those of us who love staffordshire china…

… and paint it.

A still-life with a Staffordshire huntsman. Pastel by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

When you start looking there have been quite a number of 20th century artists who’ve been drawn to paint Staffordshire china, and there are a few contemporary artists, including me, who continue to be fascinated by the strange worlds that the figures evoke.

Staffordshire dogs by Enid Marx (1902 – 1998)

Many favour the iconic King Charles spaniels that have book-ended so many mantelpieces and dressers.

Contemporary artist Alice Patullo’s wittily named Staffordshire Figurines for the Clumsy, are made out of printed and stuffed calico

Staffordshire dog in a painting by Christopher Wood (1901 – 1930)

Contemporary artist Rob Ryan’s take on Staffordshire cats

The spirits of Ravilious, Nicholson, Wood and Wallis echo in the work of contemporary British artist Jonathan Christie. He uses chalky paint rubbed back, together with sgrafitto to create beautiful surfaces. Staffordshire figures are often a feature of his still-lifes

Staffordshire in the work of contemporary painter Emily Sutton. Emily uses starved brush-work in the manner of Ravilious, but her work also reminds me of another woman artist who had a love of the ‘unsophisticated arts’, Barbara Jones

Staffordshire group by contemporary graphic artist Laura Knight

My friend, contemporary artist and illustrator Paul Bommer, here paints Staffordshire dogs onto a faux Delft tile

While I’ve painted quite a few Staffordshire equestrian and equestrienne figures, for me it’s the weird juxtaposition of children with dogs the size of Shetland ponies, and shepherds and shepherdesses with sheep of Brobdingnagian proportions, that have proved themselves the subjects that I find most rewarding.

Staffordshire dog with a boy in a Welsh landscape. Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Staffordshire dog with a girl in a Cornish landscape. Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Staffordshire horseman in Winter Garden. Clive Hicks-Jenkins

A Staffordshire shepherd in The Boy and his Sheep. Clive Hicks-Jenkins

I have some more Staffordshire still-life works coming along for my next exhibition, so watch this space.

curtain up at the toy theatre

The toy theatre I made for displaying in the exhibition has provoked much by way of comment among visitors to the gallery. Certainly a lot more than I’d expected. I made it because I thought it might look good in a large glass display-case that was going spare. Moreover I knew that after the exhibition was over, then it would be useful as a compositional aid in the studio.

People have been kind enough to say that they covet it and would like to be able to go out and purchase one just like it. I fear that’s just not going to be possible as I’m not planning on going into production. However once it’s back at Ty Isaf, friends will be more than welcome to come and play with it.

For the longest time I don’t think I really noticed the frequency with which toy theatres appeared in my paintings. They were lying around the house and studio, so I guess it was inevitable they’d join the list of objects with which I populate my still-life compositions. I thought it might be interesting to assemble them in one spot, though when I came to count them I could see there were far too many to accommodate in a single Artlog post. Instead I’ve selected a few.

All of the toy theatres that serve as models are ones I make myself. Some are tiny, about the size of a matchbox. A couple have been made in ceramic as tea-light-holders. Here’s one.

Also included are a couple of preparatory drawings as stand-ins for paintings that regular Artlog readers may recognise from earlier posts. Finally at the bottom of the page, I’ve included a couple of examples of  the miniature type I sometimes use in my paintings. Over the years I’ve made many of these tiny theatres. They hang over the tiny lights of the tree each Christmas, the stages illuminated from within to conjure the season of pantomime magic and mirth.

from the archive…

… a ten year old drawing in Neo-romantic mode. This hangs above the door to my studio here at Ty Isaf. Tretower Castle again… perched on an improbable mound… with a prehistoric ‘beaker’ in the foreground. (Beakers are not to be found lying about the environs of Tretower, but I just liked the juxtaposed shapes, and the notion of artefacts surfacing in an ancient landscape.)

A trifle perhaps, but a fluid little thing showing that even while labouring over the densely wrought and turbulent Mari Lwyd drawings of 2001, I was consecutively working swiftly and freely in ink and wash as a relief from all the angst.

moon dog

Back in October I posted an image of this little still-life, made in 1999 using a Staffordshire china spaniel as the model, one of a pair once owned by my mother.

Recently I had an e-mail from my friend Rebecca Verity in the US. I found it to be so charming that I sought her her permission to share it with you here.

“And Clive!  I was poking about in a local antique store recently – quite a high end one, everything polished and beautiful, not the type filled with every attic’s junk and piles of fish scales and broken books that I usually poke about in.  I was poking about, with Toby, in this very polished shop, and a small ceramic dog caught my eye.  A white King Charles spaniel with brown spots, sitting up looking at me with the sweetest face.  I’m not usually a ceramic dog sort of person, but I picked this dog up right away and said to it, “I know you.”  And he looked back at me sweetly but didn’t answer.  And I said “No, I DO know you, now from where do I know you?”  And the shop lady came over and we discussed the dog for quite a while, and didn’t get to the bottom of it.  She showed me a larger pair of white & brown ceramic spaniels, similarly sitting, and I dismissed them immediately – no, they were NOT the dog I knew, this one was.  It was a beautiful little dog, I didn’t want to put it down.  And it’s worried me ever since, how did I know it?  It was so strong and instant, the recognition, this small ceramic creature was clearly a friend of mine.  I decided I knew it from a book.  It wasn’t Anne of Green Gable’s Gog or Magog, though those were the only two literature ceramic pups I could clearly recall. The book-memory felt like a combination of Italy and England to me.  I went all through Miss Vicker’s Angel in my head (Finally finished, I loved it!) and could not recall this pup, and then through several other similar books.  And now, reading backwards through your blog to make sure I haven’t missed anything, I’ve found him!  Of course, you already knew that, didn’t you?  It’s your mother’s dog, here in Lafayette, without his mate.  I had to leave him behind, as it’s not the season for buying gifts for self, and it felt like leaving a friend!”

And here, Rebecca, is one half of the pair that I used for the painting. Of course it was the right hand dog I painted, not the one above, but I could only find a photograph of the left hand spaniel to post here. Its mate is standing at the other end of the dresser shelf. (Staffordshire spaniels were always made in pairs facing each other, intended to stand either ends of mantelpieces and dressers.) Thank you for your story Rebecca. I’ve read it over and over. You write beautifully.

from the archive

I painted this little cow-creamer in 1998 at the time I was obsessed with making still-life works featuring china. I loved the colour… that bright gingery orange… and the dramatic slashes of black on the base. Such a vivacious little thing. But I didn’t own it and I painted it just the once. Tretower Castle makes another appearance in the background. I titled the painting The Staffordshire Cow.

catriona’s jug

I’ve written before on the Artlog about Catriona Urquhart. Catriona provided the poetic text for my breakthrough exhibition in 2001, The Mare’s Tale, and before that she’d written the short story Palmyra Jones as a birthday present for Peter, published in a tiny edition by The Old Stile Press and the first book that I illustrated for them. But although we were collaborators, more than anything else we were bosom buddies, delighting in each others company. We shared passions for music, antique furniture, ceramics, second-hand books and poetry. She was also a fantastic plantswoman, the driving force behind the sunken-garden that Peter and I created at our cottage overlooking Cardigan Bay. The plants that she and her partner Ian sourced and brought to us populate it to this day. Toward the end when she was undergoing chemotherapy, we sat outside the cottage as she tugged loosened hair from her scalp and together we bound it into gleaming parcels to push into the hedges for the birds to gather and weave into their nests. I was sitting at the top of the garden in her chair on May Day morning in 2005 when news came of her death. If ever a person died on an appropriate date, it was Catriona on May 1st. She would have thought it an auspicious day to shake off the cares of this world.

Catriona and I had admired this handsome earthenware jug that we spotted in a Montrose antique shop window one Sunday. It was so entirely like her to sneak back when the shop was open in order to purchase the jug as her Christmas gift to me that year. The painting of it was done while she was still around to enjoy seeing that it was being put to good use. Catriona always had an unerring eye for an object that would make a still-life subject for me, and as a consequence there are a few paintings that bear her name in their titles. The setting, as some may recognise, is Tretower.

This is the first of  the images we’ve had transferred from transparencies to digital, and so I have a handsome little cache of new images of old paintings to post here over the next few months.

one from the archive

Last night I came across this image, a little Staffordshire still-life of a girl and her dog set against a lighthouse and seascape. I’ve no idea when I painted it, who now owns it or what title I gave it. But as it fits neatly with yesterday’s theme of Art of the Sea, I offer it as today’s post.

I’m sure I would have painted this at the cottage, though the lighthouse is a fanciful addition because there isn’t one there. But it’s a pretty, summery image to rest the eyes on as Winter closes in and all around today there’s rain and mud and a sharpness in the air that pinches at my fingertips and sets my nose running. Roll on Spring.

a year of art-logging

The Jackfield Pot

It was in November 2009 that I set up the Artlog, and here I am, a year on and rather to my surprise, still going strong. The previously incomprehensible world of ‘stats’ is still a relative a mystery to me, though I can announce to those who are interested that the site kicked off with 408 hits in November 2009, and has steadily increased to a high last month of 3,303. I have no idea whether this is a good result or not. It seems a lot to me, though will be as nothing in the world of YouTube. The highest Artlog viewing in one day was 233 on October 19th this year. I have at times had up to twenty subscribers. Some stayed and some dropped away, and then a few newcomers swelled the figure to fifteen, at which it’s been stable for about three months. The subscriber’s comments engage me hugely, and it should be said that some of the dialogues that take place in the boxes elicit far more biographical detail about my life than I would ever have proffered without being coaxed by the various interested parties!

Today’s painting is one that is close to my heart. (Apologies that it’s not a better reproduction. The image has been digitised from a small transparency and I fear is a tad out-of-focus.) I painted The Jackfield Pot in 1998, and the work measures just 27 x 27 cms. The model for it is a ceramic in the collection of the National Museum of Wales, and I made the drawings for the painting while standing in front of the case in which, to my knowledge, it’s still displayed. Behind the teapot I painted one of my signature neo-romantic backdrops, complete with the skewed poles that I so loved as punctuation marks in the derelict high landscapes of my childhood, bearers of telephone and power lines long gone. The medium is acrylic ink on paper. In 1998 I was still rather wary of bright colours… not confident about being able to handle them… and the painting is almost a grisaille, in the sense that colour has been subdued and reduced to a single tone across the background. (The reality is that there’s quite a lot of colour in there, but it’s all rather subtle.) Nearly everything that I produced in those early days was set at dusk, by night or in a storm. Perhaps the paintings matched my mood, though I can’t recall at this remove! There’s certainly a sense of the elegiac in them, a mourning for something from my past that I missed, and perhaps had been missing for a very long time.

The painting was selected for showing at Y Bont Gallery as part of the University of Glamorgan Purchase Prize exhibition, and afterwards was purchased from my studio for the permanent collection of Newport Museum and Art Gallery. It was the first acquisition of my work by a public collection, and of particular significance for me because Newport in Monmouthshire is where I was born, and the museum’s collection of antiquities was what first fired me with an enthusiasm for history.

So this post marks the anniversary of the Artlog, and carries my greetings to all of you who regularly drop by here. I greatly appreciate your interest in my work. Painting is an isolated business, and in my case it’s made even more so by geography. Your comments, your thoughtfulness and your shared enthusiasms on the Artlog have brightened even the darkest days of creative gloom (I do have them) and there have undoubtedly been times when I’ve been spurred on in my endeavours at the easel because of those of you following my progress and eagerly awaiting the next post. The ‘painting diaries’ started out as experiments, but ones that have paid handsome dividends for me because the Artlog dialogues resulting from the process have been most stimulating. I understand that the comment boxes are not for everyone, but let’s celebrate all of you who have made your presences known here in them, and the friendships that have developed as a consequence.

Here’s to another year of art-logging!

posted for marly youmans…

… who has been asking questions about pelicans and iconography in my still life paintings.

Marly wrote in a recent ‘comments’ box:

I’m still wondering if that’s a religious object, as I did the first time I saw it in a painting. There’s the Calvaryish sense of the great central crucifix, and then there are the two lesser figures on each side (fisher of men, men as fish.) In the context of your obsessions, one can’t help but have such things spring to mind.

To which I replied:

OK, you’ve got me there. It does indeed possess a ‘Calvaryish’ quality, and yes, I suppose that at some level I’ve always known that. Then of course there’s the iconography of the pelican in her piety, and that’s definitely something I think of every time I look at the piece. Sacrifice. In fact we have two John Maltby Pelicans, so much did we fall for them when we visited him at his studio. The other one is much larger, without the outstretched wings and so not cruciform, and with many small fish hanging from her breast. I shall try to find an image to post on the Artlog.

Here it is Marly, the large John Maltby pelican at our West Wales cottage.  (Photograph courtesy of Philippa Robbins.)

Below is my painting of the ceramic. I had to rather squash the shape to fit it into the square composition! The little coffee cups were house-warming gifts to us from the painters Vivienne Williams and Sigrid Muller. The pitcher was made on the Trelowarren estate in Cornwall. (When it’s full of drinking water it’s almost too heavy to lift!) The orange buoy was floating off shore for an entire summer, and I thought it very jaunty! It appeared in a couple of paintings.