equus revisited: part four

Part four of my Afterword to the 2009 Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s Equus.

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The horses in this version of Equus are sometimes recognisable animals, sometimes the hybrid man/horse/god of Alan’s imagination and Dysart’s fearful reflection. In places they become brutalised beasts, lingering near the text like apparitions haunting their tormentor. Significantly, Shaffer never mentions the fate of the blinded animals, though the implication must be that they were destroyed. Absences like these allow an artist to slip into the gap, to illuminate rather than illustrate.
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In Equus Peter Shaffer created a play that became an iconic presence in twentieth-century theatre. It has been challenging, in the strangest way, to direct the play at last. This edition has been a collaborative venture from the start. Nicolas and Frances are my sternest critics and greatest supporters. I greatly appreciate them in both roles. Callum James had the generosity to share his original idea. I owe much to Simon Callow (Shaffer’s original Amadeus), who helped me dissect the text, discussing it in lengthy e-mails and bringing his insights to bear on my understanding of the characters. Having seen him on stage in the role of Dysart, I always heard Simon’s magnificent voice when I summoned the character to mind. And finally there is Peter Wakelin, who tirelessly navigates my ship through all too frequently choppy waters and who, without dissent, allowed his likeness to be used throughout this book. Such are the ways of creativity. He is not as sinister as I’ve made him look.
C.H.-J. 2009
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Study of Peter made for Equus. Conté pencil and acrylic ink.

A play by Sir Peter Shaffer
with imagery by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Main Edition: 200 copies (1-200) 
Special Edition: 10 copies (I-X)
Signed by the playwright and the artist.

Contact The Old Stile Press  to purchase.

Publishing History
Equus first published by Andre Deutsch, 1974
Copyright Peter Shaffer 1973
Three plays first published in Penguin Books 1976
This edition published in 2009 by The Old Stile Press
Images by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Designed by Nicolas McDowall
The images were printed by Nicolas McDowall at The Old Stile Press
The Bodoni types were printed by J. W. Nortend Ltd, Sheffield
Bound at The Fine Bindery
ISBN: 13 987-0-907664-83-3
Edition of 200 copies
Special Edition of 10 copies
Limited edition lino-print, one of several extras included in the Special Edition
Click on Equus in the topics box to view past posts about the making of the book.

equus revisted: part three

Part three of my Afterword to the 2009 Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s Equus.


Gradually I pared down the characters to just Strang and Dysart and, of course, Nugget and his stable companions. By using a radically limited cast, I could better produce images that felt like ideas. For these I had to invent a visual language: the back view of a naked youth can stand for Alan, while the bearded profile and dark gaze will summon Dysart.

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In my sketch books the horses developed in ways I hadn’t anticipated, as though demanding fresh transformations from page to page. These metamorphoses had something to do with time: I noted that every scene where Nugget appears is either recalled or imagined, never in the present. Alan describes past events, as do his parents, but other characters, particularly Dysart, imagine them. Therein lay clues to the way the book might develop. Face to face with this troubled young man, anyone might feel the presences of his crime and his victims.

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 The fourth and final part of the Equus Afterword tomorrow.

equus revisited: part two

Part two of my Afterword to the 2009 Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s Equus.

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Two decades on, an unfinished circle drew closer to completion when Nicolas McDowall suggested that I collaborate with the Old Stile Press on an edition of Equus ‘with images’. Here was an opportunity to bring together the experiences of both my former vocation and my present one. The idea had come about when Callum Jones, himself a maker of books, met Nicolas at a book fair in London and whispered the words ‘Equus‘ and Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ in his ear. According to Nicolas, his first response was ‘It’s obvious! Why didn’t I think of that?’ The idea took root in his imagination, and after extensive enquiries and negotiations by Frances, permissions were secured.

Double-page spread

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During the ensuing eighteen months I discovered that making images to accompany the text of a play was a more challenging task than decorating a volume of poems. Poetry supports allusion, as I had previously found when working on Old Stile Press editions of the work of Richard Barnfield and Catriona Urquhart. Vignettes of mossy gravestones under country spires have decorated many poetic meditations on the transience of life and have been interpreted as metaphors, enriching the words without overwhelming them. Thomas Bewick was a master of the vignette and, no doubt, that is why so many volumes of poetry have come decorated with wood-engravings by him or his followers.

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But the meaning of a contemporary play text is usually more explicit. There are characters who come with histories, events dramatic and mundane, stage directions, numbered scenes and dialogue. In the book I knew my images would sit next to Shaffer’s words. I wanted to avoid describing too closely the dramatic action of the play, which would result in overstatement. Moreover Equus came freighted with the imaginative inventions of its original designer, John Napier. I needed to create my own universe for this new expression of Shaffer’s story. Meditations and inventions, rather than recollections of past productions, were my aim.

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Part three of the Equus Afterword tomorrow.

equus revisited: part one

The Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s Equus was published in 2009. A forthcoming Penguin Classics edition of the play in new livery and with cover artwork by me will be out later this year. Right now I’m up to my knees in Mari Lwyd imagery again, as I embark on the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra project for which composer Mark Bowden and writer Damian Walford Davies have been commissioned to create a new music/theatre piece, The Mare’s Tale, inspired by my 2001 series of drawings for which that title was coined.

I’ve been trawling through the horse-related material I’ve produced over the past twenty years, and find there is plenty of it. Here, to kick-start what promises to be my ‘year of the horse’, is the ‘afterword’ I wrote for the OSP edition of Equus, together with some of my illustrations for the book. It was edited by my friend Marly Youmans, who kindly cast her writer’s eye over it for me and made numerous helpful suggestions.

The cover of Equus

Afterword by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

In the mid 1980s I was asked to direct a murder mystery play by Anthony Shaffer. Whodunnit was an opportunity to work with an interesting cast on a national tour, and I accepted the offer. However, I also harboured a faint hope that in so doing I might meet the playwright’s twin brother Peter and, by dint of the wonderful work I planned to do, convince him I would be the perfect director for a new production of his great play Equus. Anthony declared himself delighted with the production, but I never met Peter and I never directed Equus. A few years later I left my career in the theatre to concentrate on painting.

The illustrated lining of the folding slip-case

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Title page of my own copy inscribed by the playwright to the illustrator

Part two of the Equus Afterword tomorrow.

a time of gifts

Earlier this year the artist and illustrator Ed Kluz contacted me to ask about purchasing a piece of my work as a birthday gift for his partner, the curator and art historian Simon Martin. However after some discussion, we agreed instead on a like-for-like transaction. Ed selected an acrylic study of an unused illustration, Fallen Conquistador, made for the Old Stile Press 2009 edition of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus. Later I selected a collage he had made, Dean Terrace, Edinburgh, as my Christmas gift to Peter. This is one of  the most delightful perks I can think of as far as being an artist is concerned, the happy exchange of artworks between  those who admire each other. I’m relieved to report that both recipients loved their presents!

Ed’s Dean Terrace, Edinburgh, selected by me for Peter.

My Fallen Conquistador from Equus, selected by Ed for Simon.

Merry Christmas to you all!

full circle


Above: National Theatre poster for Equus. The image is by Moura George

Peter Shaffer’s Equus enthralls London audiences when first presented by the National Theatre at the Old Vic. The play is directed by John Dexter and designed by John Napier, starring Alec McCowen as Martin Dysart and twenty-year-old Peter Firth in his breakthrough role as Alan Strang. I see the play and I’m swept away by its power.


Above: Gilbert Lesser poster for Sidney Lumet’s film of the play. (My thanks to John Coulthart at Feuilleton for identifying the designer .)

Sydney Lumet directs the screen version of Equus, adapted by Shaffer himself. Richard Burton and Peter Firth head a cast that includes Eileen Atkins, Joan Plowright, Colin Blakely and Jenny Agutter.


I’m asked to direct a murder mystery play by Anthony Shaffer. Whodunnit is an opportunity to work with an interesting cast on a national tour, and I accept the offer. However, I harbour a faint hope that in so doing I might meet the playwright’s twin brother Peter and, by dint of the wonderful work I plan to do, convince him I’ll be the perfect director for his great play, Equus. At the opening Anthony declares himself delighted with the production of Whodunnit, but I never meet Peter and I never direct Equus. A few years later I leave my career in the theatre to concentrate on painting.


Above: Red Halter. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

My first major exhibition in a public gallery, The Mare’s Tale, opens at Newport Museum and Art Gallery. The main body of work in it is a meditation on my father’s childhood memory of the Welsh mid-winter tradition of the Mari Lwyd, and how he was marked by the experience and haunted by it right up to his death. The Mari Lwyd was from the ‘hobby-horse’ tradition of mumming, and manifested as a horse’s skull on a pole with a sheet draped to cover the man who carried it. But in my drawings the Mari appears in many forms, some of which echo Shaffer’s horse-worshipping boy.

Above: Stumbles and Falls II. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

Above: The Mare’s Tale. Poems by Catriona Urquhart and images by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Published by the Old Stile Press in 2001.

Catriona Urquhart produces a ‘poetic text’ for the exhibition, originally intended to be printed onto gallery panels. However, Nicolas and Frances McDowall at the Old Stile Press are so impressed by the poems, that they publish them to coincide with the opening. Titled The Mare’s Tale, the edition is illustrated with pen and ink images that I make specially for it.

Tend: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

I’m invited to show two works from The Mare’s Tale series in the exhibition Dreaming Awake at the Terezin Memorial Gallery in the Czech Republic.


Deposition III. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

A second Mari Lwyd exhibition, The Tower on the Hill, opens at Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery, with all the drawings from The Mares’s Tale plus a handful of new works on the same theme. Among the new drawings is Deposition III, which is acquired by Nicolas and Frances McDowall of The Old Stile Press.


Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Collage made as a trial image for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus.

Equus has continued to transfix audiences and actors over three decades, and diverse productions of it have been staged in countries around the world. Finally a major London revival of the play appears when Thea Sharrock’s production opens at the Gielgud Theatre with Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe as Dysart and Strang. A performance is attended by Callum James, who has seen my drawing Deposition III while staying with Nicolas and Frances McDowall at their home in Wales. Later that weekend Callum meets with Nicolas at a London book fair, and whispers the words ‘Equus‘ and ‘Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ in his ear. Nicolas approaches me with the notion of making an illustrated edition of Equus. Permissions are sought and agreed with the author and Penguin Books. After a trial image made from collage, I begin work by making a series of preparatory maquettes before starting on some drawings.

Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Maquette made in preparation for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus.

Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Preparatory drawings for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus. Conté pencil and acrylic on paper.


Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Images for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus.

The Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus is launched at the London Art Book Fair. Simon Callow, who has been playing Dysart in the national tour of Equus, turns up at the event to lend his support. His insights into the text have been fundamental to the way I’ve approached it.


Above: Both Fall. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper. Collection of Simon Callow.

My sixtieth birthday retrospective opens at the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales. The National Museum of Wales, Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery and private collectors from across Wales lend works for the exhibition, and for the first time since 2002, all the large Mari Lwyd drawings are assembled in one place.

Above: the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales, 2011.

Lund Humpphries publish a monograph of my work to coincide with the retrospective, with an introduction by Simon Callow in which he describes that it was a drawing from the Mare’s Tale series seen in a Bath art gallery, that led him to seek me out. A Mari Lwyd drawing from his own collection hangs in the gallery.


I’m approached by Isabelle De Cat, picture editor at Penguin, who asks permission to use an image of one of my maquettes on the cover of the play, due to be re-editioned in new livery by Penguin Modern Classics. The new Penguin edition will be available in mid-2013, forty years after I first saw and fell in love with Equus at the Old Vic.

the penguin modern classics cover

I fear I had to make you all wait for this, but here it is at last.

It’ll be a little while yet before the book is available for purchase, as it’s not due out until mid 2013. The maquette is currently in Saint Helier, on show in a display-case at the Jersey Arts Centre.

Last year it starred in a documentary by the film-maker Pete Telfer, in which some maquettes went through their paces in short animated clips. The clips were really just a light-hearted way of illustrating the range of movement the maquettes are capable of. In reality they get blu-tacked to a wall of my studio, and I change their arrangements almost daily. I’d often said that if someone took daily photographs of the ‘maquette wall ‘, then after a year there would be an interesting animated film to show for it.