Animating the Unspeakable

The Witch that appeared in the Random Spectacular published picture book of Hansel & Gretel (see above), had already been through a complex line of development from first ideas to finished illustrations by the time I came to re-think her for the stage production.

On the stage the children were to be presented as tabletop puppets made by the wonderful artist/puppet-maker Jan Zalud, based on designs that I’d produced as a guide and that the two of us continued to discuss in great detail throughout his process of making. The puppets’ wardrobes were supervised by Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths.

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But the Witch was always going to be conjured as a shadow screen presence, and in the end was produced as several articulated papercut puppets that were stop-motion operated on a light-box in the manner of the silhouette films made by the great pioneer animator, Lotte Reiniger.

My friend, artist Peter Lloyd, created the papercut puppets for the production. He started with basic designs I provided, and then freely elaborated on them. Peter added the extraordinary detail of the many eyes worked into the surface texture of the Witch’s arms and hands, borrowing the idea from the garment stitched with eyes that the character had worn in my original picturebook. I knew from the moment I saw the papercuts that he’d gifted me with an amazing reimagining of the Witch from the book. A villain needs to be visually fascinating, whether an evil genius or a predatory alien, and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel is no exception. Peter Lloyd’s witchy hands – which as I recall were the first papercuts he made of the character – have a filigree orientalist quality that any animator would be happy to work with. Every finger-joint was articulated, so that when I came to animate the hands (assisted by another artist/collaborator on the project, Phil Cooper), I had the best possible range of movement.

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The Witch papercuts were filmed by Pete Telfer of Culture Colony as black silhouettes on a white screen, but were reversed to negative in the editing process, to create a more ghostly effect.

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It’s a fact that I simply couldn’t have produced silhouette puppets as elaborate as Peter’s, as his paper-cutting skills are magnificent and far exceed my own. He created three versions of the Witch: large papercuts of her head and hands for close-up shots, and full-length cloaked and uncloaked representations of her, the latter revealing her full, hybrid crab/scorpion appearance. (Her lashing, scorpion tail was restless in the animations, a barometer – rather like a cat’s tail – of her temper.)

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Above and below: two of Peter Lloyd’s silhouettes for the Witch on his cutting board.

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There were some minor adjustments to the puppets made during the filming. On the last day of shooting I cannibalised parts from two of them to make a fourth version, in order to present the character in her death throes. In addition, Phil Cooper and I added some eyelids to the large head of the Witch, to enliven her expressions in close up. (In animation, the mechanisms of blinking play a huge part in bringing a character to life.) I adjusted the principal pivot points of the full length puppets, adding transparent, swivelling animation-levers to enlarge their repertoires of movement. That included repositioning the hips and rearranging the legs so as to make the knees reverse-jointed, resulting in a more bird-like gait. (See below.)

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The loosely-jointed fingers on the full-length puppets proved unwieldy on the animation screen as they kept shifting when I didn’t want them to, no matter how careful I was. So instead I made a virtue of the problem, being sure to keep them moving at all times. Later, in the editing suite with Jon Street at The Moth Factory in Bristol, when we heard Matt Kaner’s music for the scene for the first time, it turned out he’d made unnerving use of plucked strings, and the effect perfectly matched the Witch’s twitching, restless hands, as though her energy couldn’t be stilled. Creepy!

Close collaboration between the participating artists was crucial on the project. From the outset I’d wanted to enrich the visual aesthetic of what I’d already created by way of the Hansel & Gretel picturebook for Random Spectacular and the toy theatre for Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, extending my earlier ideas by inviting those whose work I greatly admire to contribute to the stage production. Phil Cooper and I had already collaborated together on the video-trailer for the Random Spectacular picturebook, for which he’d made the set models. Peter Lloyd and Jan Zalud were both familiar with my work and well-prepared for the stage production, even though it departed from much of the material I’d made for the book. I made basic design templates that we all used to stay within the parameters of how the production would look, and they ensured consistency across the board. Everything was discussed at length. It was teamwork from start to finish.

 

 

Supervising Designer and Animator – Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Shadow Puppets – Peter Lloyd

Models, Background Paintings and Assistant Animator – Philip Cooper

Tabletop Puppets – Jan Zaud

Puppet Wardrobe by Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths

 

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Above: photograph courtesy of Philip Cooper

 

4-Star Review for Hansel & Gretel in The Guardian

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Above: Hansel & Gretel, with Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. Puppet design by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Photographed for The Guardian by Spencer McPherson/Still Moving Media

Hansel & Gretel premiered at the Cheltenham Music Festival to a packed auditorium in the beautiful theatre of the Parabola Arts Centre on Saturday. Rian Evans gave the production a 4-star review in The Guardian.

Read it HERE.

Music by Matthew Kaner

Poetry by Simon Armitage

Direction and Design Supervision by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Dramaturgy by Caroline Clegg

Produced by Kate Romano for Goldfield Productions

Narrator/Singer, Adey Grummet

Puppeteers, Di Ford and Lizzie Wort

Music performed by the Goldfield Ensemble

Puppets made by Jan Zalud

Puppet wardrobe supervision by Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths

Models and collages by Phil Cooper

Paper-cuts by Peter Lloyd

Animation by Clive Hicks-Jenkins assisted by Phil Cooper

Model and Animation Camera, Pete Telfer of Culture Colony

Vision Mixer and Production Cameraman, Jon Street of The Moth Factory

Lighting Design by David Abra

Listings information: touring dates 2018

  • Cheltenham Festival WORLD PREMIERE 7th July
  • Lichfield Festival ‘book at bedtime’, Lichfield Guildhall 13th July
  • Lichfield Festival matinee, Garrick Theatre 14th July
  • Three Choirs Festival, Tomkins Theatre 29th July
  • Oxford Contemporary Music, St Barnabas Church 14th September
  • Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York 3rd October
  • Barbican Milton Court Concert Hall LONDON PREMIERE 12th October
  • Canterbury Festival, Colyer-Fergusson Concert Hall 21st October
  • Bath Spa University, Michael Tippett Centre 24th October
  • Letchworth, Broadway Theatre 4th November

 

Hansel & Gretel is Coming!

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The Premiere at the Cheltenham Festival is on July 7th.

Box Office open from April 4th.

Words: Simon Armitage
Music: Matthew Kaner
Visual Direction: Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Dramaturgy: Caroline Clegg
Producer: Kate Romano for Goldfield Productions

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Puppets: Jan Zalud

Model Sets: Philip Cooper

Shadow Puppets: Peter Lloyd

Puppet Wardrobe Supervisor: Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths

 

 

Hansel & Gretel On Stage

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I’m pleased to at long last announce my collaboration with producer Kate Romano of Goldfield Productions on a new adaptation for the stage of Hansel & Gretel, with a spectacularly innovative poetic text by Simon Armitage, and music by composer Matthew Kaner.

Several years ago Kate visited me in at my studio when I was working on, among other things, a picture book of Hansel & Gretel. She’d come to me about another project, but in the end it was the picture book that stuck in her mind, and shortly thereafter she returned with the notion of making a stage production based on the story of the children lost in the wood.

As producer Kate brought composer Matthew Kaner to the project. I realised I’d recently been listening to Matt’s music when he was BBC Radio 3’s Embedded Composer during their 70th anniversary season. Matt, Kate and I met up in London to discuss the project the very day that the Hansel & Gretel picture book was being launched by Random Spectacular. We began to talk about a librettist. Simon Armitage’s name quickly came up, as he and I were already in conversation about illustrations for the revision and republishing of his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (Forthcoming from Faber & Faber later this year.) In due course, he was approached by Kate, and after a meeting with the team to discuss ideas, he joined us.

I’m visual supervisor and director to the production, and I’ll be working closely with Caroline Clegg, who’s been charged with the dramaturgy. (Dramaturgy is an alchemical art, hard to pin down with clarity, but basically making sure the many threads of the production pull together as planned to create a coherent whole.)

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The visual aesthetic of the project has radically changed from when I made the Hansel & Gretel picture book for Random Spectacular and the Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre kit commissioned by Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, with Simon’s extraordinary re-imagining of the story taking us in entirely new directions. I’ve come to view this latest incarnation as the final piece of a trilogy, in which the same story is interpreted in three entirely different ways.
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Above, the picture book of Hansel & Gretel (in a special binding made for me by bookbinder, Christopher Shaw), and below, the Benjamin Pollock’s Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre that I designed for Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop.
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I’m working closely with artist Philip Cooper, who’s producing the sinister building-block sets that will be projected onto a screen during performances. (Philip was previously my collaborator on the animated trailer we made for the Hansel & Gretel picture book.) With our shared love of Neo-Romanticism and German Expressionism – he moves easily between working in the UK and his home in Berlin – Phil and I share a visual aesthetic that means we collaborate very comfortably together.

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Artist, Peter Lloyd, is creating the most extraordinary shadow-puppets. He and I have an interesting way of working. I produce rough sketches and an open brief of how I want a character shaped and characterised, and then Peter runs with the idea, elaborating and adding layers of further detailing. If I’m the director setting out how I see the role, Peter is the casting-agent bringing me the perfect actor! Except he’s a casting agent who ‘makes’ the actors, the Baron von Frankenstein in our company of creators! The final stage will be when I stop-motion animate Peter’s shadow creatures into life.

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I’ll be working with my long-time film-maker and collaborator Pete Telfer of Culture Colony on the animation sequences. Pete and I have been working together for over a decade. He’s filmed and assisted me in the editing of countless projects, including The Soldier’s Tale for the forthcoming Música en Segura festival in Andalusia, and the animated book-trailer for the Random Spectacular Hansel & Gretel picture book.

 

 

The onstage puppets for the production are being made by the wonderful Jan Zalud, who I’ve been aching to work with for many years.

Below: Designs I’ve made to guide Jan in the making of our Hansel and Gretel tabletop-puppets.

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For this project we’ve assembled a wonderful team. The production premieres at the Cheltenham Festival in July.

Touring dates (further information & ticket details to follow) 

  • Cheltenham Festival WORLD PREMIERE  – 7th July 2018 
  • Lichfield Festival ‘book at bedtime’ Lichfield Guildhall  – 13th July 2018
  • Lichfield Festival matinee Lichfield Guildhall  – 14th July 2018
  • Three Choirs Festival  – 29th July 2018
  • Oxford Contemporary Music  – 14th September 2018
  • Barbican Milton Court Concert Hall Schools Matinee – 12th October 2018
  • Barbican Milton Court Concrt Hall – LONDON PREMIERE – 12th October 2018
  • Canterbury Festival  Colyer -Fergusson Concert Hall  – 21st October 2018
  • Bath Spa University  – Michael Tippett Centre – 24th October 2018
  • Broadway Theatre (Letchworth)  – 4th November 2018
  • Cambridge Music Festival – 23rd November 2018

 

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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

Back to Black

Yesterday when our neighbours called around kindly bearing Simnel cake and duck eggs, we started talking about ‘Vantablack’, the so-called ‘new pigment’ that’s been in the headlines. Artists, myself included, have been ranting at the news as reported that Anish Kapoor had ‘purchased’ the exclusive rights to it. Now why the fuck should any artist, no matter how esteemed or puffed up by the media (and themselves) be allowed to ‘own’ a colour? It seemed like another manifestation of a grabby culture in which individuals and organisations with enough money and clout, snaffle up anything that might be profited from. The headlines have been pretty tacky, volatile and occasionally grammatically clumsy.

ArtNet News: Anish Kapoor angers artists by seizing exclusive rights to ‘blackest black’ pigment.

The Guardian: Can an Artist ever really own a colour?

Daily Mail: Artists at war after top sculptor is given exclusive rights to the purest black paint ever which is used on stealth jets.

My neighbour John wrote to me this morning:

John Warren: We have been doing more reading about the “new black” its a long way from being available as a paint. The nano-tubes have to be fixed on a surface in the lab, so sections of it could be made to fit a piece of art.

Clive: Ah ha! So presumably it would be easy to apply a flat surface, such as a painting with clearly defined areas of black.

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But could it be made to adhere to a complex three dimensional form, such as a fragile found object like this root…

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… or would that object first need to be rendered with a 3-D printer into something more physically robust?

John: Joe reckons that would be possible. There is talk about covering spy planes. However, it fails if you touch it as the orientation of the nano-tubes is changed

Clive: So the finish is incredibly delicate. Not much good if the brush of a hand or a gust of wind can realign and ruin the arrangement… and thus the visual effectiveness… of the nano-tubes. It sounds not so much a new pigment as an optical effect requiring very specific conditions. Looks like I’m going to have to stick with paint.

Interestingly, the dense blacks of my last exhibition were essentially an optical effect. I painted the backgrounds of the artworks with black gouache. The gouache paint dries matt, reflecting light in such a way as to emphasise its less-than-black characteristics. Even the highest quality black gouache tends to appear charcoal grey in most light conditions. But when I put the images under glass, the black becomes incredibly rich and deep, a sort of polished obsidian much blacker in appearance than when viewed without the glass.

On closer examination, though phrases like ‘bought the exclusive rights to’ have been much bandied about in relation to Kapoor’s acquisition, the reality seems to be a publicity stunt by the makers of ‘Vantablack’, invented to associate their product with a ‘name’, though the artist has clearly been complicit.

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Above: Vantablack applied to crumpled aluminium foil to demonstrate its matt, ‘flattening’ qualities.

So at this point Vantablack is not a paint, and needs to be affixed to surfaces in laboratory conditions. Nevertheless, despite the fact that this discovery is undoubtedly exciting for artists everywhere, its much-trumpeted announcement in the press, couched in the language and values of a celebrity-culture obsessed with ‘exclusivity’… whatever that is… diminishes the idea of a ‘new black’ in my eyes. I would have been much more excited by news that the makers had offered to work with art students, than be assaulted with yet more evidence of society’s perceived attachment to the frankly tacky claims of ownership from an artist who might be expected to know better. While it comes as no surprise that Kapoor has allowed himself to be associated with Vantablack in this way, it doesn’t make me think highly of him.

I recently spent a few days at Southampton Solent School of Art, Design and Fashion, invited by the artist Jonny Hannah… who is a tutor there… to talk to students about my work. I was massively impressed by the school and its staff, and by the fantastic invention and energy of Director, Peter Lloyd. Peter and his associates have created innovative opportunities for students, such as the award-winning Re:So retail space, located in a busy Southampton shopping centre, which is stocked, managed and staffed by students who for the most part make all the products offered. I visited the shop with Peter Lloyd and my socks were blown off by the experience.

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At Southampton all efforts are being made to build opportunities for the next generation of artists and designers, rather than creating an impression, like Anish Kapoor and the makers of Vantablack, of doors slamming loudly in their faces!

Bravo/Brava Southampton Solent!

The Great Blandish

Here’s my latest papercut head in the Exquisite Corpse collaboration with Peter Lloyd.

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‘The Great Blandish’ (AKA ‘Lickety-Spit’) is an online sexual predator. He… or perhaps she, for one never knows in the virtual world… entices his victims with honeyed words and persistent, hard-to-resist entreaties for intimacy. But this particular tongue is forked… or more correctly, double-bifurcated… and no words sliding off it can be trusted. Moreover, so skilled and duplicitous is the practiced seducer, that once caught fast in the coils of that tentacled, sucker-lined tongue, few have the will to break free. TGB hides from plain view behind stolen identities and photographs of hipster dudes plundered from Instagram, so no-one suspects the monstrous reality of the beast.

Here are the stages of his making.

The Drawings

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The Cutting

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