out of the analogue past

Above: an image originally stored as a transparency, now transferred to digital. It’s of Carn Euny in Cornwall. I forgot to add details to the slide label, but judging from the style, I figure it was made in 1997. If so, then I haven’t seen this painting in the nearly twenty years since it was made, exhibited and sold.

Before digital, images of my work were recorded and stored as small transparencies. Peter took the photographs, and it was my job to check the contact-sheets when they returned from the laboratory, using a light-box and magnifier. The rejected images… out-of-focus, wonky or colour-imbalanced… were thrown away. The rest were snipped and inserted into plastic holders. Then began the arduous task of labelling before storing them in fat ring-binder files.

The information had to fit into a tiny space on each slide. Sometimes I wrote on slivers of gummed paper, and sometimes I wrote directly onto the plastic with a mapping pen and indian ink. Neither technique was foolproof. The paper labels could drop off, and the indian ink, even when set, would sometimes stick to the insides of the polyurethane slide-holder sleeves, and would require a wrestling-match to get them out.

Each tiny slide would have to contain:

my name, a unique studio ref number, title, date, measurements and media.

This for every painting, study, drawing, print and preliminary thumbnail that I produced. A red dot denoted that the work had been sold. Other colours denoted ‘out for exhibition’, or ‘on loan’. It was an unwieldy system, and time-consuming and difficult to keep up to date. But it was the only way.

Above: transparency transferred to digital. This one is of Tretower Castle, where I once worked.

It was boring and damnably fiddly work, and I hated it. But if I didn’t do it regularly, the backlogs became massive and disheartening. Occasionally I’d spend two or three days working non-stop to get everything up to date. I always resented the time spent on it, but Peter was insistent. (He was, of course, right.) The worst thing was when I’d get the top-copies ordered into the ‘archive’ ring-binders, and the duplicates for ‘sending off’ into even bigger ring-binders, before discovering that I’d missed a pile of slides. Then I’d have to move all the images in the transparency sleeves to get the missed ones into the right numerical places, which could mean moving on hundreds of slides.

Then the ring-binders had to be carefully stored. If they weren’t, and light got to them, then the colours of the slides would quickly fade or turn yellow.

There was also the inconvenience that nothing could be ‘touched-up’. Today, with everything digitally recorded and edited in i-photo, images can be ‘tidied’: trimmed and levelled, errant specks of dust or hair removed and the colour adjusted to better represent the original works. It was not so back in the days of slides. Daylight could colour-cast images too blue, and electric light too yellow. It was a constant struggle to accurately record, and the results were often too ‘approximate’ for comfort. Black and white were hell to get right. Blacks, no matter how dense in reality, would look grey in the slides, and white could just look… well, not white. If I added up the hours, I think I’d find that Peter and I have very likely spent months of our lives trying to generate and then store good images of my work.

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The duplicates were the slides for sending to galleries, publications, competitions etc. I always put in stamped SAEs for them to be returned, which meant a fiddle at the post-office getting the SAEs weighed with the slides in, before packaging the entire thing in another envelope to the recipient. My trips to the post-office always included taking packaging-tape and scissors with me. Every part of the process was time-consuming. At the end of all this, I probably got one set of slides returned in every fifty that I sent. Somewhere in the world there’s a landfill-site where my transparencies went to die. But the ones I kept are still with me, filling a chest of drawers in the studio.

Very few have been transferred to digital. To do all of them would be weeks or more likely months of work. But this week Peter did a little clutch, and I shall shortly make some posts of them for the Artlog. The fact is that there are hundreds of images of work made, sold and gone from my life so long ago that I look at them now with wonder, barely remembering having made them.

Above: the detritus of a defunct system, piled higgledy-piggledy into studio chests of drawers.

Below: analogue to digital transfer of an image. The painting is of Carn Euny, and probably dates back to 1997.

Lloyd and H-J play ‘Exquisite Corpse’

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Artist Peter Lloyd and I have a little game going/project cooking.

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He came up with the idea while staying with us at Ty Isaf just before Christmas. One night I overheard him emerge from his bedroom and set off down the stairs.

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When he hadn’t come back fifteen minutes later, I followed to make sure everything was OK, only to find him groomed, dressed and looking ‘wired’ over coffee at the kitchen table.

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It was 4.30 AM! He said his mind was too active to sleep, and it has to be admitted, mine was too.

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Peter’s idea is for us to create a modern-day Bestiary in which the creatures have evolved from the technologies of communication we are all so addicted to.

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‘Devices’ from the laptop to the smartphone have changed the ways we work, shop, gather information, are entertained, reach out, stay in touch and have rumpty tumpty! (Slang in the UK for  S E X)

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Peter made a list of six subjects… including ‘online dating’ and ‘sexting’… and the images are being made and assembled by playing ‘Exquisite Corpse’. We each make the heads and lower extremities for our three ‘Beasts’, and the ‘middle bits’ for the other person’s choices.

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Early drawing stages right now, but the final works will be made as papercuts, in each case assembled from three elements stacked together to make a single figure.

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We’ll see where this goes.

once the maquettes are made…

… then the real work begins.

Finding the compositional forms.

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Of course the paintings shall no doubt end up looking quite different, but the maquettes are the starting point.

Verses eight and nine from Callum James poem The Boy and the Wolf

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

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

Callum James 2004

notes to future producers of The Mare’s Tale

From the outset it had been decided The Mare’s Tale should be a versatile chamber-work that might be presented either simply as a reading by a narrator at a lectern next to the musicians, or fully-staged, as it was for its 2013 preview performance to an invited audience. The story-arc is carried in a lean poetic text, employing multiple changes of scene and character. The performer must conjure six characters, frequently with swift transitions between them, and as two are men and four are women, a mercurial talent is required. Our narrator Eric Roberts, an opera singer and skilled actor, had the necessary musicianship to place Damian Walford Davies’ words with the precision demanded by Mark Bowden’s score. (I believe an actor who couldn’t read the score would be all at sea regarding the placement of the text.) Eric’s baritone too was put to good use, in Mark’s haunting arrangement of the traditional Welsh song that closes the work.

 …

At Theatr Brycheiniog The Mare’s Tale was presented using multiple techniques. A skewed and multi-level tower some twenty feet high, suggested in abstract the various locations indicated by the libretto. Jane Seyes was represented by a puppet, and her two puppeteers additionally operated various manifestations of the ‘night mare’ at the heart of the narrative. A wandering two-person video crew captured the puppets and actor, with the images streamed to a projection-screen above the playing area. The screen also showed pre-filmed sequences of an ‘Expressionist’ model village designed to help create a sense of time passing, and stop-motion animations suggested the apparition rising from Morgan Seye’s buried memories.

 …

Composer and librettist have created a dense music-theatre piece that though technically challenging, is a gift to any director and designer. While I chose to use techniques that most suited me and the team I gathered around me, there are clearly many ways to present The Mare’s Tale, as yet unexplored.

 …

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Ty Isaf, 2013.

the unsafe environment

Tomorrow James Slater and I travel to Bristol to deliver the model of the set for The Mare’s Tale to Neil Tilley at Stage Electrics, who will be supervising the building of the full-size version. This photograph is just a snapshot showing the model in a straight forward manner, but I know that when we get the set onto the stage, there will be a lot of potential for creating atmospheric lighting effects on it. The model has been painted a simple grey so that the structure is clear, but once the set has been installed at Theatr Brycheiniog, I’ll think further about the paint finish.

The stage set needs to be expressive of many ideas. Set during the World War II bombing of London that architect Morgan Seyes and his wife Jane are fleeing, the broken flights of steps twisting on themselves, the crooked bannisters and the perilously balanced chair, mirror Morgan’s descriptions of buildings eviscerated by the blasts. When the narrative moves to Wales, the same set must convey Morgan’s inner anguish and the need to escape the un-named fears that beset him. He retreats from the community, isolating himself in the process. (Have you ever noticed how in films, whenever a character makes a headlong dash from pursuit, the route seems always to lead upwards?)

Narrator Eric Roberts will need to be completely at ease on this awkward structure, and so we’ve arranged that he’ll be working on it from the start of rehearsals on August 26th, in order to familiarise himself with its eccentricities. These are not steps to be climbed with ease, but rather scrambled up, like a cliff-face.

From the days when I was a teenager scouring the art-house cinemas of London for early films, my passion was for the German Expressionists, who had an absolute obsession with stairs and stairwells.

Pandora’s Box (1929)

The Golem (1920)

Hintertreppe (1921)

Those physically, mentally and even morally deranged cinematic worlds, had the greatest impact on me when I was finding my creative way in the theatre. In 1986 when an opportunity at long last came my way, I re-imagined German Expressionism through the lens of American Film Noir in a production of Little Shop of Horrors that I directed and designed at Theatr Clwyd.

The set (see the model above) was all crazed angles, un-level floors and multiple stairways at too-steep angles. Even the black and white floor-tiles were on the move, sucked to the cellar/vortex at front centre stage, where the carnivore plant was secretly nurtured by harried florist’s assistant, Seymour Krelborn. The cast clung to rails and walls for dear life as they tottered down the many stairs and negotiated the ground level that I’d raised to a rake so steep that it was possible for anyone standing still to start sliding down it.  As a consequence the performances felt steeped in neurosis and the sense of imminent disaster.  I never better enjoyed directing a production than this one. The cast were outstanding. Indeed, the whole production team were.

Above: drawings exploring lighting effects on the set.

Below: a detail of the finished Little Shop set, illustrating the artistry of the Theatre Clwyd scenic department.

More on German Expressionism in my next post.

the puppets of The Mare’s Tale

Back in February at the first production meeting for The Mare’s Tale, the notion of puppets was discussed as a means to visually express some of the ideas that would be explored in the libretto and the music. Work began on them while we awaited Damian Walford Davies’s text and Mark Bowden’s score.  Now, with both complete, the project is fast moving toward rehearsals, and I’m preparing the last few puppets for the production. Ann Prior and Diana Ford will be bringing them to on-stage life. At last the ideas of artist, librettist, composer and conductor/producer will be coming together to form a new narrated chamber work performed by Eric Roberts and the musicians of the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra under the baton of James Slater. This has been quite an adventure.

Above: Mari Lwyd Mk I

Below: Mari Lwyd Mk II, reconfigured after a filmed test

Above and below: portraits of the most recent puppet added to the cast.

Above and below: Mari Lwyd  maquettes that will be operated as both rod puppets and stop-motion animations.

Above: I don’t yet have a good image of the ‘transparent’ Mari Lwyd puppet, and so this snapshot taken with a lot of clutter behind it must suffice. Just visible behind the Mari is an original shadow-puppet design by the great Jan Svankmejer.