In Birdland

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Peter Wakelin will be interviewing Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the 29th September, 19:00 – 20:15. The first in a planned series of online art interviews organised by the Contemporary Art Society for Wales, admission to In Birdland is free. There are 100 places available for the live event which may be viewed around the world, though registration is required.

Click HERE to register.

About this Event

While caged at home for lockdown, Clive Hicks-Jenkins has surrounded himself with birds. His projects have included his miniature picture-book Bird House for Design for Today, a new print of birds and beasts for the Penfold Press and illustrations for Simon Armitage’s translation of the medieval poem The Owl and the Nightingale, forthcoming from Faber & Faber. Birds have appeared often in Clive’s paintings, notably his series on St Kevin and the Blackbird and CASW’s The Virgin of the Goldfinches in Llandaff Cathedral. In this live interview he will talk about how birds weave their way through so much of his work, his inspirations and practices and his collaboration with the Poet Laureate. There will be time allowed at the end for audience questions.

Above: Illustration from Simon Armitage’s The Owl and the Nightingale

Below: St Kevin and the Sunflowers. Private Collection

Below: Startled Peacocks: Private Collection

Below: Illustration from Bird House, due out from Design for Today in November

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The Dragon Princess

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The 2019 English Heritage Story-Telling Competition

In 2019, while I was artist-in-residence for English Heritage, one of the briefs suggested to me was that I might create illustrations as prizes for the winners of the five categories of an English Heritage story telling competition. It was a new experience to consider, inasmuch that I’d have to agree to be involved from the start so that the announcement could be made at the launch of the competition. This meant that I’d be committed to the project before getting to read any of the stories, which is not my usual way of working. But because I thought the idea had the potential to be stimulating for the young writers, I accepted.

The 5-7 category winner was Sophie from the Midlands with her story of The Dragon and the Princess, set at Kenilworth Castle. Most of the stories submitted for the five categories were based on history, but Sophie had written one in which she had a protagonist who appeared to be channeling her inner Daenerys Targaryen – though without the attendant carnage.

I thought the story charming, and believed I could contribute something to it. In an ideal world I would have enjoyed having dialogues with the winners so that I could exchange ideas with them and have a sense of what they wanted for their stories, the way I would when illustrating a commercial publication. But this was deemed by English Heritage to be too complicated, and so I worked using only the winning texts as my guides and inspirations.

Below: developmental drawings toward the illustration for The Dragon and the Princess:

There were so many directions I could have taken with the illustration, and it felt limiting to produce only one when I could see so many possibilities. (I loved the idea that Perdita ‘torched’ the castle before setting off for her new life with Dennis, presumably so that there was no chance of her being forced to return!)

All five illustrations for the competition winners were started and completed during lockdown, framed and then collected by a specialised art-carrying service that delivered them to the recipients. There was no contact between any of us. But then quite unexpectedly Sophie’s mother messaged me at Facebook.

“Hi Clive, I’m the mum of one of the English Heritage short story winners that has received your wonderful Illustration of her story. She is absolutely thrilled with it – you have bought her story to life and she couldn’t be happier! Thank you so much for a wonderful bit of art that will stay with my daughter – and with us as a family – for ever!”

Later she added:

Sophie would love to see the process you took, as would we. Her headteacher is very excited to see the illustration too, and so it is going into school on Monday to be shown in a full school assembly, albeit via Zoom ‘beamed’ into each classroom, but the excitement is still valid!

Above: Sophie, the Age 5 -7 Category Winner of the English Heritage Storytelling Competition, with her prize of an illustration of Dennis the Dragon and Princess Perdita.

The Dragon and the Princess

Once upon a time, a king called Titon lived in Kenilworth Castle. The knights of the castle were fearless, the guards were strong, and the castle was expertly built. The king wanted it this way because of his big secret: his daughter, Princess Perdita. King Titon loved Perdita so much that he would have kept her in a little jewellery box if he could have! But he did not realise that this was bad for Perdita. She was lonely because her father wouldn’t let her do anything. 

One day a fierce dragon by the name of Dennis came to the castle. He breathed out fire in rage as if he were in a terrible tantrum. Everyone in the castle was scared so the knights and guards started to fight Dennis. They fired arrows at him and tried to cut him with their swords, but Dennis was too strong and too fast. What they didn’t know was that Dennis was only angry because everyone he met was scared of him and he was sad because he was friendless. 

The last few knights and guards fled, and they took the king with them. When they came to take Perdita too, she hid from the guards in a wardrobe. Princess Perdita looked out of the window and saw the last few guards and her father leave. She knew what it felt like to be lonely and understood Dennis’s feelings, so she ran downstairs and outside to meet him. Dennis went up to her, but he wasn’t angry anymore. 

Princess Perdita bravely walked right up close and looked straight at him. “Hello, I’m Perdita. Would you like to be my friend?” she asked. 

Dennis couldn’t believe his ears. “Yes, please!” he roared with a big smile on his face. “I’m Dennis. Pleased to meet you.” 

Then Princess Perdita had an idea. She asked Dennis if he could breathe fire over the whole castle because she didn’t want to be a princess anymore. She would rather be a dragon’s best friend and fly on his back all over the kingdom. Dennis was so happy to finally have a friend he agreed at once. And that is how Kenilworth Castle fell into ruins. 

Written in 2019 by Sophie, aged 7

(Sophie is now 8)

Reinventing Beauty

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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.

 

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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.”

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Conversations with Ed Carey: Part 1. the makers and how they make

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Writer Ed Carey and I have become fast friends since being put in contact with each other by Katherine Davey, editor of the These Our Monsters anthology of short stories for English Heritage.

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By way of preparing to make an illustration to accompany Ed’s contribution to These Our Monsters, I also acquired a copy of his novel of the French Revolution, Little, which I read at a headlong pitch and overnight became his biggest fan.

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In some ways the friendship is unlikely. Ed self-illustrates his published works and so his contact with other illustrators is limited. However he so liked the drawing accompanying his English Heritage story that he wrote asking whether he might have it, and so we arranged an exchange: he has my framed drawing of a goblin child above his desk, while I have his drawing of a maquette/puppet made for Little.

 

Below: my drawing for Ed’s story that loaned its title to the These Our Monsters anthology.

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Below: Ed built this life-sized maquette of a woman as preparation for his novel, Little. His original drawing of it that appears in the book, was the exchange made for my drawing of his goblin child.

 

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We met for the first time a few weeks ago at an event celebrating These Our Monsters at Hatchards, Piccadilly, and in order to extend our conversation without the distraction of a crowd, again the following morning, for coffee in Bloomsbury, just before he returned to the US and I to Wales.

Dan Bugg suggested that an eavesdropped conversation between me and Ed might offer interesting insights about our processes of producing new work. The projects we talk about are my in-progress print,  The Tiger’s Bride, and Ed’s forthcoming book, The Swallowed Man.

Ed: Hello, Clive in Wales!
 

Clive: Hello Ed in Texas!

Ed: Clive, I’ve known and loved your work for years and over the last few months it’s been an absolute privilege getting to know you and even, last week, finally meeting you. What a joy to sit with you and talk about the Lewis chessmen for example.

Clive: Ed, I thoroughly enjoyed our couple of hours in a tiny coffee shop off Gt Russell Street last week. Even though some of the current events we were discussing are horrifying and daunting, we told stories and made each other laugh a lot. One of the great pleasures of illustrating These Our Monsters for English Heritage has been the several good friends made in the process: you, Alison MacLeod and the editor Katherine Davey. I arrived fresh to your writing with the project, but as I’d simultaneously set myself to reading your mesmerising novel of the French Revolution, Little, my responses to your English Heritage short story were being deepened by the wider sense of your creativity.

Ed: You inspire my work and make me think in new ways – to communicate directly is such a wonderful thing for me. And so here we are separated by a  pandemic and yet, thankfully, still able to communicate. 

Clive: That’s a generous comment. Thank you. The admiration is mutual. The neccessity –  or so I find it to be – of a solitary life for a writer or artist, is undoubtedly isolating. (And you, Ed, are both!) We hole ourselves up like hibernating bears because we need clarity and silence to function. However I find the immediacy and creative buzz of being able to bat ideas across great distances with friends and colleagues undergoing the same processes, and in an instant, to be a great joy and solace to what can otherwise be dauntingly lonely. Whether as rich as a prolonged joint creative endeavour, or a humorous two-liner to kick-start the morning before bending to the day’s endeavours, as a man who lives at the-well-at-world’s-end, the swift correspondences of e-mail and messaging have been life-changing for me. The entire process of making fourteen Gawain prints with Dan at Penfold Press was carried out through the medium of daily messaging and the exchange of photos made on our smartphones. I could fire images to Dan of a drawn image on a sheet of lithography film and within minutes be correcting it according to his suggestions. It was almost as though we were in the same studio space. You and I have been showing our individual work projects to each other in e-mails, confident of safely sharing our efforts and misgivings with a creative ‘other’ who understands. It works wonderfully.

Ed: I’m wondering, to start with, what would you say makes a project a Clive Hicks-Jenkins project and what doesn’t? What are you looking for? 

Clive: Narrative. Whether obvious or not, whether culled from a source or invented, narrative is always what draws me in. I am an inveterate story teller, and that’s always been my foundation, certainly as an artist but even before that, as a choreographer and director. 

Ed: And, specifically, did The Tiger’s Bride come to you or you to it. How did this all start off?

Clive: It started with my life-long love of Staffordshire. The strangeness of it appeals to me. It’s a uniquely of-these-islands combination of folk-art/fairy-tale/dream-world weirdness that always satisfies/disturbs me. The sheep and dogs the size of ponies in comparison to the human figures accompanying them. The theatrical fancy-dress that makes it seem that the handsome men and pretty women are on a stage. The flowers and the often cloying sentimentality, the cottages and castles, the follies and exotic beasts, the bright colours on shining white and the sense of sort-of-familiar yet elusive storytelling being played out on a mantelpiece. Every time I see a doll-like child perched on a monster-sized spaniel or pug, I think about the dog with ‘eyes the size of mill-stones’ in The Tinderbox. Then there are the Staffordshire ‘murder cottages’ and the penny-dreadful tendency to celebrate awful events, most notoriously the escaped tiger with a limp baby dangling from its jaws striding over the prone body of the mother from whose arms the child has been torn. My first print with Penfold took inspiration from the Staffordshire version of Tipu’s Tiger, in which a beast mouths at a slain man in a uniform. The child-like brightness coupled with horror is unlikely and yet compelling. 

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The Staffordshire group titled The Death of the Lion Queen had long been catching my eye, and finally I took the moment to begin researching the story on which it was based. I couldn’t shake it. It lingered, took root and I was away.

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I like a long-term project. Gawain had been a nearly three year project. It wasn’t what I worked solely on, except during the last six months when Dan and I had to row like galley-slaves to get it to the finishing line in time to meet the Faber & Faber deadlines and the commitment to the Martin Tinney Gallery for the ‘completion’ exhibition. One of the pleasures of a dip-in&dip-out project is that it has the convenience of being easily set aside and yet ready to return to at the drop of a hat. It’s always simmering on the back-ring of the hob, never unappetisingly stone cold. All my projects tend to be worked on for long periods, and there are always several or even many on the go at any given moment. In the aftermath of Gawain I’d been compiling ideas for a print project that would combine several of my interests: vintage and folk art toys, Staffordshire figure groups, historic circus/fairground traditions and my fascination for toy-like buildings, whether Staffordshire follies and cottages, wooden building-blocks, doll’s houses or the foil and tinsel souvenir cathedrals produced in the city of Krakow. Somehow all this began to tie together with the notion of unspecified fairy stories, and New Folktales was born. The Tiger’s Bride is my riff on Beauty and the Beast, though I didn’t want that title anywhere near it. Angela Carter provided the solution. Here’s a piece I posted at Insta about the event underlying the Staffordshire group titled The Death of the Lion Queen, which was my starting point for The Tiger’s Bride.
“This image draws on the tragedy of Ellen Bright, AKA The Lion Queen, who in 1850 at Wombwell’s Menagerie entered a cage of big cats for the entertainment of a paying audience expecting to be thrilled by the spectacle of a girl commanding ferocious beasts. At just seventeen years old, Ellen was celebrated though relatively inexperienced, and it may be that on the day her ambition outstripped her judgement, because a reliable eyewitness in the audience afterward observed that from the moment she entered the cage the tiger displayed unmistakeable aggression toward her. At a sting to its face from her whip, the animal lay down. Ellen turned her attention to the lions, but then – perhaps for good measure, or perhaps because at that moment she intuited the dangerous state of the beast – turned back and stung it for a second time with her whip in its face. The tiger rose, reared and lunged at her head, seizing her in its jaws and bringing her down. 

Ellen sustained catastrophic injuries to her lower jaw and throat, and according to a doctor who was in the audience and attended her after the attack, she died within minutes without recovering consciousness. So horrified were the public by the tragedy that thereafter the law was changed, forbidding women to enter cages with big cats for the purposes of entertainment.” 
Below: contemporary illustration reporting the death of Ellen Bright at Wombwell’s Menagerie:
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The Staffordshire pottery workshops quickly produced, or perhaps adapted, an existing ‘Lion Queen’ group in order to commemorate the event, adding the wording ‘Death of the Lion Queen’ to capitalise on the public interest. (Ellen was not the first Lion Queen, as there had been several who’d gone by that title before her.) I’ve referenced elements from several Staffordshire groups of a girl performing with big cats, but have gone my own way in expressing the subject.
Below: early study and final layout-drawing for the print.
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Ellen’s story is tragic, and not just because of how she died, but because large cats in 19th century menageries must have been driven insane by their ill-treatments and confinements. This piece is not about that – though the idea is running beneath it – but is an exploration of the fairytale theme of the beast/groom.
In the same way you’ve taken the novel of Pinocchio and used a lightly-touched-upon back story in it as the foundation of your new novel The Swallowed Man.
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Do you find that using an existing theme/story as the bedrock for a new telling is a good method of creativity for you? Which came first for you here, Jonah and the whale or Pinocchio’s dad/maker? (I feel Pinocchio might profitably be examined in comparison with other ‘man/woman-making’ stories/myths, including Frankenstein and Galatea/Pygmalion.)
 
Clive
Ty Isaf
20/03/20

Leaving

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I made images for what I couldn’t express in words.

 

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At Facebook my friend, artist Ian Whadcock, wrote briefly, simply, poignantly:

“A week of witnessing tears in conversation, voices broken with emotion and goodwill sapped by expectation.
Meanwhile, the parallel world of ambivalence, blind ideology and sheer selfishness, looks away in the belief it has nothing to do with them.
On a station platform, the kindest most unexpected words serve as a reminder that we are not alone.”

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The assemblages were made from objects that surround me at Ty Isaf. All things that I love and make me happy, and some that have strong associations because they were gifts from good friends. If the assemblages have a European quality to them, it’s because they’re mash-ups of British and European toys. I am, as a person and artist, a European. The two can’t be separated.

 

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The lettering for all four assemblages was originally created for the credit sequence of the 2013 animated film of The Soldier’s Tale I made to accompany a performance with orchestra at The Hay Festival. The tulips are also from the film.

The foil crèche in Europe Forever is Polish, and this type of work is particularly associated with the city of Krakow.

The small wooden buildings, trees and villagers are from the German toy-making region of Erzgebirge, as is the jaunty yellow carriage and horses in Forever Europe. The beautiful and tiny pull-along duck at the bottom of Rejoin, is also from the Erzebirge region, and came from Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop.

The white archways in Forever Europe and Rejoin were constructed from a beautiful boxed-set of vintage German building-blocks, the gift of my friend Mathijs van Soest.

The set had been played with by generations of children in Mathijs’ family, and he gave it to me with the message that he felt sure I’d use it well. I’ve endeavoured not to disappoint him. It’s appeared many times in animations and artworks, and in 2018 it toured the country in the music theatre work, Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, and afterwards featured in the endpapers of the published edition of Simon Armitage’s text.

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The two colourful wooden birds in Forever Europe are made by the artist Tadeush Shultz, whose work I discovered at the online shop specialising in Polish folk art, Frank & Lusia. The wooden birds in Rejoin were also sourced at Frank & Lusia, and are by one of my favourite ‘bird’ folk artists, ‘Zak’.

The toy theatre proscenium in Stronger Together was painted by me. The house between two lions is Ty Isaf, my home.

There are three tigers in the assemblages. One is Indian, a gift from my friend Stephen Weeks in Prague, another is a jigsaw-puzzle tiger given to me by my friends Charles and Mary, and the third is very tiny and you will have to search very hard to find it. It’s based on a famous Staffordshire group called The Death of Munrow, but made for a dolls-house. It was a gift from my friend Angela Beaumont, who knew I would love it because I’d made a print of the Staffordshire group with my friend Dan at Penfold Press.

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The assemblages feature a number of lead toys. The two rearing Liberty Horses from Britains’ circus range are favourites of mine. In Rejoin there are two lead horsemen: the soldier on a rocking horse is by the company Wend-al, while the mounted bugler in a red turban I think is by Britains, and was a gift from my friends Sarah and James. There are also figures from Britains’ farm range: a cow, a sheep, lambs and lots of chickens.

The two tinplate cockerels in Europe Forever are Russian.

There are two birds drawn by me: a blue bird in Europe Forever, and small multi-coloured one in Stronger Together and Rejoin, the latter one of three made for the cover-flaps of the soon to be published Charis in the World of Wonders by Marly Youmans.

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Refuge and Renewal: Migration and British Art

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Above:  a detail from ‘Miracle in the Internment Camp’, 1941 by Martin Bloch (1883–1954). Oil on canvas. © Martin Bloch Trust. Photo credit: Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge.

Refuge and Renewal: Migration and British Art

The Royal West of England Academy, Bristol
Sat, 14 Dec 2019 – Sun, 1 Mar 20 2020

The migration of creative individuals and groups has always been a source of innovation and cultural cross-fertilisation. The exhibition Refuge and Renewal curated by Dr Peter Wakelin, explores the work and stories artists who have found refuge in Britain during the past hundred and fifty years, escaping dispossession, torture, intellectual oppression or war. Their arrival frequently enriched art in Britain.

Following the isolation of most émigrés in the First World War, artists who escaped Nazism in the 1930s became part of art communities in places as far apart as Hampstead, Glasgow, Merthyr Tydfil, the Swansea valley and St Ives. Gabo and Mondrian influenced Nicholson, Hepworth and Lanyon, while younger artists were inspired by the radical ideas of Kurt Schwitters and John Heartfield and by the Expressionists Bloch, Herman, Kokoschka and Koppel. Lotte Reiniger brought innovations in animation and Bill Brandt and Felix H. Man showed the potential of documentary photography. Refugees have come since from China, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

The experiences of artist refugees have followed many patterns. Some stayed a short time and moved on, some made their lives in Britain, teaching, exhibiting and inspiring. In the 1940s, refugees contributed to the war effort and the defeat of fascism. The stories of later refugees’ contributions to British art are still unfolding.

Among others, there are works in the exhibition by: Camille Pissarro, Joan Eardley, Naum Gabo, Ben Nicholson, Humberto Gatica-Leyton, Mona Hatoum, Barbara Hepworth, Lotte Reiniger, Josef Herman, Samira Kitman, Josef Koudelka, Hanaa Malallah, Zory Shahrokhi, Kurt Schwitters and Walid Siti.

 About the curator:  Peter Wakelin is a writer and curator. He was formerly director of collections at the National Museum of Wales. He has contributed to Art Review, The Burlington Magazine, The Guardian and Modern Painters. His exhibitions have included Romanticism in the Welsh Landscape at MOMA Machynlleth, Four Painters in Raymond Williams’ Border Country at the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the 80th anniversary retrospective of the Contemporary Art Society for Wales. He lives near Aberystwyth.

 

Refuge and Renewal is a part of the 2019 Insiders/Outsiders nationwide arts festival celebrating refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture.

 

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A substantial book by Peter Wakelin, published by Sansom & Co. accompanies the exhibition and is available from the galley, by order from bookshops or direct from the publisher.

Conversations with Ursula

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I was one of three artists selected by Ursula as her ‘inspirations’ on her GSCE course. (The others were Degas and the sculptor Nic Fiddian-Green.) Questions and answers were through the medium of e-mails and came about when our mutual friend Christopher Hammond-Davies put us in touch. By the time we began writing Ursula had evidently done quite a lot of research on my work. Her questions were well-prepared and insightful and made me think quite hard about working practices developed over such a long period that I sometimes forget I had to invent them in order to be the artist I aspired to.
Ursula and I have never met. I didn’t include her own images here because I felt I should first seek her permission, something I have yet to do.
Dear Mr Hicks-Jenkins
I have attached some pieces of my work! The drawing is just a picture my mum thought had emotion. The others are some prints, landscapes and drawings of my ponies in the field.
Here are my questions. Thank you so much for letting me ask your these.
1) You often have horses in your compositions. I know from your Artlog that your grandfather was thought to have done rather romantic things with horses. What do they represent for you?

I think horses – and horse riding – represented freedom for me when, in so many other respects, my life was governed by the tyranny of dance classes and rehearsals. I loved my chosen work, but riding was a wonderful release from it.

I remember being on a horse – probably at my grandfather’s – before I remember walking. I always preferred riding without a saddle.
2) Are you a fearless rider?

I was, once, long ago. But at sixty-seven I no longer ride and I don’t have a horse, though I live in the countryside and have land and a stable.

However my time is so consumed with being an artist, that there’s not enough of it left for what it would take to keep a riding horse. Success brings all sorts of things in its wake but time is not one of them. My diary is packed with exhibition and illustration commitments. My husband, Peter, works too, as a curator, and it’s already a challenge, finding the time to do things together. He doesn’t ride, and so it’s not an activity we could share.

3) Your inspiration is often from myth. Your pictures tell stories, but they are full of emotion. Can you say how you get so much feeling in them?
Right, that’s a tough one. When I began painting I was always striving for technique and proficiency. Emotion wasn’t a part of the equation at that early stage. But then I began to notice that I only became fully engaged with a subject when it triggered an emotional response in me, and that response was more reliably to be found when I felt deeply about the idea behind the painting.
The starting point for me was still-life, and I began to make better still-life painting when I used items with family – and therefore emotional – connections .
So now I use that technique to invest all of my paintings with maximum emotional content. The viewers don’t have to know how I do it, or even recognise the elements. But for me, they have to be present.
4) Do you know what the result will be when you begin a picture?
Yes and no. The starting point of any composition will always be a series of rough drawings. I don’t worry at this stage about anything other than working out the mechanics, and the drawings are sometimes robust and confident, though sometimes quite fugitive and wispy. And I often make many of them. In them I’m feeling my way with three principal elements:
 
i) likenesses
ii)  shapes
ii) arrangements
By these I mean: 
i) how the objects/people/animals/places will look
ii) what shapes they will make
iii) how those shapes will be placed in relation to each other
My main concerns at this stage are composition and positive and negative space. Colour and tone come later.
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In these respects, the works are definitely ‘planned’, whether as easel paintings for a gallery or as illustrations. But when the business of painting begins – when the brushes and/or pencils get busy on the work itself – although I may have very strong ideas, often the image will start to go its own way. I’ve learned not to become too fixed on how the final work will shape up, because there have to be elements that surprise me and perhaps even carry it in an unexpected direction. When this happens I don’t try to force things back into where I think they should be going. I follow where the painting is leading me. If at the conclusion I believe that the painting is good, if not quite what I intended, then I’ll set it aside to come back and look at again later, when I can view it freshly. I may finish there, and go no further. 
Here’s an Artlog post about making a painting, start to finish. I didn’t use a maquette for this one, but relied on the memory of a man I’d glimpsed at a fish market. It was the ‘memory’ that was crucial. It helped me make the mood of the painting.
I find that if I have a really good subject, then I return to it over and over again, because there is no single, definitive way to depict an idea. I learned that from Picasso, who would paint a composition multiple times and each version was compelling as a stand alone image. But he’d make it over and over, and it would become a series, and the whole series was as satisfying as any of the individual paintings, drawings or prints.
5) Do you have ‘happy accidents’ when the paint seems to do it itself?

Yes. But I also ‘play’ a lot with materials. (Accidents, while great, can be useful tools if they can be repeated.) Each type of material requires a different skill-set and mastery, and playing helps me become practiced and fluent. Acrylic inks work in this way, oil paints in that. Primed canvas has these advantages, but gesso on board suits me better. Watercolour requires one set of disciplines, and acrylic tube-paint, another. This dry pastel fixes well, and this one changes colour when sprayed. The same pigment (colour) will behave differently in different brands of paint, because there are different versions of a pigment, some ’true’ and some ‘manufactured’. (The word ‘hue’ usually means a manufactured substitute of a natural pigment that may itself be too expensive. You have to read the information on the tubes really carefully.) I make up notebooks of working techniques and some of the earlier ones have been my companions for twenty years or more. You think you’ll remember everything, but you won’t. When something works well, I make a note on which brand and how the colour was mixed, or exactly which viscosity allowed for me to scratch through a layer of wet paint with the end of my brush. (A technique called sgraffito.) Materials are chemicals, and you need to understand how they work. I researched coloured pencils for over a year because I discovered that though it didn’t say so on the tins, most were wax-based while only a very few were wax and oil-based, and the latter were better because they didn’t ‘bloom’ when used heavily. Blooming happens when waxes mixed with the pigments manifest as a fine, white, disfiguring dust on the surface of the artwork. When it occurs some time after the work has been put under glass it’s as though white mould has set in. But the manufacturers are often not keen to show-and-tell what their products are made of, and so I had to extensively research to get the information I required, and that took determination. I phoned around the companies tracking down people who would talk to me and eventually I found the perfect coloured pencil brand for my purposes. (Faber-Castell Polychromos.) On another occasion I was dissatisfied with the way shellac-based aerosol fixatives affected the surfaces of my works in dry pastel, so researched until I found a casein-based product that came in pump activated misting dispensers. Sometimes being an artist requires the perspicacity and insight of a Hercule Poirot! 

Of course none of this matters a fig to the man or woman standing in the gallery looking at the work. But the knowledge is a big part of my discipline as a painter, because it enables me to be better at what I make across many disciplines of media. When I have an idea it’s reassuring that I can pick and choose exactly how I might go about making it a reality.  

6) Do you sometimes struggle to get the right gestures in horses and humans? I like that you prefer Stubb’s observations over Munnings’ photorealism.

Yes, I do struggle. This is where maquettes come into play for me. They help with that. But I think too that I should explain my attitude toward the life model. I like having a life model from time to time. It’s a great discipline. But I never make finished paintings directly from models because I’m not looking for those levels of reality. I make life studies for eye-to hand practice, and for information. But after the model has gone, I use the studies done from the model to make maquettes, and it’s those I use to make my compositional sketches. The maquettes free me from all sorts of levels of distraction that come with the life model. 

With the model I’m so busy looking and representing that I can’t focus on what I have in my head for a painting. The maquettes help free me of those distractions, and they help me better find what I’m searching for. In an entirely practical way, they focus me. 

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7) Do you think you need specific talents to be an artist, such as drawing, or is it enough to want to make things?

My methods are particular to my experience. I came to art very late. I was having a mid-life crisis when at forty I began painting, and because of my circumstances (I had to make a living) I didn’t go to art school as a mature student. I am self-taught. To begin with I taught myself in in an academic manner, by observation and painting from life. I improved my drawing. I taught myself by practice, landscape, still life and figure painting, and from books I learned perspective and colour theory. 

It was a long process, and I was still learning when I began to exhibit. But then, as I became more fluent in my disciplines, I realise that wasn’t the kind of artist I wanted to be. I wanted a more visceral, more ‘felt’ approach in my painting. I preferred the art of the early Renaissance, before the rules of perspective had been set. I liked the awkwardness when things looked slightly wrong. I loved ‘outsider’ art. And so I began inventing methods to pull myself away from academic discipline, evolving a practice of working with substitutes: wooden building blocks, constructed paper landscapes, found objects and maquettes. It was like learning the theoretic rules of music, before beginning to deconstruct. So the route was not straight forward, and I can’t say whether it would be right for anyone else. But it was right for me. In retrospect, though I can’t know what may have been had things been otherwise, from where I stand now I am very, very glad that I didn’t start painting earlier in my life, and that I didn’t go to art school. I think I would have been a quite different artist had I done so, and not necessarily a better one. It has been quite a lonely journey, but a really focussed one. I enjoy the challenges of finding solutions to my own problems.
Maquettes of Gawain and his horse Gringolet made in preparation for work on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
I do believe that drawing is the heart of everything. But not necessarily academic drawing. Expressive drawing is the thing I admire and am moved by, and that can be many things. Awkward, clumsy, questing, delicate, unsure or rough as hell, drawing is the heart and soul, and to do it well, you need to be in touch with your heart. It’s not just about looking, it’s about feeling.

8) I really enjoyed working with a horse made of individual paper pieces, an idea borrowed from your Gawain and Gringolet. Do you develop an idea using a range of techniques in an organised way, or is it different every time?

 

Maquette of Gringolet under construction. I work in paper when creating the pattern, and then transfer to more robust card that I can work on in paint and pencils.

I takes time to build maquettes, and I’m always looking for different outcomes and improvements. The earliest ones were utterly simple and they served me well. Now they’re much more complex because I’m always looking to make them more flexible and articulate. These days there are all sorts of things going on behind them. Sliding bars and swivel joints allow me to reconfigure the maquettes so as to be more useful as compositional tools. Essential pivot points are no longer fixed, but can move around. Where once I had a half dozen maquettes, I now have many, boxes and boxes of them, ranging through animals, mythic beasts, saints, angels and knights in armour. I make new ones for every project. They’re my actors.

 

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Moreover sometimes they become tools for other disciplines, and over the past years I’ve used sets of maquettes to produce animated films.

 

 

An animated film to accompany orchestras playing Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, is performed all over the world, and more recently, I used shadow-puppet maquette sequences in the Goldfield Ensemble production of Hansel & Gretel.

 

But inspiration can come from many places. I have a particular love of German Expressionist cinema, and that too spilled over into Hansel & Gretel:
(I add these into my answers, because for me being an artist embraces many disciplines, including those of stage director and designer.)
Right, I think that’s it. But I’ll happily expand if there’s anything I haven’t answered clearly enough. Just tell me what you want. And I have yet to make a list of outsider artists for you, but I promise I will.
Very Best
Clive

Hans Poelzig’s and Marlene Moeschke’s work on Paul Wegener’s 1920 film of ‘The Golem’

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I’ve long held a passion for Paul Wegener’s 1920 film of The Golem, based on the Jewish legend of the biddable man made by Rabbi Loew out of clay. (Though of course things don’t go quite as intended and the creature conjured into life develops a mind of its own.)

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Wegener recruited architect Hans Poelzig as set designer for what would turn out to be the most extraordinary depiction of a Jewish ghetto made in the style that’s now described as ‘Plastic Expressionism’ after the modelled shapes and textured surfaces of the sets, as opposed to the previous ‘German Expressionism’ used by historian’s for films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in which the sets were flat surface constructions with all elements, from the skewed architecture to the angled shadows and shafts of light, painted onto them.

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Poelzig’s atmospheric sketches from his Golem project-book were translated into a Prague Ghetto of perspective-defying labyrinthine streets, alleyways and courtyards where high gables and witch’s hat rooftops twist out of true over buildings that slouch and slump under the weight. Wegener filled it with roiling rivers of extras in a horrifying crush of humanity and it’s hard to believe the crammed effects were achieved with any degree of safety for the participants.

 

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Below: a meandering street of the Jewish ghetto seen here under construction. As the director’s fixed position cameras would be set up to film from carefully selected angles, the buildings could be created as thin facades over scaffolds.

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Below: this image demonstrates the wonderful textures of plasterwork on the sets for The Golem as carried out by the UFA scenic department.

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For the interiors Poelzig turned to a sculptor – and later wife – Marlene Moeschke, who shaped rooms for The Golem resembling the ribbed and arcing interior forms of seashells.

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Above: Moeschke’s model for the Rabbi’s laboratory, and below, the set.

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The laboratory was a particular triumph when meticulously recreated at full scale for the filming. Though it’s been over half a century since I first saw fragments of  The Golem as a teenager, the images still make the hairs at the nape of my neck stand on end. Marlene Moeschke’s contribution to the film has rather too often been overshadowed by Poelzig’s, so it was heartening to see her acknowledged and her models foregrounded in the excellent 2016 exhibition ‘Golem’ at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

 

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The Making of the Myths Map

My thanks to Gravitywell, the award-winning digital media company in Bristol, for sharing this example of how my artwork for the English Heritage Myths Map was layered by them to create an interactive experience across diverse platforms. This is just a small corner of the map, but you can experience the full effect by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

 

 

I produced all the artwork for the map, and the entire project was designed, built and launched by Gravitywell in a six week schedule. There were times when it seemed an almost impossibly short time in which to achieve everything, but we did it!

Click here for the full Myths Map experience.