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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Peter and Clive and the exquisite corpse: Messaging 1

Peter Lloyd kick-started the Exquisite Corpse project just before Christmas during a first visit with his family to Ty Isaf. We’d hatched a plan to get together to swop some work. (More about that in a forthcoming post.) From the moment he and his wife Sharon arrived here, together with their children Theo and Rowan, everybody got on famously. Jack soon had Theo and Rown engaged in games of throw-and-fetch and hide-and-seek, and conversations between the adults were breathtakingly lively and diverse!

I have no idea whether Peter had been considering a papercut project for a while, but then decided while he was here that we might collaborate, or whether he dreamed up the idea at 5 am in our kitchen as we sat talking over tea. But after the weekend, it certainly wasn’t long before he messaged me with his plan for the project.

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05/10/15

Peter Lloyd
Hi Clive:) Are you in North or South Wales? Love your work, I’d swap in a heart-beat if you fancied:)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
West Wales, Peter, just outside Aberystwyth. Big old house in four acres.
The notion of a swop is heart-stopping (in a good way) so YES YES YES. Thank you. That’s a ‘yes’, in case you were wondering!

11/12/15

Peter L
Hello Clive:) I am just planning the Lloyd decampment to Liverpool for the festive period and wondered if we might be able to stitch a Hitch-Jenkins sleepover onto the end of the itinerary? Just to say hello and swap some lovely pictures. If you’re both willing and available then we could arrive on 27th then leave on the 28th Dec? No pressure at all Clive

Clive H-J
Oh Fuckbuckets!!! We’re away those dates, staying over Christmas at Lincoln with an old friend. I am sick sick sick at this. We would have LOVED having you. Oh FUCK!!!!!!

Peter L
Hold on to your fuckbuckets Clive… what about if we arrived on the 20th and left 21st Dec?

Clive H-J
That’s a deal!
GREAT!!!!

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15/12/15

Clive H-J
I’m in a complete quandary about the print I’d like. I have a number of favourites. Might it be possible to bring these four, for us to select from?
a) Lord Muck
b) Weekend Warrior
c) Natural Disaster
d Stocks and Shares

The very last sat nav instruction will tell you to take the left fork off, but ignore it and continue along the lane.

Peter L
I’ve been forked off in much graver circumstances:) We’re wellied up and really looking forward to visiting! Very good choices, I’ll delve into the studio and see what I can channel from the plan chests. Really looking forward to meeting the three of you.

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21/12/15

Peter L
Arrived home, safe and sound:) We had a brilliant time and we’re really grateful for the beautiful prints and the opportunity to spend some time with Peter and yourself. Thank you X

Clive H-J
We loved having you, Sharon, Theo and Rowan here, and we had a wonderful time. (Jack too!) I’m feeling buzzed by our conversations and the ideas we shared. And I REALLY want to do that papercut/’Exquisite Corpse’ thing with you. We love our Mexican wrestler prints and I’m going to be STRAIGHT down to the framer with them after the holiday!

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24/12/15

Clive H-J
I keep looking at the wrestler prints in the dining room, and smiling with pleasure!!!
You and I SO have to do a book together. That Exquisite Corpse idea is nudging away in my grey cells!
Have a GREAT Christmas. Love to all. xxx

Peter L
Ha ha, I am so glad to hear that:) I never wake up early Clive, but something clicked that night and I just had to be up and about on the off chance that we might ‘make’. I’ve got an idea for a theme, I’ll run it by you later.
The Ty Isaf effect didn’t just rattle my creative cage, Rowan has constantly drawn since she left the house; in a way that she’s never drawn before?? You, Peter, Jack, the collection or the house is/are magic and have had a very welcome and profound effect on us all! X

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28/12/15

Peter L
I’ve been thinking about our exquisite corpses. Papercut would be ideal because it’s accessible, easy to post and will look unified when we slot them together or print them or laser cut them or whatever we end up doing with them. You okay with Papercut as a process?

Clive H-J
You bet!

Peter L
In terms of a theme I wondered if we might invent a series of contemporary Folkloric characters? Beasts or people in ritualistic dress. I noticed that you had a copy of Arcadia Britannica, these are fantastic images but, as with a lot of Folklore, it harks to the past and relates to the countryside. Could we create a folklore for the city that deals with contemporary concerns and first world problems?

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Starting points for our creations could include…
The Mobile phone (it’s a God. We talk to it everyday, we invest and entrust our closest secrets to it and with faith and patience it solves our problems and helps us find our way in life. Amen to that.
Online dating (a wonderful minefield full of pathos, happy endings and lunatics)
The Proliferation of screens (smart phone, iPad, iWatch, desktop, laptop sat Nav, TV etc. Too many screens or not enough eyes? We could fix that…)
Connectivity through Satellites (we can connect directly from our front room to the celestial heavens and how do we harness this gift? we use it to order Chinese, buy off eBay and find the nearest cash point or greasy spoon)
Time (or the lack of it in our busy lives)
Social Media (it’s a many headed beast; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc.)
Sexting (our folkloric menagerie wouldn’t be complete without a bit of how’s your father)

Clive H-J
HA HA HA!!!!!
Well haven’t YOU the fertile imagination!!!!
Yeah, I’m up for all of that. I don’t have smart phone… though I know I should have… and will get around to it. My little Orange pay-as-you-go, that doesn’t even have a camera, is OK for letting Peter know where I am, or calling for help when the car breaks down, but I ache for something that’s less stone-age.
Interestingly, social media has been where some of my most interesting collaborations have begun. I LOVE it. Have a fantastic thing going with the American dancer and film-maker, Jordan Morley. We got very creative in ways I hadn’t at all expected. He was the model in all the Dark Movements images, and a damned enterprising one, too!
So, bring it on!
You’ve kick-started something here. It all sounds right up my street.
Juicy!

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To be continued

Colourised

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As Peter Lloyd and I produce paper-cut elements toward our Exquisite Corpse project, Peter has been playing with a digital colouring app. The image above is of three cuts made by me (head, text and fetish-boot), put together as a part of the process of trying different juxtapositions. The images below are the results of Peter playing with the image.

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This is all still at a stage of experimentation and development, and although we have ideas as to how we might take things forward, we remain pretty free-flowing while in the the process of creating the paper-cut building-blocks. Usually on projects I have very clear ideas of where I’m going, but because Peter and I have no expectations or deadlines with this, there is a wonderful lack of pressure, and an exhilarating sense of creativity and fun.

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Here’s a ‘colourisation’ of a couple of Peter’s cuts.

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Project status: ongoing