Into the Wood

From inception to creation, the Dark Movements Toy Theatre stage has been empty save for the settings of a blasted Welsh hill-village, and a threatening forest where trees bristle with thorns. It was started in January, completed a few weeks later, and has since appeared in two of the ten new Dark Movements paintings due to appear in my exhibition, opening next week at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

In the painting Pale Horse, a glimmering presence appeared among the trees, though on the stage itself, the forest was empty. Last night, under cover of dark, the arrivals began.







Stage-Curtain and Footlights

Free-standing Set-piece and Ground-row


Above: detail from Veil

Above: detail from Pale Horse

The Mari Arrives

‘Drift’: from start to finish


Acrylic, gouache and oil-based pencil on board. 59 x 84 cms

Preparatory sketch


Details of underdrawing

The painting begins


Acrylic, gouache and oil-based pencil on board. 59 x 84 cms

‘Flowering Skin’

A new day and a new painting for Dark Movements just off the starting blocks. This afternoon I’ve been playing with pattern examining the the shapes made by my dis-articulating Jordan Morley maquettes. I want the figure in the new painting, titled Flowering Skin, to be half in and half out of his jacket. These paper garments have become quite complicated affairs, constructed from shapes that swivel on both fixed and travelling points of attachment, so that by means of sliding bars, they can actually be moved off and away from the maquette bodies they were fitted to.

I like the abstracted flying panels, and don’t worry at all about them conforming to how a three-dimensional textile garment  behaves  when wrapped about a body. Here, positive and negative shapes are what I’m most interested in, and at some level, the fact that all garments can be taken apart and rendered as the templates they’re constructed from. I find that intriguing, like hidden maps of the body.

Right now my drawings for this haven’t come together in the way I want. The segmented figure (see below) is too doll-like, the garment is too well organised, and the kinetic, frenzied dynamic is missing.

I have to get this piece moving. This is not the slumbering Jordan of The Quickening and Yarden. Moreover it’s complicated by the fact that the core element of the painting is to be the skin, and what is flowering on it. The recent tulips from Yarden have set my mind on an outcome that’s quite hard to quarry out of the surrounding rock. But as experience tells me, I don’t do this stuff to have an easy life!

And to get to the destination, I have to dance all around the bushes!

Sometimes to help navigate to the next stage of an idea, I compile a ‘mood-board’ of drawings from my archive to show aspects of what I need. Here are a few that seem to be speaking to me at the moment.

Mr Beam and Mr Hicks-Jenkins

So much by way of my collaborations with poets and writers… and theirs with me… happens through the medium of the e-mail. In this way there there have been repeated couplings with my long-time collaborator and word-smithing muse, Marly Youmans, and with the Welsh poet Damian Walford Davies, both of them writers whose published works regularly bear artwork made by me. (And both of them writers who have written published essays about the significance in my practice of image to written word.) Most recently the American poet Jeffery Beam, who I met through Marly… he’d contributed a paean of praise to Marly’s writing on the back-cover of a book for which I’d produced the artwork… have been conjuring a collaboration from the new work for Dark Movements that’s been emerging from my studio. Jeffery has taken images of the maquettes of Jordan Morley, the Dark Movements Toy Theatre and the first completed paintings made for the exhibition, and has produced poems from them that in turn have ignited my imagination and sent me careering in unexpected visual directions in response.

And so the ideas flow between us via the great electronic highways that connect, and the work for a new exhibition coalesces out of words, photographs, conversations, and shared ideas. A regular visitor to the Artlog, Maria from Spain, joins in the conversations in the blog comment boxes, and adds another layer of ideas to what unfolds there. Maria suggests that the tight-fitting lavender gloves worn by the Jordan maquette, together with the play of the puppet’s hands in the images I posted, remind her of the formal language of fans as expressed in a treatise on the subject given to her by her grandmother. Another friend, Jan, joins the debate.

Clive to Jeffery:

Dear Mr Beam

This is an extract of an e-mail between me and a friend. I think our exchange may be of interest you, seeing as you figure so significantly in it. She wrote:

Jan to Clive:

“The latest version of your Jordan maquette is just beautiful, gorgeously, ravishingly beautiful. He (!) must be taking on a life way beyond that you originally imagined for him and the real Jordan must surely be amazed to see himself so represented and transformed –”

Clive to Jan:

Jordan’s responses are insightful. As a performer he knows that those who watch ‘Jordan Morley’ on stage or on video, carry away versions of him that contain only a part of the truth. He understands the processes of transformation. So while he’s enjoying watching my transformations of him, he’s no such fool as to believe they represent the man he knows himself to be. He was taken aback by the erotic aspects of the maquette and the effect it has had on some of those who wrote about it. My friend Maria in Spain left comments at the Artlog about the erotic aspects of those tight, violet gloves, and Jeffery, having read them, started writing the poetry. I began to see the figure in a different way to how I’d intended originally, but that I wanted nevertheless to pursue. Jordan, meanwhile, smiles enigmatically and rises above it all. I think that he’s enjoying it. He has expressed misgivings that anyone meeting him is going to be disappointed, but he knows what’s what, and I think knows how to separate realities from dreams.

Jeffery to Clive:

Good to know that Jordan knows and knows we know that he has become something outside of himself and yet which is also himself. His gift to us has been giving our Imaginations the freedom Blake tells us to embrace, and there we acknowledge and discover him, but also the him in you, the him in me, the you in me, the me in you, the man/men in which we have MELDED.

Jan to Clive:

“My problem now is trying to reconcile the exquisite, be-gloved Jordan and the idea of the ‘swooning’ poetry you’ve mentioned, mainly because ‘swooning’ somehow conjures up Mills and Boon-type pictures of Barbara Cartland with a rictus smile, swathed in acres of pink! Perhaps unsurprisingly the combination isn’t working at all well in my head – and when it does resolve itself the results are such that I can’t imagine that Ms C would be able to find it in herself to approve!”

Clive to Jan:

Ha ha! Well, let’s say that may have been an ill-chosen description by me, though to be frank it was made in jest, partially because I hesitated at that early stage to describe the verse as homoerotic, though clearly it is.

Jeffery to Clive:

Of course we Queer boys know the joke-ness of “swoon” and understood we were speaking of language of laugh and, simultaneously, a language of mystical mythical experience.

Clive to Jan:

Anyone reading Jeffery’s ‘Jordan’ poems… and there are now several, all of them erotically charged… not knowing who the poet was, would find nothing to suggest that they are the words of one man longing for another. They could equally apply to the longings of a woman.

A while back, Maria from Madrid offered an Artlog comment explaining that the play of the Jordan maquette’s gloves in the photographs I’d posted, reminded her of a book, a treatise on the language of fans, gifted to her by her grandmother. Maria, herself now a ‘grandmother’, had recently acquired one of my preparatory studies of naked young men, made many years ago for the Old Stile Press edition of The Sonnets of Richard Barnfield. In an e-mail she described how much she loved the drawing and the sixteenth century poem it accompanied in the book. She was moved by Richard Barnfield’s erotically charged verse, a heartfelt paean to the beauty and allure of a young man. For Maria, the poet’s sentiments spoke both to her, and for her.

I rather like it that three gay men, an artist, a poet and a model/muse, encouraged by a blog-reading grandmother in Spain, can make work that is at once beautiful and erotically charged for both men and women.

Jeffery Beam to Clive:

I am still swimming in glove/fans and wonder if you know of Paul Claudel’s A Hundred Movements for a Fan. It is a work that has inspired me in the past but I have returned to it again, in case there is a Jordan G/love secret therein. The edition I have is actually a British imprint: Translated by American Gay Mystic Andrew Harvey and Iain Watson and published by Quartet Books in 1992.

I’d certainly love to see an English translation of Maria’s grandmother’s book. I wonder if there is one?

Jan to Clive:

“Jeffrey Beam’s poetry sounds intriguing – look forward to encountering it. I so love your multi-disciplinary view of life and art, the dark twists against the child-like (in the best sense, of wonder and fearlessness) innocence.”

Clive to Jan:

In our heads surely all of us are simultaneously many things: child and adult hand in hand, the innocent and experienced journeying together. It’s just that too many forget that, or don’t understand it or express it. But the artists, the poets and the makers… we must express it, if we are to do our jobs.

And here, a brief exchange between me and Jeffery, this time about Maze of Blood.

Clive to Jeffery:

Mr Beam, my long-distance poet/amour/penpal/inspiration, I hope you are well.

Here, the Maze of Blood cover is preoccupying me. I think it likely this will be the only painting I’ll ever get to make of a man who believed his girlfriend to be a cardinal bird, and blew off the top of his head hours before his mother died of tuberculosis because he couldn’t face life without her. Doesn’t bear thinking about too much, though Marly takes even the most unnerving material and stitches it through with the sublime. And here’s me, part way through reinventing her sublime wordsmithing into art for the cover of the novel.

Jeffery to Clive:

Oh that’s a perfect description of what Marly does…”unnerving material and stitches it through with the sublime” I trust she should use that as a blurb.

Clive to Jeffery:

Miss Marly always brings out the unexpected in me.

Jeffery to Clive:

And there you are, as you say, unexpected but perfectly right. Myth and psychology, and psychic tear (read as a rip and a cry).

Clive to Jeffery:

Sending love your way, Mr Beam. I read your Jordan verses and all sorts of heated imaginings roll around in my head. It’s as though you’re standing close behind me, whispering the words into my ear.

Jeffery to Clive:

Well honey, I am whispering… I have been known to do that with soul-brothers over the distance.

‘The Quickening’, from start to finish

The Quickening

Acrylic, gouache and oil-based pencil. 65 x 84 cm. 2015

The colours in the images below vary, because the painting was photographed at various times of the day and night throughout the process of its making.





Underdrawing (detail)








Spectral Pegasus

Over in the United States, poet Jeffery Beam rides tandem with me toward my forthcoming exhibition at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, his pen dipped in inky night and flowing with words.

Alongside some extracts from what was written by the late Catriona Urquhart for the first manifestation of the Mari Lwyd in my work (The Mare’s Tale, Old Stile Press, 2001), so Jeffery’s poetic text will accompany emerging paintings on the theme that have evolved for Dark Movements. Here is a fragment of his beautiful poem, Spectral Pegasus, written as he watched the Dark Movements Toy Theatre move from idea, to completion.

O rough and shuffling Thing merge your corrupting
wings into my ache
Wake me to your cove
Raise me to your White Vale White Village
Night Walk on four legs

I eat the Night I
welcome it
Mirror Horse of Heaven Haunt of Unseen Realms

From Spectral Pegasus, Jeffery Beam, 2015

Below: painting from the series Borderlands (2014), which formed the starting point of the Dark Movements Toy Theatre


A reply to Sarah

My friend Sarah left a comment at my last post about the painting The Quickening (above), currently in progress. My response needed a little more space than a comment box allowed for, so I’ve replied here, instead.

Sarah. ‘I know in pre-Christian traditions that the darkest period of the year was traditionally believed as a time that the veil between this world and the ‘otherworld’ was thinner and so beings, like the Mari, could readily pass through to this one. In “The Mare’s Tale” your Mari was part horse/part human and rooted in the mumming tradition and all that means to your personal history. However, the Mari of “Dark Movements” appears to be wholly a glorious beast of the “otherworld”, with no such human ties. The horse was associated with ‘power, fertility and prowess on the battlefield’ in Celtic Britain. I am very interested to see this new Mari emerging in your work, which, in my opinion, embodies the qualities it was once worshipped for and seems to be about life, not death.’

Clive. ‘Sarah, horses have always been significant in my life and in my painting, and I see that this current incarnation of a flaming Mari Lwyd, its insides burgeoning with a foliate-ness refusing to be contained within the cage of its ribs and streaming out into the surrounding darkness, is carrying what I began fifteen years ago in The Mare’s Tale, to a conclusion I could never have imagined back then.

The beginnings. My grandfather kept horses, and I recall my mother speaking with evident pride of his horsemanship. There were stories of him travelling as a young man to the United States, honing his riding skills by learning from from native Americans and even joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, though with benefit of hindsight these sound of the tall variety to me.

While her love of horses shone from her, I never saw my mother riding one, and there were uncomfortable silences when I pressed for explanations. She once admitted of an accident and a horse-kick to the spine that made her lose her nerve, but further details were not forthcoming. Notwithstanding that, she encouraged me and my sister to ride, and later, when I was a young man, I noticed the pride in her eyes whenever she watched me on horseback.’

‘I was always happier riding bareback, and my mum used to laugh and say that was the influence of my grandfather’s native American habits, though the reality is that I have almost no memories of him, or of him teaching me to ride. (I remember better his German shepherd, named Turk, retired from duty as a patrol dog with the airforce. Turk was set to look after me when as a baby I was put to sleep on a blanket laid out in my grandfather’s orchard. I remember the dog’s head looking down at me, and the weight of his paw on my back to deter me from crawling away from the blanket.)

As a boy I had romantic notions of my mother as a horsewoman, probably born of my early exposure to, and liking for the paintings of George Stubbs. Much later, in the first stage-production I designed and directed, I devised an appearance for a fairy in which she entered riding side-saddle on a unicorn. It was intended as a private message to my mother on the opening night, to show her how much I valued what she’d encouraged in me by way of an appreciation for ‘the horse’.

Shorty afterwards I began a painting for her, as a gift. She died before it was done, and so I never completed it, though I have it still, this elaborately attired equestrienne fairy painted in her likeness, sitting side-saddle on a rearing unicorn, and still serving the purpose for which it was intended, that of being a fire-screen. Behind the figure ribbons stream, carrying a text… now almost faded away… of the lines the character spoke as she appeared on the stage:

“We are the stars in the sky, and we only come down to visit those who have been very, very good.”

I have a feeling she’d rather like the Mari Lwyd emerging here.

Dark Movements: ‘the quickening’

Here I show the early stages of work on the painting The Quickening, currently underway. I’ve included images from other paintings and drawings that I’m referencing into it. You might call this post a combination of mood-board and progress report.

Below: the briefest sketch shapes the composition

before being worked out more completely

Below: key aspects get worked out in more detail

Below: the foliate-patterned ground to my recent cover for Marly Youmans’ new novel, is sticking like a burr to my coat-tails, and is set to be reinvented to play a significant role in the new works…

… as is the rendering of the bird

Last Year’s Hervé and the Wolf series of paintings, set the tone for ‘Dark Movements’

Underdrawing for The Quickening. (detail)


So many things are meeting in these new works: my original drawings for The Mare’s Tale (and my family history that underlies them), the recent collaborations with my model, Jordan Morley, themes of greening and renewal, my love and use of toy theatre in my practice, and of course, that old discipline of mine, long behind me but always present in my mind… and in muscle-memory… the dance.

I am pleased to announce that the composer Peter Byrom-Smith, will be providing a soundtrack of new music to accompany the exhibition, both in the gallery, and as a soundtrack to the animated film Dark Movements that I’m working on with my regular collaborator, film-maker Pete Telfer of Culture Colony. The film will be screened in a dedicated space within the gallery. There will also be new work from the American poet Jeffery Beam, who has been closely watching my progress on Dark Movements, and has produced a poetic text to accompany the recent paintings.

Composer, Peter Byrom-Smith


Poet, Jeffrey Beam

Morley and the Mari


The floor around me is awash with Jordan Morley maquettes, both intact and disarticulated, Mari Lwyd parts, sections of horse anatomy, drawings and inkjet copies of photographs. It might be called ‘Jordan-alia’!

The new works for my exhibition Dark Movements at Aberystwyth Arts Centre this summer are well underway, and the race is on to the June opening. Here are a selection of images I’ve been playing with as I work my way toward a new composition.

No, nothing wrong with your eyes here. It was just a duff shot, but I liked it.