Head

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Above: Study for the cover of Marly Youmans’ Thaliad

Sarah Parvin recently commented at the Artlog on a post about the forthcoming print, The Green Knight’s Head Lives.

Paul Jacobsthal writes on the Celtic cult of the head: “Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world.”

That brought me up short, because I’ve only recently begun to realise just how much the head has become a recurring motif of my work. Not in the sense of portraiture, which I’m not all that interested in, but as an isolated object, often with a sharp terminating horizontal, as though separate from a body. The head as a subject in its own right.

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Study for the illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus, The Old Stile Press

Study for the Green Knight

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Study for Marly Youmans’ The Foliate Head

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Study for Gawain Transfigured

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Paper-cut project in collaboration with Peter Lloyd

Study for Gawain

Page decoration for Marly Youmans Maze of Blood, Mercer University Press

Study for the Green Knight

Gawain Transfigured

Cover artwork for Marly Youmans’ Maze of Blood, Mercer University Press

Cover artwork for Marly Youmans’ Thaliad, Phoenicia Publishing

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Decorated page for Marly Youmans’ Thaliad, Phoenicia Publishing

Study for an unmade book

Illustration from The Sonnets of Richard Barnfield, The Old Stile Press

The Green Knight

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Unused decoration for Marly Youmans’ The Foliate Head

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Page decoration for Marly Youmans’ The Foliate Head, Stanza Poetry

Study for an unmade book

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Paper-cut project in collaboration with Peter Lloyd

Cover artwork For Marly Youmans’ Val/Orson, PS Publishing

Poster design for Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale

The Princess from The Soldier’s Tale

Page decoration for the illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, The Old Stile Press

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Decoration used on the back cover of Marly Youmans’ The Foliate Head, Stanza Poetry

‘Maze of Blood’ arrives in Cooperstown, New York

Marly Youmans has taken delivery of copies of her latest novel, and has e-mailed me photographs. Here’s a box full of Mazes. That’s Marly’s foot bottom left.

Mary-Frances Glover-Burt has done a beautiful job on the design of the book. Judging from Marly’s photographs I couldn’t be happier with the result. For one of the page decorations I’d used scrolled paper-streamers to form the convolutions of a brain, and it was Mary-Frances’ idea to use the scrolled motif on the title-page. However she needed some extra drawings in order for the streamers to flutter horizontally, and I was happy to oblige by making and sending them. She also deftly lifted the lettering I’d made for the cover, and used it on the title-page, unifying the jacket artwork with the interior of the book.

But beyond the sensitive book design, underwritten by the excellent production values at Mercer University Press, lies the fact that Marly and her publisher trust me implicitly to produce the work. Before I begin we barely discuss what I might do for her, and for the most part she doesn’t know what’s going onto the cover of whichever book I’m collaborating on, until the finished artwork arrives.

This process suits me perfectly. I’m a painter, and like to get on with things in pretty much my own way. Luckily I can choose my projects, and work only on those that interest me, and with people I trust.

Making images for the covers and the pages of books, is a long process. I read texts repeatedly to find my way into the authors’ worlds. I have to ‘cook’ the material, let it simmer away in my head like a stew until the images begin to float to the surface, where I can retrieve them and go about my work. After that there’s the process of designing, which is not my job, though I like to be a part of it. Finally there’s the printing, and the new work comes into the world, hopefully as I’ve been expecting it to look. Sometimes the results are better than expected, and thanks to Mary-Frances, Maze of Blood falls into that category.

Words

From poet Jeffery Beam to Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the matter of Drift:

“So dear Horseman

Are you/Jordan/Mari adrift at the moment in the story? Why does Jordan look so sad?”

From Clive to Jeffery:

“That’s a tough one. Thousands of ‘moments’ of endeavour go into these drawings, and all of them experienced in heightened states of emotion. Choose any one of the moments and you’d have a different answer from me.

It’s like this. New day, new work. Around me a scattering of thumb-nail sketches, some studies and maybe a worked up detail or two that might make it into the finished image.

There are the poems too, printed out from your e-mails to me. Sometimes I cut out a line or a verse, to concentrate my thoughts. These trimmed fragments lie across the table. Occasionally I sweep them aside, or pull out one that catches my attention. They have a life of their own, especially if the window is open and a breeze ruffles the work surface, spinning them in ticker-tape flurries to the corners of the room.

The board is in front of me… the stage on which the performance will take place… and a pencil is in my hand. (Sometimes the right, sometimes the left. Which will it be today? One hand makes me deft, the other, visionary. I usually draw with the right and paint with the left, but mood can make me reverse the habit.) The board is the clean sheet, the screen on which I’ll attempt to project a partially-formed dream.

You ask me why Jordan looks so sad.

Perhaps because his is the beating heart in this universe of dishevelled, snaky foliate-ness and thundering hooves bearing down upon fragile flesh. His face is the still point drawing the eye and begging the question… why?

From Jeffery to Clive:

“So many transformations: the reappearance of the scarf; the reappearance of the one glove and in a purple hue; not only the complete transference of the tulips to the Mari, but also the left arm back in the jacket and the right arm bare; blue seeming to infuse even the scarf and hair more and more; the spots on the horse’s body and the Mari’s now blue color as the tulips have emerged out its red body revealing its blue undercoat; and the severely diminishing head of the Mari (what to make of that?).

You have challenged us all with this image – as stealthfully as you challenge yourself.”

“Tell me. Why Drift?”

From Clive to Jeffery:

I begin with an underdrawing, sometimes faint like smoke, sometimes confident, usually a bit of both, mostly fluid at this early stage. Then the painting and the rendering begin. It feels as though I’m attempting to produce a mosaic from thousands of glittering tesserae, each one of them a different micro-thought flashing through my brain. When I’m working away I have to make the image one tiny tile-of-thought at a time, and it’s as though this flood of thoughts and moods spreads across the board. The thoughts/voices/poetry at this point are a cacophony, and I have to try and catch at the most insistent ones to fathom their meanings, all while listening/watching for the next to emerge. Each takes me where it will. I get buffeted in one direction by playful zephyrs, carried smoothly for periods on the dazzling surface, or dragged down into deep currents where all is shadowy and cold. Sometimes everything slows and then halts. I trace the curved route for the stem of a tulip, graze a petal with the striations of it’s markings. Becalmed, I drift.

Then something pulls at me again, the insistent and unguessable current reasserting, the line of poetry that lightning-flashes in the head, the breeze though the open window that sends all the fragments of drawings and poetry flying, and in a moment I’m away again, off into the unknown.”

From Jeffery to Clive:

“I see all the transformations/transfigurations in the piece from Flowering Skin to Drift as I recounted in my posting comment. But wonder what in your imagination leads to this title. I’m so curious about the change in the Mari’s head size too.”

From Clive to Jeffery:

“Your question had me turning to the pages of Montserrat Prat’s chapter on the Mare’s Tale drawings in the 2011 Lund Humphries monograph. Montserrat writes of the male figures in the series that are…”

“… reminiscent of the ancient Greeks; not ancient sculpture that aimed at ideal form, but vase paintings that portrayed the ordinary and the imperfect. In black and red painted vases, Greek heroes are distorted. Often their heads are small on their invincible, naked bodies, their faces shown in profile to spare expression.”

Study for Burden. Conté pencil on paper. 2000

“Jeffery, it seems to me the beast in Drift is like those Greek heroes, all muscle and power and not a lot of thinking. Visually magnificent, though intuitive rather than reasoning. The horse/Mari is becalmed, and not kinetic as it appears in other works. Here it stands proud and beautiful, enmeshed in red arabesques of parrot tulips, awaiting the impetus for action. Benign protector/muscular anchor for Jordan in a shifting universe, or perhaps the beast within that pauses before attacking.

I see that I’m probably turning answers into more questions.”

Burden. Conté pencil on paper. 2000

And finally, what some of the others have to say.

Marly Youmans:

“Still pondering how different this mythic creature is from the horses in the Mari Lwyd series in your retrospective… And how it is influenced by the patterns you’ve painted on skin in between. And how the red ribbony harness becomes a stem with leaves and flowers–it is good for harsh things to become foliate.”

Above: serpentine ribbon snaps and flows through this detail from Red Flow, 2002

Below: parrot tulips unfurl and writhe across the Mari in a detail from Drift, 2015

Maria Maestre on Drift:

“For me, it is the one violet glove, gleaming near the horse’s rump like a fan with it’s own enigmatic and secret language, which holds the key to the whole painting, telling me story after story, depending of how I look at it.”

Janet Kershaw on Drift:

“I love the shape of this horse and the way she fills the space in this composition. Peaceful and contented. The title Drift suggests to me a floating silently in space, in a vacuum, like a dream. Now the horse is completely patterned, and a glove is off, as if some transference has taken place.”

Phil Cooper on Flowering Skin:

“I’m loving the Borderlands imagery coming into these new Mari images; I was fortunate enough to see those Boderlands paintings in the flesh at the Mall Galleries last summer and I was mesmerised by them, they had such presence.
In this new work, though, those flowers across Jordan’s chest are so sexy!”

Sarah the Curious One on Yarden:

“Who would have expected ravishing parrot tulips and a magnificent Mari as Jordan’s protector? Definitely not me!

All good storytellers know an element of surprise is the key to telling their tale and you have not let us down with ‘Yarden’, Clive. Bravo!”

Liz Sangster on Drift:

“I love the way you have achieved the power and size of a horse, I feel as though I am very small looking up at the head. Jordan literally appears to drift; the violet glove against the blue is an inspiration, and the whole painting is so luminous…”

flayed and fly-eyed

Above, vignette for Maze of Blood.

The last of the full-page images for Marly Youmans’ new novel, Maze of Blood, has been completed. Here it is, followed by the full set of images and the cover. So richly rewarding is Marly’s text, that I could have made fifty illustrations from it, but six must suffice. It is not a text that requires images, but it has been a wonderful experience to explore the novel, and to produce decorations for it. Maze of Blood is due out in September this year.

The front cover

The Fifth

Here’s the fifth of six page division designs for Marly Youman’s forthcoming novel, Maze of Blood, due out in September this year. The book lightly fictionalises the life and death of American novelist Robert E. Howard. There are examinations throughout it to the ‘pulp’ genre Howard’s work occupied. He was published throughout his career in ‘Weird Tales’ magazine, and is probably best remembered today as being the creator of Conan the Barbarian.

The drawings, which are variously embellished versions of a man’s head, are intended as poetic expressions of the text rather than as representing specific episodes. Because I had only six images to play with, I tried to densely layer my ideas, so any one drawing might be seen to be referencing multiple aspects of the narrative. Vegetation and flowers figure strongly in Marly’s text, as do the imaginative universes the protagonist conjures in his novels and short stories. I wanted to combine both in this image, and so while the ‘flowering’ has been informed by aspects of American folk-art… particularly appliqué-quilts… by setting it like the crest of a headdress, it can simultaneously echo of some of the writer’s elaborate inventions of ancient and mythic cultures.

In each image the man’s eye has been replaced by a substitute. There’s been a beetle, a flower, the sighting of a revolver and a coiled ribbon of paper. Here a ‘folk-art’ bird is the stand-in, and I like that the plumes of its tail might be seen as ‘tears of blood’.

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.

Marly and Clive talk heads

Marly:

Hi Clive, I expect you’ll solve this beautifully, but I did have some thoughts and questions that might be helpful or maybe just bothersome (though often I find the bothersome ones helpful, as they make me march off in another direction.) All four of the images on the Artlog are interesting, and here are a few reactions.

The first one could have a bullet for the eye? Bullet/eye–some degree of similarity. Could work with a number of them.

Clive: 

I tried a bullet in a couple of un-posted sketches, and couldn’t quite make it work. I think it suggested a kinetic quality… the speeding bullet… that seemed a tad more like the cover of a spy novel.

Marly:

Or how about the fourth one with the gun rotated 180 degrees to more of a position like the first one (so it is more a position that would have been used? I didn’t think of that myself; it was my gun guy, of course! I never would have thought of it.)

Could have a closed eye… just the slope of the lid? Would a vanished/lidded eye be a good resolution of that problem?

Clive:

I’ve made a small sketch with the eye closed and looking more like one of the screws in the gun. Works better than the open eye, which doesn’t work at all.

Marly:

That fourth one was Michael’s favorite. I do like the cracking-open images in 1 and 4… They have drama! But all have some punch and power, so I’m not trying to suggest anything.

Clive:

Understood.

Marly:

The gunsight in the second one is interesting visually and also a pun (though the gun is still turned in a way not natural to the event–does that matter? Since it’s not a “realistic”–dislike that categorizing word sometimes–picture? I have no idea.

Clive:

It both matters and doesn’t matter, to the same degree and simultaneously. Getting it ‘right’ in terms of a suicide… right gun, scale, angle etc… though at cost to the look and feel of the drawing, would be wrong. But then just going for visual effect would feel wrong to me, too. It has to walk a line somewhere in the middle, to feel right and be plausible within this created world.

The tone set so far has been surreal, and within the formality of that there’s the flexibility to be creative. The plants in the first drawing reference real ones, and yet are dream-like, and the same is true of the moth.

I have to be careful not to be too pedantic about the gun, or it will appear to be from a different world. I have to mess my drawing a bit, and stop being so hung up on the photographs I referenced. I certainly need to start drawing it without the reference material in front of me. I have to be wary, too, of leaving room for just the one reading, that being the suicide. Guns figure in his imaginative life in the cowboy stories. In a way the gun needs to be in his head in just the same way as the foliate burgeoning and the emerging moth.

If I get the drawing just right, it will suggest a multiplicity of ideas.

Marly:

Clive, That sounds exactly right–I agree completely. Mike and I both thought you were right on the crux of it! Great thoughts about having it be unleashed a bit. And it’s also true that guns go way back to childhood, and the last big section where he plays cowboys and Indians. So you could say that it is literally in his head from the start–from the night the meteorite falls and he hears gunshots. (Did you ever plan to do one with a child’s head, by the by?)

I asked Michael about the type of gun, and he said the barrels varied in length, and the most common probably would have been a reasonably macho 6 inches, though they were made in 3, 4, 6, and 8 and also in the “longhorn” style with a long barrel. Really odd looking, that one… He said that long barrels sounded like Texas… Don’t know if those bits of gun info will help, but maybe! Gives a certain amount of freedom, anyway.

Just for historical interest, here’s Al Capone’s Colt .38. It would be the right era, as he was locked up by ’32, and busy losing his marbles from syphilis. Colt 38 with no safety and what looks like a 6-inch barrel:

capone-Colt-38

I can’t remember if I had changed the gun to have no safety with your copy of the manuscript–so that he puts it “on safety” by putting the hammer down.

Clive:

I referenced a firearm with a very short barrel that once belonged to Bonnie and Clyde. When I tried a longer, ‘Texas-style’ barrel, it looked like chimney emerging from the top of Conall’s head! Silly.

Marly:

Okay, all my thoughts for now! Love, Marly

Later

The drawing completed

What those who’d watched from the margins had to say

Midori Snyder (author and writer of the review of Maze of Blood that’s quoted on the jacket) “Ayiiii…kind of takes my breath away. It’s very “true” to the novel.”

Sienna Latham “Unsettling and beautiful. The trigger looks oddly like a very low ear!”

Paul Tree “Revolver as bone structure. It’s a brilliant thing.”

Mathijs van Soest “I like this version very much, but it is somehow strange to see a pistol in your drawings. Your drawings tend to have some melancholic features, but this is very confronting….yet very good.”

Harry Bell “I was unsure of the first version but didn’t have time to suggest anything earlier. I like this new one *much* more.”

Frank McNab “Class.”

Jonathan Paul Hayes “All at once very dark but extremely beautiful.”

Peter Byrom-Smith “This looks really great Clive.”

And the last words must be from author Marly Youmans

“As Paul said, the gun works as bone structure. And the image fits well in the series, uses the gunsight in an entrusting way. The brain in this one is macabre, full of ghosts. Many hurrahs to Clive.”

completed second interior page decoration for ‘Maze of Blood’

All these images were taken at night by lamplight. In reality the drawing is in black pencil on white paper, but I like the soft antique glow of how it looked under electric light. In the book all will be crisp black and white.

completed first interior page decoration for ‘Maze of Blood’

All these images were taken at night by lamplight. In reality the drawing is in black pencil on white paper, but I like the soft antique glow of how it looked under electric light. In the book all will be crisp black and white.

The drawing photographed in natural light

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