The Bad Mother’s Death Revealed: a Spoiler!

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In the Grimm brother’s Hansel & Gretel, the children experience in short order, parental abandonment, possible starvation and/or death by exposure, and capture by an apex predator who intends to murder and eat them. When Gretel sees an opportunity to escape, she seizes it, even though it means committing an act of grotesque homicide. So it’s almost inconceivable that at the point she frees Hansel from his cage and the two leave the Witch’s cottage, the place they head for is home, where their troubles originated. But then again, they’re just children, so where else would they go?

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Above: vintage illustration of Hansel and Gretel returning to their relieved father.

From the start when I began reacquainting myself with the story, I was bothered by the notion that they’d return to their abusers, the bad mother who hatched the plan to abandon them in the wood and the weak father who’d complied with her. But then there’s that unconvincing aside offered by way of an explanation at the conclusion of the narrative, that the mother has died in the interim. So that’s alright then. The worst of the two has gone, and so with only a formerly henpecked weak man in charge of things, we can assume that everything will be OK, right?

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Above: illustration from the book before the colour separations were added.

I never bought that bit about the mother having popped her clogs. It felt like an afterthought. And there’s nothing to indicate that the children could have known she’d died in their absence, so the fact of it can’t have affected their decision to return. Nevertheless, that’s what the Grimms wrote, and as I prepared to edit the story down to what would work in a picture book, I had to come to grips with the fact.

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Above: illustration from the book before the colour separations were added.

I went through many stages of attempting to make the issue of the mother’s death feel less tacked-on. Finally, in the book as published, I lodged visual clues that indicate what happened ‘off-stage’ in the children’s absence. It begins elusively at the start of the story, in the illustration of the Bad Mother ordering Hansel and Gretel from the house. All the reader’s attention is on the raw expression of hate on the woman’s face as she hurls the words ‘Get lost!’ at the bewildered children. Simultaneously her husband, almost unnoticed, turns from the event, walking away while carrying the tool of his occupation, a hefty wood-axe. That axe only makes two appearances in the book, and the second one can leave us in no doubt as to what became of the mother in the children’s absence.

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Above: early maquettes of the Weak Father and the Bad Mother.

When working with the maquettes that I customarily build to work out compositional ideas, I toyed with the possibility of showing more specifically what became of the mother. In the end, I eschewed the explicitness and found a better way to convey the scenario as a mystery. But here, on the Artlog where few will see, are the maquette actors playing out the the mother’s death scene as it isn’t depicted in the book!

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Hansel & Gretel was published in 2016 by Random Spectacular, and is available

HERE

Invitation to ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’

Please join us if you are able at the opening of:

Gawain and the Green Knight: Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the Penfold Press

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Prints, paintings and drawings on the theme of the medieval poem

Thursday 8th September, 6 pm – 7.30 pm at

The Martin Tinney Gallery

18 St. Andrew’s Crescent, Cardiff. CF10 3DD. +44 (0)29 2064 1411

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Exhibition runs from Thursday 8th Sept to Saturday 1st Oct, 2016

Art commentator James Russell writes of the Penfold Press collaboration between artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and printmaker Daniel Bugg:

“The story is the kind you might find in The Mabinogion. Sir Gawain is more human than your average legendary hero. Having taken up the challenge offered at the Camelot Christmas feast by the terrifying Green Knight, he embarks on a quest to find this ogre, only to be tested – and found wanting – in unexpected ways. Sir Gawain is both a glittering knight and a fallible young man, and it is this flawed human character that intrigues Clive. Each print is inspired by the text and rooted stylistically in its world, but beyond that Clive and Dan have allowed their imagination free rein.”

 

 

 

The Root that Grew Into a Tree

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I found this dried root of hogweed on a hilltop walk with friends. It’s been in my studio for quite a while now, and has given birth to many images. Upended on its stalk the root becomes a tree. I’ve written about using it as a model in a post made last year, but since then there have been even more manifestations of it.

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I made a toy theatre out of building blocks, and stood the root on the stage to make an image I titled Day of the Triffids in honour of John Wyndham’s novel about an invasion of killer alien plant-life.

I’ve drawn it extensively for my picture-book of Hansel & Gretel, due out this summer. Here it is in a detail from a preparatory image of a witchy forest drenched in moonlight.

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My friend, artist Phil Cooper, has made a model of it in preparation for a film we plan as a book-trailer.

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Versions of the root-as-tree made by artist Johann Rohl when he worked in my studio for a month last summer.

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And in the background here, another by Johann with a horse by me hiding behind it, plus a couple of trees and a maquette that I made.

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In this detail of an endpaper for Hansel & Gretel, a leafy version appears bottom left.

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Festooned with icicles in my study for the print Christmas at Camelot.

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Yesterday my friend Philippa spent a day with me in the studio, and she produced this delicately beautiful version of the root, made in coloured pencils and sgrafitto.

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Johann made the three images on the left, and I made the tree.

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Four artists all working from one, small, dried root.

The Evolution of a ‘Bad Mother’

From first drawings to the final dummy-copy of the book.

The first drawing, made for another project, later became the template for how I saw the ‘Bad Mother’.

An early layout for the first page, showing my initial ideas for the children’s parents. She wears a fur coat, stylish hat, cultured pearls at ears and throat, and lashings of makeup.

In 2015, a new, stranger idea emerges. Her pinched nose is made up of two, elongated conceal shapes, and her skin is marked with deep wrinkles.

She has a little frilled-cap, and the period has changed from the 1950s to something more distant, though unspecified.

She’s clearly become rather ill-humoured

I make a first maquette…

… and then a second.

With the third I think I’ve nailed her…

… though I change my mind once more and re-design the book for a last time, returning to the idea of setting it in the 1950s. Out goes the Bad Mother’s ‘Pilgrim’ cap, and in comes hair-rollers, pin curls and chipped red nail-varnish!

Hansel & Gretel will be coming out in 2016.

The Enclosure

I knew that after collaborating with Johann Rohl on the ‘garden’ for Sarah Parvin’s forthcoming ‘The Curious One’, website, that the spirit of what we made would drive me to further explore the theme. Today I made The Enclosure in oil pastel, the first of a planned set of small garden  images. The iconography devised with Johann…red brick walled-garden, dark flower beds, trees and garden follies… are all about to find their ways into the new work.

Collaboration

For a month Johann Rohl and I worked together in the studio at Ty Isaf, while we created artworks at the behest of Sarah ‘The Curious One’ Parvin for her forthcoming website. It was a challenge to produce collaborative images, as we work in different ways and we have different styles. Nevertheless, in time we aligned ourselves, and the process became second nature to us. We both got a lot out of it.

The image of a walled garden was produced in oil pastels. Some elements within it are ‘changeable’ so that the scene can be altered according to Sarah’s requirements, and it can also be augmented with animation. It would be hard for anyone to know which of us did what here, so I won’t explain. Moreover the ideas in the image were developed between both of us, and so it’s not possible to untangle the joint nature of the process.

Below is a Curious One ‘Avatar’ created specially for the website. I made the maquette and Johann collaged the screen against which she stands. In the finished website it’s likely that some of the figures will be assembled from elements made by both of us.

Johann is currently constructing The Curious One website, and I shall post updates as and when they come.

Avatar

I’m presently collaborating with illustration graduate, Johann Rohl, on a commission to make an ‘avatar’ for a friend’s website. The brief has been fairly elaborate, and requires a creation that will regularly change her appearance. To this end the avatar is to be realised as a ‘maquette’ of the type that I regularly make and use as compositional aids. Indeed there will be several maquettes in changes of costume to facilitate the range of roles this avatar will be required to assume, and it’s likely that the process will be ongoing, with further maquettes added when needed. Here is just a small handful of the many sketches, together with a just-started maquette. You’ll notice that like the Sleeping Princess of fairy-tale, she has yet to awaken.

16th Century ruff and stomacher.

The Regency brings high-waisted gowns and elaborately plumed and be-ribboned hats.

Veiled headress of the Middle Ages.

Above and below: a pantomime Columbine of the 19th Century, her ringlets crowned with roses.

The early stages of a trial maquette.

Although these initial sketches are all by me, Johann and I will collaborate on the final renderings.