Hansel & Gretel Q&A

 

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I did a question & answer for the main newspaper of north Wales, The Daily Post. Peter went to get a haircut at the barber shop in Aberystwyth, and our friends there had very kindly set aside a copy for us. I answered the questions so long ago that I’d almost forgotten what I’d said. Here’s the transcript:

Your name:

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

How old are you?

Sixty-six.

Where are you from?

Newport, Gwent.

Tell us about your family

My father was a wayleaves officer with the South Wales Electricity Board. He was responsible for brokering contracts between SWEB and the landowners/farmers whose acreage needed to be crossed by power lines. But because he was a countryman and loved the landscape, he was an artist when it came to placing them where they’d least be visible, hiding them in valleys and along the edges of woodlands. My mother was a hairdresser. She loved films and from an early age she took me every Saturday afternoon to the cinema. Never to see kids’ films though. She loved more dramatic fare, and so my tastes were quite unusual. I don’t know how she bucked the certificate system. She probably knew the local cinema manager and bargained haircuts against him turning a blind eye to a seven year old watching Bette Davies melodramas!

What are you best known for?

Probably my Mari Lwyd-themed series of 2000-2001, The Mare’s Tale. I had an exhibition of that name, and it made quite a splash. There was a book of poetry by the late Catriona Urquhart that accompanied it, and in 2013 the composer Mark Bowden and the poet Damian Walford Davies made a chamber work of the same name, based on the underlying narrative of a psychological haunting.

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Tell us about your exhibition (what’s it called, what’s it on/where is it being held?)

The exhibition is at Oriel Tegfryn, Menai Bridge, and it’s the result of four years of exploration on the theme of Hansel & Gretel.

When is it running from/to?

Sept 1st – Sept 24th.

What can people expect?

Last year the publisher Random Spectacular commissioned a picture book from me that was based on the fairy tale. As my version is very dark it’s been marketed as being more suitable for adults. (It’s been described as ‘George Romero meets the Brothers Grimm!)

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Simultaneously I was commissioned by Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop in Covent Garden to design a toy theatre assembly kit of Hansel & Gretel. This has been quite a thrill. I played with a Benjamin Pollock toy theatre when I was a child, and so it’s a great privilege to be asked to make a new one to bear his name. Published this summer, in contrast to the picture book it’s a sunnier affair, quite suitable for children. Even so I put my own visual spin on it. You won’t have seen a Hansel & Gretel quite like it.

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The Tegfryn Gallery exhibition consists of all the artworks made for the picture book and the toy theatre, plus illustrations for Hansel & Gretel alphabet primers that I made several years ago. Prepare for a Hansel & Gretel Fest!

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Tell us five things which make your exhibition great?

1) Scary and beautiful is an alluring mix!

2) I can guarantee it’s not going to be like anything you’ve ever experienced at Oriel Tegfryn.

3) What’s not to love about art in which family dysfunction, unhealthy appetites and manslaughter are the principal themes? This is a fairytale for the soap generation.

4) There are Liquorice Allsorts deployed as weapons and gingerbread men that bite back!

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5) If you want to know what horrors lie beneath a witch’s prosthetic nose, then this is the exhibition you’ve been waiting for!

Tell us what’s good about the venue

It’s a warm and welcoming gallery with wonderful staff. Visiting Oriel Tegfryn is like calling on friends who are always pleased to see you.

Who is your favourite artist and why?

The ‘who’ is George Stubbs, and the ‘why’ is because he painted animals with unparalleled compassion. His Hambletonian, Rubbing Down may be numbered among the world’s greatest equestrian artworks.

What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

Green George. It’s in a private collection here in Wales. If you type the title and my name into a search engine, you can see it. I paint only for myself and I never think about who might purchase. I made Green George as a painting I’d like to live with, though in fact I never did. It was finished only days before being shipped to the gallery, and it sold immediately. I knew even as I painted it that I was riding the wind. I couldn’t have bettered it.

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Tell us a little known fact about yourself:

I once played Batman’s nemesis, the Riddler, in an American musical.

What are your best and worst habits?

I’m a fiercely loyal and loving friend. But I’m also implacably unforgiving when betrayed. It’s an unattractive trait.

What’s next for you? What are you currently working on, or what do you plan to work on?

I’m on the last lap of a fourteen print series on the theme of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in collaboration with Daniel Bugg at the Penfold Press. The press has been publishing the series sequentially. The art historian James Russell has been writing accompanying texts. It’s been a wonderful experience.  The Martin Tinney Gallery is having an exhibition of the work in January.

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Then I go into rehearsals for a new music theatre work of Hansel & Gretel that I’m designing and directing. The production opens in London before embarking on a year long tour.

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The Green Knight Arrives

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The Green Knight Arrives.

Edition size: 75, image size: 55.5 x 55.5cm, paper size: 70.5 x 69cm

Now available for purchase.

It begins at that darkest, mid-winter point of the turning year, when communities of the northern hemisphere celebrate in order to get through the hard times still ahead. In the poem Arthur and Guinevere are at the heart of the Christmas Court festivities when there’s an unexpected arrival at the door. Chatter ceases, all eyes turn to the spectre stepping uninvited into the warmth and light, bringing with it the chill of snow and ‘otherness’. For me it’s the most thrilling account of an ‘entry’ in the history of English literature.

Here are the stages that went into the making of this image, from sketches to compositional studies and a scale guide made in gouache and pencil, though the processes of building the stencils in layers to the final print. It’s an almost alchemical conjuring for me, new as I am to the mysteries of screen printing. But in the company of Dan Bugg I’m being led through them by a master. He has facilitated this adventure. We are now two prints into a series of fourteen, and number three is already well on its way.

 

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As I explore my options for images to represent the magnificent narrative of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the task is all about finding the spaces between the words. The Pearl Poet garnishes his poem throughout with lengthy and alluring descriptive passages. All action stops as pages of verse are devoted to detailed accounts of the Green Knight’s appearance, the appearance and caparisoning of his horse, Gringolet, the armour Gawain is formally arrayed in to begin his quest and the garments gifted to him when he stays at the the Castle of Lord Bertilak.

Gouache and pencil study

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The descriptions of how the Green Knight looks at the moment he rides his horse into the Christmas celebrations, are not what move me to make images. I’m driven more by what underlies the arrival, and by the way everything has changed by the time he leaves.

For this first encounter with the Green Knight we spy on him outside the court, eyes closed as he prepares for what lies ahead. It’s essentially a portrait, an intimate close-up to draw the viewer into what’s about to be unleashed. Sorcery of the winter variety is afoot, and as though in anticipation of what will one day unfold at Camelot… the seeds of its destruction having been present at its inception… the tower beyond is crowned with flame. Everything must end, everything must fail eventually, and here the Green Knight is the herald and catalyst of what will one day bring about Camelot’s fall.

The stencils

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Printing and proofing

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Proof overworked with coloured pencils.

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Curator and art historian, James Russell, on the print.

‘Arthurian legend is full of warriors, but the Green Knight is unique – unearthly, even monstrous, yet still a knight. His unexpected arrival during the Christmas feast is one of the most famous entrances in the canon of British literature, accompanied in the poem by what Clive calls a ‘forensic’ description of his outlandish appearance.

Clive looks beyond the poetry to explore the character and cultural implications of Gawain’s nemesis, in an intense portrait of mingled power and vulnerability. The upper body of the Green Knight fills the frame, his statuesque head and massive arm suggesting the might of an ancient god – but in a sensitive pose reminiscent of Rodin. That flowing beard hints at the graphic gravitas of a playing card king; look again and it is a river flowing through a tattooed forest. Our 21st century Green Knight is a modern primitive, whose identity is etched into his skin.

A fascination for the decorated body has long been a feature of Clive’s work, and here there is a powerful pictorial contrast between the blood-red towers and battlements of Camelot and the organic forms inked into the Green Knight’s skin. As he prepares to bang on the door of King Arthur’s great hall, we can’t help but notice the lopped oak tree on his raised arm. Is this a record of violence done to nature? Nothing is explicit, but much is implied in this luminous vision of contrasting cultures: medieval Christian civilisation on the one hand, and, on the other, the timeless wild.’

James Russell

 

Christmas at Camelot

Preparing to start on the series Gawain and the Green Knight with Dan Bugg at Penfold Press has been the biggest adventure. And now we’re off at a gallop with the first in the series of fourteen editioned prints based on the poem. Click on the link below to read James Russell’s bracing description of the image.

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You can find details of the print at The Penfold Press