The Boy and the Wolf by Callum James

Callum James wrote his beautiful poem, The Boy and the Wolf, in response to paintings I’d made on the theme of Saint Hervé. In the way of these things, after I read the poem, I began painting again. Now the paintings are inspired by Callum’s poem.

The Boy and the Wolf

I. Hervé is Born.

Born in November
in the short days:
born leaning against
the slanting rain:
born from a frozen prayer
to a bleak God.
Knitted in solitude
in a womb
pricked by a vow and
surprised into swelling.

II. Hervé’s First Sight.

Pushing aside dark earth,
a milk-film
over his eyes:
this small stone of a boy
ate dirt, while the
glory danced white
on blank, black retinas.

III. Hervé Learns About the World.

Grasses by their hissing
and sharp cuts:
fur by its musk
and static crackle:
snowdrops by their tinkling
on his fingertips;
the world attacked him,
was a lightning strike
inside his chest.

IV. Hervé Has Visions.

And in his twilight
a light more sumptuous
seeped in;
a bending tree and he
was fighting dragons,
the broken sun on
rough-topped rivers
and he was rich in diamonds,
smiling mad.
He fell to pray
before the hilltop shepherd
who flexed an angel’s wings:
a cloak that rippled
threadbare in the wind.

V. Hervé Sees The Wolf.

He saw,
the day The Wolf came,
he saw the threat
and the salvation.
He saw the shape of undergrowth:
thicket-dark, triangular,
he saw a head
the shape of a snarl
in heated breath.

VI. Hervé’s Dog is Killed By The Wolf.

What did he see
in the smell of hot-iron
from the slaughtered dog?
What bright colours,
what beauty was in his hands
slipping through
spilled intestines?
What overwhelming, pungent
touch of heaven came?

VII. The Wolf Attacks Hervé.

And The Wolf turned
with the world
around the boy
and teeth the temperature
of ice pushed through skin:
here where the heavy pelt,
muscle-packed, pressed
the boy and his skin tore
breaking the line of holiness
that runs around a saint.

VIII. Hervé Redeems The Wolf.

A blinding alleluia of light
as from the boy
love tumbled,
burst like river-diamonds,
mingling with The
Wolf’s breath,
flooding the grasses, fur,
the snowdrops,
heating the prayer
that made him.

IX. Hervé and The Wolf Together.

That moment hung,
a stopped raindrop,
a never falling leaf
within his soul: quivering.
It abided there.
The Wolf abided
at the centre of him.

X. Hervé Prays

Unable to contain it
all inside, the boy
began to howl;
a voice of red and gold,
a passion, sung like petals
spewing, uncontrollable
from God’s own lips,
and everything that heard him
leaned and swayed
and healed a little
as he lay his head
forever
on the shoulder of The Wolf.

Skin/Skóra: Miszek and his beasts

Misz and I have been talking tattoos. Some years ago he and I talked about making a tattoo for him based on my explorations of Hervé and the Wolf. Somehow we never finished those conversations. But here we are, a few years on, getting down to the business in earnest.

  • Clive: Misz, have you had a moment to think any more about your tattoo? I’d like to get the creative process started. No rush, but have it in mind.
  • Misz: Of course I have. I even printed the pictures and cut them out and started sticking them to random parts of my body (such fun!). Till saturday I’m just swamped in wool and orders so I’ll try writing something sensible during the weekend. I love the wolf – it’s exactly what I dreamt of and it hasn’t changed. Please give me couple more days
  • Clive: OK. Well bear in mind that however you think you’d like it, I’ll be re-drawing and if need be recreating the wolf for you. (I need to render it on paper to get in the shadings and detail for the tattooist.) I’d be interested in seeing any photos that explain what you have in mind. This is after all a ‘bespoke’ tattoo, and can be exactly created and fitted to your wishes. (and your body) Take your time. No rush. I just wanted to reassure myself that you were ‘on the case’. (-;
  • Misz: I’ve been carrying the wolves in my head for the past few days. I think I want two animals. May I?
    I want a wolf and a bear on my shoulders (there’s a picture of a guy with swallows tattooed on his shouders attached so you know where exactly).

  • I’d like them both to be inscribed in a 2-3″ big circle (not exactly a circle but a roundish shape so they both correspond somehow).
    A) the bear could be a sleeping bear but I’m not sure if the sleeping bear wouldn’t just appear as a furry ball – what d’u think?
    B) the wolf – the wolves you sent me are superb – the sitting one has the right shape…

  • …and the cuddly one has a perfect face expression – I love the way he presses his head against Hervé –

  • I’d like to keep that – as if the wolf was trying to comfort or simply just drag you to the woods to have some fun. I’d like to keep the colours- all shades of blue.

I began making a drawing of a wolf to sit on Misz’ right shoulder, using the crouching, ‘tail up’ position of the maquette image I’d e-mailed him that he’d indicated he’d liked, though I changed the position of tail to run down the front of his arm.

He wrote back to me. Misio Nuna and Fisia are his dogs:

  • Misz: I’ve spent hours thinking of the tattoo today.
    The shape you drew is perfect for perfect shoulders. Mine are human :—) and I know that the wolf is walking in a sneaky manner, but for a second I saw Misio Nunu or Fisia!

  • Misz: I’d like the animals to be inscribed in a circle (the outer outline) as much as possible so I thought of round shapes of the wolf and the bear – maybe a sleeping wolf and a mischievous fat bear. Your wolf with huge paws is perfect – he could serve as my bear (just cut the legs short. :—)

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Misz has given me a big headache here, to create the likenesses of two mammalian species that must be contained within roundels. With no irregular outlines to emphasise their differences, e.g. the long, brush tail of the wolf against the stubby tail of a bear, they could end up looking like two balls of fur. Perhaps he will allow some latitude with the shapes, or I may be able to create negative shapes within the roundels that help better ‘form’ the animals. Misz has sent a reference of his dogs curled up asleep. To me they just look like a pair of charred kidneys

Time to wedge my thinking cap securely down and to start being creative. This is clearly my challenge of the weekend. I’m off to research medieval misericords, which often contained animals within roundels. Perhaps there will be some solutions or inspirations there.

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This morning’s update from Misz:

  • Misz: Important message:
    Only the main shape has to be round
    there might be bits sticking out – like tails or other parts!
    Off to the workshop – there’s a headless bear waiting for me there
    Good Saturday C
  • Clive: Oh, good. That will help. Excellent. I better understand now. Thank you my little furry friend. (-;

Borderlands V: Night Beast

 

Yesterday I finished the second of the two new works made for The Discerning Eye exhibition, opening at the Mall Galleries next month. A drawing was made a few months ago, but illustrator Judy Watson prevailed on me to leave it as it was, rather than obscure it with paint. That effectively stayed my hand. However, I returned to it and used a part of it for the new work, Borderlands V: Night Beast.

The original drawing remains. I did as Judy bid!

Borderlands VI: Blue Embrace

Above: detail from Borderlands VI: Blue Embrace

Earlier this year I produced a series of Borderlands paintings that were based on the village model I made for filmed sequences of The Mare’s Tale, a commissioned work for chamber-ensemble and one actor by composer Mark Bowden and librettist Damian Walford Davies. The chamber-work was initially inspired, as the title suggests, by my Mari Lwyd-themed sequence of works. Footage of the model was projected onto the stage during the performance.

 

Here is the model…

… and here, one of the paintings I later made of it

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Now I’m using the landscape of the model juxtaposed with another of my regular narrative themes, that of the blind saint, Hervé, with the wolf who became his lifelong companion after slaying his dog. Although not celebrated in Wales, the birthplace of both his parents, Hervé is popular in Brittany, where his feast day of June 17th is celebrated, and a fountain (well) that bears his name at his chapel at Gourin, continues as a place of pilgrimage for those who bring sick animals to be cured. This new piece, plus four of the Borderlands landscape paintings, is for The Discerning Eye exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London, opening next month, in which I was invited by selector Simon Martin to show six works.

on the studio walls: part 1

My studio walls are densely papered with sketches that I’ve blu-tacked onto them over the years. Scraps flutter and seethe when the windows are open and the wind blows through. Projects once current lie under the many that came later, so the walls have become layered repositories of the raw materials used to produce myriad paintings, exhibitions and illustrations.

I rarely take anything down, but just add more over the top. Today I took a turn around the space with my camera, and snapped away. I found plenty that took me by surprise, dislodging memories of finished works long vanished out into the world. Nearly all of the drawings are small, no more than a few inches square, and each one was stuck to the wall at a time when it was needed as fuel for endeavour at the easel or work-table. Here are the young warriors and green knights, the bruised boys and their beasts, the enigmatic angels and the anchorites, the sideways-slipping still-lifes, the simplified landscapes and the cut-outs I sometimes make to try out new shapes or notions in compositions before committing to changes made with paint. They were never intended to be seen by anyone but me. They are my laboratory.

Gawain and the Green Knight

Study for the cover of Marly Youmans’ novel Val/Orson

Still-life

Hervé and the wolf

My father

Peter Shaffer’s Equus

Marly Youmans’ Thaliad

Cut-out shapes

Jack

Landscape and building

Barnfield’s The Affectionate Shepherd

L’histoire du soldat

The beautiful boys

 

Part 2 follows soon

sometimes the best stuff is in the comment-boxes

Blue Hervé. Acrylic and pencil on board. 2014

Enquiries to the Martin Tinney Gallery

The following comments (and my replies) are from a post I made back in January on completing the work titled Blue Hervé. This is the kind of dialogue I find really gets my creative juices flowing. I’ve illustrated today’s post with images of the work in process, from the maquettes to the daily progress on the easel. (The sharp-eyed will notice that I changed the head of the maquette part-way into the process.) I thank Jacqui Hicks, Marly Youmans, Phil Cooper, Jeffery Beam and Rebecca Verity for being such stimulating and supportive company at the Artlog.

Jacqui Hicks: Ah textures… I love those textures Clive, the suit, the t-shirt, the wolf’s fur; when you are painting clothing do you imagine the texture of a specific fabric or is it more the fall and folds that inspire?

Clive H-J: Both, really. It wouldn’t do were I to capture too specific a texture if the finished result distracted from the overall idea, so I tend to think of surfaces as patterning.

In this image I began to see the wolf’s fur as the eddies apparent on the surface of water, and that was fine, because it added another layer of possibilities to the piece. Moreover it took me down a different route to THIS image, where I thought of the fur almost as a cursive language that was a secret repository of wolfish knowledge.

My work on this theme tends toward the hieratic, and so lacking the kinetic in obvious terms, I place falling leaves to conjure restlessness. They also help the viewer to know how it is to be blind Hervé in that moment, with the sense of displaced air as the leaves pass, and the cold vulnerability of exposed skin in the presence of rough fur and sharp teeth.

So many things to be thinking about as a painting like this comes together, and I rarely capture all the thoughts buzzing through my head. And so I make another, and another, and another…

… and so it goes on.

Marly Youmans: The ‘cursive’ fur made me think of Diana Wynne Jones’s “Spellcoats.”

Strange kiss: teeth and neck.

I was thinking about how this story relates (in some odd fashion) to your love of the Staffordshire outsize dog-with-child figures. (And perhaps they dimly relate to the original mystic semi-encounter with the hooded man and his giant dog/wolf, when Jack was a mere puppy-child.)

Phil Cooper: I’d snatched a couple of peeks at this painting on my iPad in breaks at work this afternoon, taking in bits at a time; it’s grown on me over the day and now I’m looking at it on the big screen at home I’m completely smitten, it is really mesmerising me. I love the silvery whites cutting through the richness of the reds and blues, the wildness of the wolf with the tenderness coming through, Herve’s delicate expression, the planes and shapes running round the picture, the shadow across the wolf’s hindquarters, I’m astonished, it’s brilliant.

Clive H-J: You express thoughts so poetically that I think we’re completely in tune on this, on what I’ve tried to express and what you feel. As is ever the way, I see only the failings and the lack, and feel sharply how I might have made it better. But then it’s these feelings, no matter how painful, that spur me on to the next. There always has to be another, to make up for the deficiencies of the last.

Thank you, Phil.

Phil Cooper: I do identify with what you write about how you feel about your work Clive – maybe, as you say, it’s better it were thus as it spurs us on to making more work and striving for new heights. But in this case of this painting, gosh, you’ve created something of real power. That hand grazing the foreleg is the clincher for me, so soft but it’s like lightning!

Clive H-J: Lightning! Yes, I like that description. Thank you Phil. Lightning it is then.

Jeffery Beam: I love the sense of floating, suspension in this. The falling (in love?) and the contrast of the red (oxblood red) and the blues made even richer by the little bit of grey, and the black. Also that the Wolf looks straight at us while Hervé bends away with eyes closed, but not in fear it seems, but in transformation. The missing shoe, as mentioned above, Hervé’s shirt lifting up showing belly. All so tender and deeply felt. I’ve enjoyed watching the progress of this piece. Bravo as always wise and masterly Clive.

Clive H-J: No, not wise… or not wise enough… and far from masterly. But I aspire with each day at the easel to both those things, and doomed to failure though I must be, I still keep trying.

I’m glad that you see so much in it that moves you. It is deeply felt. I’m always moved by this tale, and never tire of it. Each time at the easel I feel as though I discover it anew, and fear I’ll never do it justice, no matter how many times I paint it.

Thank you for writing so beautifully about it, Jeffery.

Rebecca Verity: There is always something about each of your paintings that really gets me thinking. Often I can go online and research the story and learn something new, but today I will spend all day thinking about that missing shoe…

What action/adventure happened just before the moment of the painting that made him drop it? Where is he going next and how willl he get there with one bare foot?

Or maybe they’re just lying in a field together and he merely kicked off a shoe to feel the sunlight on his toes, and the other shoe will be kicked off in a moment.

I will never know, and so I will always wonder.

Clive H-J: Well I can see, Rebecca, that you recognise there have to be mysteries, and so I shall add nothing to distract from your own musings. A painting should be like life: lots of peculiarities that are unexplained and will most likely remain that way. But just so that you know, there are always reasons behind the oddities in my paintings, though I try to avoid being pinned down about them. (I recall the art historian who kept insisting that there must be a symbolic reason for the red horse in Green George, and how put out he became when I refused to oblige him with an explanation.)

However, if you’re interested in the back story of why I constantly return to the subject of the blind boy and his beast, then read THIS.