finished. A first attempt to imagine how I wanted the book’s images to appear stylistically. It was made from monotypes I’d printed specifically for the purpose,  snipped and pasted into an equine death’s-head with bridle, bit and reins. The images as they eventually evolved for the book were drawn rather than made from collage, but I strove to reproduce a comparable quality of dense texture by using bristle brushes and sgraffito in addition to steel nibs and glass pens for the ‘line’ elements.

equus maquette

This is the first maquette I made for Equus, though I didn’t use it for any of the illustrations. It was an experiment. The jointing is quite complicated and I spent a lot of time on the textures, using monoprint and collage for the clothes and acrylic and Conté pencil for the head.  Maybe it’ll come in handy for a project one day, but in the meantime I just play with it. You can click on the large image to see  it in detail.

new year in wales

This disreputable looking creature caked with mud is Pip, who lives here as our guest. Throughout last year she was a marvellously tolerant model throughout my preparations for Equus. (The images in the book are not of her, but she served as the source of all the anatomical details.) She patiently allowed me to investigate the under-parts of her hooves, looked only mildly astonished when I curled back her lips to examine her teeth and gums and stood patiently and companionably while I sketched and doodled sitting cross-legged at her feet.

Last night after midnight I slipped out into a world startlingly bright with moonlight, the apple trees casting shadows as strong and as sharp as if it were a midsummer’s day. Pip wound her way across the paddock, her hooves splintering the turf with icy crackles. I had a pocket full of carrots for her.  She’s a bossy one, but after she’d frisked me thoroughly to make sure I had nothing more cached away in the depths of my coat, she tucked her great head into my neck, breathed a damp gust of sweet breath into my ear and dozed off!

This morning I opened the sitting-room shutters to find the garden and the valley beyond a sparkling white sea of hard frost.  The pheasants appeared from the shrubbery to demand their breakfast of nuts and seeds. No painting done today… even though I should be up there in the studio working… but time  spent instead in the good company of family and friends. Happy New Year to all of you from Wales.