The Witchy Tree

Peter and I went on a walk with our friend Mary-Ann Constantine and her children on the hills above their home.

Below: cotton-grass seed heads make good Hobbit ears!

During the walk I picked up a dried stalk that caught my eye, and carried it home. At Ty Isaf I put it, root end upwards in a shot-glass on the kitchen table, where it sat for over a year. Every day I looked at it. Occasionally Mary-Ann would call, and prompted by the dried stalk, we would recollect the walk.

Eventually I carried the stalk upstairs to the studio, where I planned on using it as a model for drawings of the haunted wood in Hansel & Gretel, my picture-book project with Simon Lewin for his Random Spectacular imprint at St. Jude’s.

Illustration graduate Johann Rohl arrived at Ty Isaf in August 2015, to work for a month on a project in the studio that required we make collaborative artworks. Both of us used the dried stalk as a model for drawings of trees. In this image, the drawing of a tree on the right is by me…

… and in this photograph of a maquette of the woodcutter father I made for Hansel & Gretel, the tree behind it has been drawn by Johann.

Here are trees by both of us, together with an owl made by Johann for our collaborative project.

In Berlin, my friend Phil Cooper is preparing magnificently  mood-drenched models to be used for the animated ‘book-trailer’ we plan for Hansel & Gretel, and he’s recently sent photographs of a tree he’s made based on the ‘Witchy Tree’ work he’s seen online here at the Artlog and at Facebook.

And here it is in a shot alongside Phil’s model of the Witch’s cottage

That’s a lot of work out of one dried stalk picked up on a Welsh hillside.

Phil Cooper in a universe of his own making

My friend Phil Cooper, who recently stayed with us at Ty Isaf, mentioned while walking around the Dark Movements exhibition, that he felt in a bit of a creative cul-de-sac with his painting. Here are a couple of his images that have caught my eye recently. He doesn’t look in a cul-de-sac to me.

Clearly Phil is a man who has mastery over his brushes, and he has a wonderful capacity for capturing mood. (That top image was born to be an illustration for one of the ghost stories of the great M. R. James.) And so whatever his problem, it seemed to me it would be less to do with his skills, and more with his studio practice. We talked about the fact that I often make models as the starting point of paintings, as I did with the Borderlands series. Model first, then drawing, and finally painting.

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I suggested that he try it as a technique. Back home in Berlin, his fingers were busy. The following images are models he made and then imaginatively lit and photographed.

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I think these are wonderful as works of art in their own rights. Now we must wait to see where they carry Phil. Watch at his blog, Hedgecrows. Next year Phil and I are going to be collaborating on making the video-trailer for my picture-book of Hansel & Gretel for Random Spectacular. He’s going to be interpreting my images of the Witch’s house, into model form for the filming.

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…”

the tattooed man: Phil Cooper writes about his skin

I’ve been thinking for some time that I might get another tattoo, though without a clear idea of what it might be. As I approach my 50th birthday, I feel I’m moving into a phase of life that might be marked with some more ink. So, when I saw that Clive was planning the Skin/Skòra project, I knew that I’d found what I’d needed as the final push to go ahead.

I already have quite a few tattoos. My arms and shoulders are covered, and I have a large design on the left side of my chest and around my right thigh. Some were applied for specific reasons. I’ve two snakes on my right arm, the first one inked in my mid-twenties. It’s a small, simple, black design taken from a Greek vase of the third century BC. It’s just a shadow now, overlaid by a later and much more elaborate Japanese snake design in colour which covers my entire arm. I like the way (to risk sounding like something from ‘pseud corner’) that some of my tattoos are a record, bearing witness to how my life has evolved. The snake is a creature I’ve been drawn too since I can remember and it has often popped up in my life in quite serendipitous ways, so that its repeatedly suggested itself as the subject of my tattoos.

Other tattoos, such as the geometric designs I have up my left arm, don’t really have any specific personal meaning. I just liked the look of the patterns on my skin. I was fortunate to find talented tattooists in London, mainly Xed and Jason at Into You. I spent many hours with them as they worked on their designs, and we got to know each other fairly well. Jason tragically died just before he completed the Japanese snake. I left the final unfinished peony flower on my tricep as it was, in memory of him and his talent.

Moving to London in 1988 and finally coming out properly, was an intense period. I started to take my first faltering steps living openly as a gay man when such a life meant exposure not only to sometimes violent prejudice, but to a terrifying, hitherto unknown illness that was killing my friends horribly. My tattoos from that time were all black, geometric shapes, and they probably reflected how life was back then. It was a time of bold statements, When beautiful, talented young people in their twenties were dying, purely decorative tattoos just didn’t do it. I had three heavy, solid black stripes tattooed across the right side of my chest, and I remember somebody saying, ‘Oh, they look like bars across your heart’. Of course that was exactly what they were, although it wasn’t a conscious decision. After so much fear and grief my heart was pretty much out of bounds.

The mid-’90s were a dark time, my ‘wilderness years’ when I threw myself into full-on hedonism and went off the rails for a while. By 1999 I knew I had to start taking myself seriously and change how I was living or I wouldn’t see much of the new millennium. After a bleak couple of years I started to thrive again. Life took on more colour and more warmth, and my new tattoos from that period did the same. Pink cherry blossom and a big green snake coiling up my arm, full of movement and full of life.

I built a new career, and started having fun again, taking up rock-climbing and kayaking, which became major passions. My new hobbies got me out of the city and into the countryside. Kayaking through remote landscapes in northern Spain, the Hebrides and Morocco, and rock-climbing all over the UK. Not only did I have a great time, I also reconnected with parts of myself that had been forgotten for many years. The sheer delight of being out in nature, seeing wild flowers and animals and swimming in the sea. Clinging to rock faces dozens of feet up in the air put a lot of things into perspective, and brought my attention back to the joy of living on the moment. In 2007 I met the extraordinary man who was to become my husband.

When I met Jan I was commissioning health services for the NHS and local authorities, and he was a consultant psychiatrist. As we got to know each other Jan shared with me how much he used to enjoy photography, and I told him how much I’d once loved painting. We encouraged each other to pick up these pursuits again. Seven years on, Jan is no longer a doctor but has become a successful and accomplished professional photographer, and I’m… well I’m still commissioning health services, though I have picked up my paints and brushes again. But I am finishing my job in January and taking the plunge, moving over to Berlin to be with Jan and to become a struggling artist. As if that city doesn’t have enough of those. Nevertheless, I’m going to be joining them, scary and exciting as that is.

Getting back into painting again found me looking at other artists. One day as I was browsing the internet I came across an image that immediately caught my attention. It was a painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins of The Green Knight. Seeing it was the start of what became a wonderful friendship, and I’ve been enthralled by Clive’s work since. This year I’ve acquired a drawing and a painting by him, The Dragon of Many Colours, and The Catch, the latter with it’s dreamy, tattooed fisherman.

My tattoos were executed over a period of about 15 years in total. I had them done for a variety of reasons: some were celebratory, some to act as talismans to carry me through difficult times, some as declarations to the world. I haven’t had any work done for about eight or nine years. The motivation to have more seemed to wane as I grew older and mellowed out. Times, and my life, changed. But now, with Skin/Skóra, the threads of the past and the present are coming together: Tattoos, and painting, finding Clive, acquiring a painting by him of a tattooed man, talking with him of designing a tattoo for me, and yet to come, becoming a tattooed man in in one of his planned portraits for the project. I’m so excited and so pleased to be part of it.

One of the ideas we’ve been talking about as a theme for my design is a ‘green man’, a mythological figure I’ve identified with all my life, and that I’ve reconnected with in recent years. I may yet decide on a different theme (I’m also in love with Clive’s killer gingerbread zombies from his forthcoming Hansel & Gretel book), but I’m especially drawn to the green man idea. The connection with the natural world, the spirit in the tree and the eternal budding and blossoming of life, feels right at the moment as I reach my half century, and look forward of the next!

Phil Cooper, 25th November, 2014.

‘sold’ to the man with with the smile on his face!

Sold at Oriel Tegfryn

The Catch

acrylic on panel – 42 x 42 cm – 2014

 …

While torrents of words have been written by art historians about painters and their works, and while newspapers and periodicals carry the pronouncements of critics on exhibitions of works both historic and contemporary, and there are even inveterate private collectors who occasionally pronounce on their collecting policies, there is very little written by individuals who set out on a mission to purchase a particular painting. Perhaps that’s because art-buyers are shy about trumpeting their acquisitions, or don’t feel able to express in words the feelings that drive their collecting.

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Phil Cooper is not yet a collector, and indeed may never be one, though by admission he felt compelled to purchase his most recent painting, which might be a sign of an incipient obsession. (I’ve know many art collectors who started out innocently enough with the getting of one or two paintings, but then found themselves in the undertow of an unexpected and hard-to-control passion-to-acquire.) But for now, and I hope hereafter, Phil has been measured in his judgements and acquisitions. He is a man who has collected two works by a single painter, and that painter is me. He purchased the study of a dragon I’d made for the cover of the just-about-to-be-launched Marly Youmans novel Glimmerglass, and yesterday he wrote to tell me that he’s acquired a painting I’ve written about here on the Artlog, The Catch.

Phil is an artist himself, and so he sees things with an informed eye. He’s open-hearted and candid in his writing on his own blog, and he’s a generous commenter on the blogs of other artists. In his letter to me he wrote beautifully about what had drawn him to the painting and made him want to have it in his home, and as a direct result of that, he agreed to write again, a piece for public consumption at the Artlog. Here it is:

“I first came across Clive’s work about three and a half years ago. I think I was Googling ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ and amongst the images that popped up was a beautiful painting of the head of the green knight that I now know to be one of three studies Clive made on the subject some years ago. The strong composition and colour palette, the intensity and poetry of the Knight’s expression, and an elusive quality that is less easy to define, all stopped me in my tracks and I went ‘whoa, what’s this?’. I started to jump from one link to another, greedily gobbling up all the fantastic images that lit up my screen. By the end of the evening I was hooked and I went on to become an avid fan of Clive’s work, which I’ve been following ever since on the fantastic, peerless Artlog.

 

Recently, I started to think about acquiring a painting and at about the same time I saw a new work begin to emerge on Artlog. A thumbnail sketch appeared of a bearded man holding a basket or platter of fish. The sketch had all the hallmarks of Clive’s preparatory drawings; dynamic energy, exciting composition, crackling negative space and an exquisite use of line and mark making.

 

When the finished painting of ‘The Catch was revealed online a few days later, I was so taken with it I’d keep snatching a glimpse on my iPad throughout the day, poring over the details and the marvellous effect of the whole. At first I was struck by the glow of the fisherman’s pale skin and red hair against the dark blues and blacks of the sea and sky. Then the beautifully painted mackerel, and tattoo also caught my eye, but what I was drawn back to, what really enthralled me, was that face, with the dreamy, unfathomable, eyes-closed expression.

 

Clive wrote a superb ‘from start to finish’ post about the evolution of ‘The Catch’ on the Artlog, the kind of post that blogging was invented for in my opinion, and being given such a detailed insight into how the painting came into being made me love it even more. Clive wrote about how he wrestled with the eyes of the fisherman, spending a lot of time just staring at the work in progress, trying to pinpoint what might be needed to ‘clinch it’. He mentioned that painting the figure with his eyes closed was a risk, that it could break the connection between the painting and the viewer. It’s true that we cannot know what is going on behind those eyelids; is his reverie concerned with past pain or pleasure, dreams or fears of the future? The tattoo unfolding down his arm depicts a ship pursued by a monstrous nautilus; had he escaped such peril at sea? Is he re-living a nightmare ‘flashback’? Or are his eyes closed in a moment of private relief and gratitude? At the point in time captured in the painting, the fisherman is holding a shallow wooden bowl of plump, tasty-looking mackerel, an armful of riches from the sea, so whatever may have happened is in the past  because right now he is blessed with plenty. There are a couple of fish that look different. Clive referred to them as ‘ghost’ fish. Do they signify the one that got away, a lost love, or the fish yet to be captured, a love yet to be won? Whatever feelings are being felt, that face looks calm to me, soft, the bulky shoulders strong but relaxed, the body and mind quite still. In contrast to the choppy waves and the currents sweeping around the quay, this man is steady and rooted, firmly cradling his precious, hard-won catch. Life’s storms and squalls eddy around him, the waves buffet him, possibly leaving him marked or scarred, but both he and his glittering, miraculous bounty remain intact.

 

Some of these ideas may have informed my decision to go for this particular work of Clive’s. What moves me about a painting and connects me to it might be a whole range of things, some of which I can appreciate consciously and intellectually such as my love of particular colour palettes and imagery, the fine qualities of composition and form, or the beautiful mark making and brushwork. But I know there will also be all kinds of messages bubbling up from my psyche that I won’t quite understand but that might just push my choice in a particular direction, whispering ‘that one, it’s that one’ in my ear.

 

What prompted me to go for ‘The Catch’? Well, one reason I wanted to treat myself to a painting was to give myself something for getting through a very difficult year. We lost my dad last November, an extraordinary, lovely man, and then other challenges came along to blight the last few months, though thankfully these are now ebbing away. I kept coming back to that face, and it reached out to me, something about it saying ‘relax, all is well, stop fretting about those waves out to sea. You’re safe here. Look, your bowl is full of marvels’. The closed eyes really did clinch it for me, they may prevent a more direct contact with the fisherman and his emotional world, but they also seal a particular kind of ephemeral magic into the painting, fixing it like a shimmering gossamer soap bubble stretched across the frame.

 

I’m just so chuffed to bits to have been able to acquire this painting and I look forward to getting to know it better very soon when I pick it up after the forthcoming exhibition at Oriel Tegfryn. I thought ‘The Catch’ could be an early 50th birthday present to myself, though as I don’t reach my half century until next April it’s a very early present – but I couldn’t let this one get away!

 

Thanks Clive for letting me share my thoughts on the Artlog. It was a pleasure writing about how I fell for your wonderful painting.”

Phil Cooper. 14/08/14

 

The Puppet Challenge Part 10: Phil, Stephanie, Anna, Charlotte and Janet

Phil Cooper, Stephanie Redfern, Chloe Redfern, Anna Clucas, Charlotte Hill and Janet Kershaw: the paper puppets

Late in the day I’ve decided to dedicate a post to the paper puppets. These are not puppets modelled in papier mache, but those that can best be described as 2D. There was another maker whose work I showed in an earlier post who fell neatly into this category, though at the time I wrote about him I hadn’t taken delivery of all the work due in, and so hadn’t realised I might make a specific post about 2D puppets.

Phil Cooper: The Animal Groom

To begin with Phil had intended to make a puppet based on the rather creepy folkloric tale of The Werewolf of Dogdyke, for which this was the concept artwork, atmospherically conjured as a collage:

Later he ditched the idea… which I think he should look at again when the time is right… and made a fresh start on the fairy tale tradition of the ‘Animal Groom’ personified in the character of the ‘Beast’ in La Belle et la Bete. But after having made a really striking maquette, he ditched that too, and went on to a third puppet, a ‘Woodwose’, made in the same way, though operated with rods.

Of the two completed ‘puppets, I think his ‘Animal Groom’, inspired by Angela Carter’s anthology The Bloody Chamber, is by far the strongest piece, and so I hope he’ll forgive me for changing his Puppet Challenge offering to the one I most wanted to write about.

Phil’s technique of painting sheets of paper in a great diversity of marks, and then cutting them up to make the components of collage, have served him well in this figure, elegant in frock-coat and yet animal in its crouched trajectory. You have to look quite hard to find the creature’s face, which I think works to the puppet’s advantage. There is an unreadable, mask-like quality to the beast that I like a lot. It suggests the fraught task of ever being able to reliably ‘read’ a wild animal. (or read a mask, for that matter.)

There is no discernible tenderness or connection in the face, which adds a layer of terror into the mix. Carter included two quite different versions of La Belle et la Bete in The Bloody Chamber: The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride. I know that Phil was greatly drawn to these stories, and I wonder whether, as with the Dogdyke Werewolf, he’d intended to use his animal groom maquette as a puppet to be operated on a horizontal screen for the purposes of filming. In the event we have only these posed photographs. Given that Phil’s leonine beast has not yet been animated either in real-time or stop-motion, it is in effect a maquette rather than a puppet. But I do hope that at some point he will take it down and dust it off, and think again whether he might work further with it, or even use it as the basic design for a marionette, rod or table-top puppet.

Stephanie Redfern: spirit puppets

Stephanie, a print-maker and textile artist, made my job easy by providing an eloquent and funny description of how her ‘paper puppets’ came about. She writes:

“The puppets are basically my inventions. When I was searching the internet for inspiration I came across some mummers wearing animal masks, which interested me, as I rarely work with the human form, preferring animals, but here was a way to combine both the human and animal worlds. The puppets moved from being dressed up humans to become entities unrelated to us, in the vein of spirits or daemons.

Using elements from my collage scraps box, I assembled the puppets quite quickly; they seem to have been waiting in the box, ready to emerge, given a helping hand with scissors, glue and brads.”

The Spirit of the Air (above) is made from printed and dyed Khadi paper, old coins, jewellery and a fish embroidery made by a friend many years ago. Her head is a print from one of my pieces of textile work, as is one of her feet and her bullfinches. Her other foot is a photograph of a tiny bird skull in my collection.

Whilst not being the most beautiful of the spirits, she is not all bad; in fact like life she is completely contradictory, and is the Spirit of the Uncertain. She is also the Keeper of Lists, and the Observer of the Balance Sheet, dealing with payments with money, and otherwise.

She is also critical and judgmental, but on the plus side tries to protect eggs, nests, feathery beasts, pterosaurs, and is also a very good listener, dealing particularly well with fragility and loss.”

The Spirit of the Moon (above) is in control, or at least does her best to be, of balance, honesty, timeliness, good order and personal hygiene. She is the Spirit of Instinctive Survival and despairs at the poor decisions we so often make as humans.

She protects all furry things, including us and bats, and has her attendant moths with her at all times, keeping their antennae abroad to inform her of any catastrophic events. We may think she is poor at her job but then we know so little of what terrors are avoided.

She is also the Spirit of Travel, with or without your satnav, and as you can see, of Secrets. She has no keys, however, so nothing will ever be revealed.”

She is made from a laminated map, laminated and printed images of my own work, and some embroidered moths from a previous piece of work printed onto acetate, with other mixed media additions.”

The Spirit of the Waters isn’t a good listener at all, but that is because she has to deal with extremes: the shallows and the depths, detritus and debris, beauty and its destruction, let alone plate tectonics and the flowing of real and imagined currents. Her work is not always easy for humanity to recognize, as there is a certain aloofness to her, possibly due to having a fish head, so all her tasks are not yet documented. But she is the Spirit of Blame, and takes it willingly upon her sloping shoulders.

She is made from printed and dyed Khadi paper, pebbles and other mixed media.”

I need add nothing more to these descriptions, which conjure an entirely plausible spirit universe. Needless to say, I love the puppets!

Chloe Redfern: King Arthur and Llamrei

Chloe Redfern works through the medium of paint and stitching, and over the years I’ve purchased from her Etsy shop an array of beautifully made painted and stitch-embelished Christmas tree hangings: birds, horses, rabbits, hares and camels! Christmas is not Christmas in our house without a cache of tissue-wrapped treats acquired from Chloe. (In the tradition of such things, I try to get a few new decorations for the tree every year, to make up for the turn-over of dropped and shattered glass baubles!) Work commitments meant that she had to keep her puppet simple, and her delightful King Arthur is a variation on the old tradition of the card ‘Jumping-Jacks’ that were once to be found in every well-mannered Victorian nursery.

Llamrei at the gallop

After she produced the puppet, Chloe went on to use an image of King Arthur’s steed on this delightful painted and embroidered hanging-quilt. He’s such a pretty creature that it’s good to see him in more detail here, as I fear the images I had to work with of the Jumping-Jack were quite small. Re the quilt, I’m afraid I don’t know where King Arthur has gone. I hope he hasn’t fallen off!

Anna Clucas: Manannan mac Lir

Manannan mac Lir

I have just the one image Anna Clucas has sent to me as her response to the Puppet Challenge (see above) plus a link to the film that she produced. She writes:

“Manannan mac LIr has been portrayed by a lot of Manx folk as a big brooding guy with a beard and wearing a cloak. I wanted to portray him as an entity that has no physical attributes, but as a God with an overwhelming power to exist in an unknown form. A bit improvised and abstract. Just to be different.”

Anna’s film isn’t really about puppetry or puppets, but might more rightfully be placed in the the realms of animation/performance art. Today in the arts all the descriptives and boundaries of the past have become infinitely fluid, and that’s a trend I largely approve of.

You can see what Anna has made, HERE. I warn you that the music she’s chosen can be startlingly loud if your volume setting is a tad high!

Charlotte Hill: Flower Face

Charlotte Hill was working on articulated paper puppets for a planned animation of the story of Blodeuwedd, the maid conjured by magicians from flowers in the Welsh cycle of tales The Mabinogion. That project was set aside for technical reasons, and Charlotte thereafter made a beautiful marionette that will be seen here shortly. But I loved her delicately constructed maquette of the owl that Blodeuwedd is transformed into as a punishment at the end of the story, and have briefly included it here as a ‘paper puppet’.

Janet Kershaw: Puppet on a Stick

Janet Kershaw’s figures are as about as simple as a puppet can be. They have no moving parts, and are pretty much limited to being jiggled on their sticks. But I know her work of old, and her approach to her art is unfailingly thoughtful. So one should look at them closely because she is meticulous in her draughtsmanship and these are none the less interesting for being miniaturist. The first puppet made by a child might well be a paper thing on a stick, steeped in personal iconography and meaning more to the maker than it ever would to an onlooker. I once taught Janet in a weekend course on maquette-making. I know the complex worlds out of which she conjures her art, and I can sense them underlying this fragile cast of characters. Not to get too fanciful, but in a simple, cut-out sort-of-a-way, these remind me of the glove puppets of the great Paul Klee.

sometimes the best stuff is in the comment-boxes

Blue Hervé. Acrylic and pencil on board. 2014

Enquiries to the Martin Tinney Gallery

The following comments (and my replies) are from a post I made back in January on completing the work titled Blue Hervé. This is the kind of dialogue I find really gets my creative juices flowing. I’ve illustrated today’s post with images of the work in process, from the maquettes to the daily progress on the easel. (The sharp-eyed will notice that I changed the head of the maquette part-way into the process.) I thank Jacqui Hicks, Marly Youmans, Phil Cooper, Jeffery Beam and Rebecca Verity for being such stimulating and supportive company at the Artlog.

Jacqui Hicks: Ah textures… I love those textures Clive, the suit, the t-shirt, the wolf’s fur; when you are painting clothing do you imagine the texture of a specific fabric or is it more the fall and folds that inspire?

Clive H-J: Both, really. It wouldn’t do were I to capture too specific a texture if the finished result distracted from the overall idea, so I tend to think of surfaces as patterning.

In this image I began to see the wolf’s fur as the eddies apparent on the surface of water, and that was fine, because it added another layer of possibilities to the piece. Moreover it took me down a different route to THIS image, where I thought of the fur almost as a cursive language that was a secret repository of wolfish knowledge.

My work on this theme tends toward the hieratic, and so lacking the kinetic in obvious terms, I place falling leaves to conjure restlessness. They also help the viewer to know how it is to be blind Hervé in that moment, with the sense of displaced air as the leaves pass, and the cold vulnerability of exposed skin in the presence of rough fur and sharp teeth.

So many things to be thinking about as a painting like this comes together, and I rarely capture all the thoughts buzzing through my head. And so I make another, and another, and another…

… and so it goes on.

Marly Youmans: The ‘cursive’ fur made me think of Diana Wynne Jones’s “Spellcoats.”

Strange kiss: teeth and neck.

I was thinking about how this story relates (in some odd fashion) to your love of the Staffordshire outsize dog-with-child figures. (And perhaps they dimly relate to the original mystic semi-encounter with the hooded man and his giant dog/wolf, when Jack was a mere puppy-child.)

Phil Cooper: I’d snatched a couple of peeks at this painting on my iPad in breaks at work this afternoon, taking in bits at a time; it’s grown on me over the day and now I’m looking at it on the big screen at home I’m completely smitten, it is really mesmerising me. I love the silvery whites cutting through the richness of the reds and blues, the wildness of the wolf with the tenderness coming through, Herve’s delicate expression, the planes and shapes running round the picture, the shadow across the wolf’s hindquarters, I’m astonished, it’s brilliant.

Clive H-J: You express thoughts so poetically that I think we’re completely in tune on this, on what I’ve tried to express and what you feel. As is ever the way, I see only the failings and the lack, and feel sharply how I might have made it better. But then it’s these feelings, no matter how painful, that spur me on to the next. There always has to be another, to make up for the deficiencies of the last.

Thank you, Phil.

Phil Cooper: I do identify with what you write about how you feel about your work Clive – maybe, as you say, it’s better it were thus as it spurs us on to making more work and striving for new heights. But in this case of this painting, gosh, you’ve created something of real power. That hand grazing the foreleg is the clincher for me, so soft but it’s like lightning!

Clive H-J: Lightning! Yes, I like that description. Thank you Phil. Lightning it is then.

Jeffery Beam: I love the sense of floating, suspension in this. The falling (in love?) and the contrast of the red (oxblood red) and the blues made even richer by the little bit of grey, and the black. Also that the Wolf looks straight at us while Hervé bends away with eyes closed, but not in fear it seems, but in transformation. The missing shoe, as mentioned above, Hervé’s shirt lifting up showing belly. All so tender and deeply felt. I’ve enjoyed watching the progress of this piece. Bravo as always wise and masterly Clive.

Clive H-J: No, not wise… or not wise enough… and far from masterly. But I aspire with each day at the easel to both those things, and doomed to failure though I must be, I still keep trying.

I’m glad that you see so much in it that moves you. It is deeply felt. I’m always moved by this tale, and never tire of it. Each time at the easel I feel as though I discover it anew, and fear I’ll never do it justice, no matter how many times I paint it.

Thank you for writing so beautifully about it, Jeffery.

Rebecca Verity: There is always something about each of your paintings that really gets me thinking. Often I can go online and research the story and learn something new, but today I will spend all day thinking about that missing shoe…

What action/adventure happened just before the moment of the painting that made him drop it? Where is he going next and how willl he get there with one bare foot?

Or maybe they’re just lying in a field together and he merely kicked off a shoe to feel the sunlight on his toes, and the other shoe will be kicked off in a moment.

I will never know, and so I will always wonder.

Clive H-J: Well I can see, Rebecca, that you recognise there have to be mysteries, and so I shall add nothing to distract from your own musings. A painting should be like life: lots of peculiarities that are unexplained and will most likely remain that way. But just so that you know, there are always reasons behind the oddities in my paintings, though I try to avoid being pinned down about them. (I recall the art historian who kept insisting that there must be a symbolic reason for the red horse in Green George, and how put out he became when I refused to oblige him with an explanation.)

However, if you’re interested in the back story of why I constantly return to the subject of the blind boy and his beast, then read THIS.

 

phil cooper and the art of the collage

Red Island Night. Collage by Phil Cooper

I’ve been watching with fascination my friend Phil Cooper’s explorations of the medium of collage at his blog Hedgecrows. Recalling Phil’s early efforts, which I’d thought promising enough, it almost beggars belief to see the incredible progress he’s made in just nine months, because he’s now regularly creating images that are quite simply masterful. Today I popped in to find the glorious piece posted above. Fantastic work, brimming with character and ‘spirit of place’. Below are a couple more that I greatly like. Phil divides his time between the UK and Germany, and for me some of his strongest images are of  buildings in Berlin. I love the textures of these pieces.

Zitadelle Spandau. Collage by Phil Cooper

Die Alte Kindl Brauerei, Berlin. Collage by Phil Cooper

In the year he’s been running his site, Phil has regularly posted about his progress in the studio. By scrolling back to when he started, you can see for yourselves the wonderful journey he’s been on. I’m filled with admiration for his remarkable achievements.

Alphabet Soup: The Geographers – Phil Cooper and Maggie Ruddy

Another pair of friends here, whose work leads in similar directions, and hangs together with sympathy and effect.

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Phil Cooper started his alphabet of islands some while ago; we posted one of his collage/paintings in a reminder post about the exhibition in September.  Here are the first three submissions he sent us:

aphabetsoup Phil Cooper

aphabetsoup

We loved these, and looked forward to more, but the ideas and techniques he went on to develop, and the resulting final work were perhaps better still. Phil hit on the canny idea of using the title of his theme – Islands – as an acrostic, with those seven letters as the initials of the islands depicted, and a title page in addition.  Happily, he said, there were two ‘s’s, because he kept discovering more islands that began with ‘S’!  He clearly loves these sea-girt, rugged, austere places, and has produced stunning, bold images to express this.

Islands cover page

Islay final

S Rona Final

Lindisfarne Final

Arran final

Norfolk Final

Denny Final

Staffa 1

(The last one, Staffa, if I had to choose a favourite… such a special place, with Fingal’s Cave and puffins.)

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Phil’s friend, Maggie Ruddy  said she would like to join the exhibition with work on a theme of physical geography.  She was very quiet about it, sent us some examples which looked interesting and elegant and rather understated, but nothing prepared for the thrill of seeing the finished alphabet in its entirety.

 Maggie is the only person who has completed a whole alphabet with something for every letter, and there are certainly some weird and wonderful geographical phenomena here!  She has kept strictly to black and white, but there is such an astonishing richness of pattern and line and texture and form, of micro to macro, that you can look and look.

reclivesalphabetexhibition Maggie Ruddy5-001

It was difficult to know how to display this alphabet so as to do it justice, show each component element adequately but still give the impression of the whole.  I ended up putting it in a grid collage, and posting it as wide as possible on the page, but it’s also uploaded in a large size so it should enlarge further if you click on it.  To my mind, it’s begging to be made into a book.

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Thanks both, Phil and Maggie, for truly impressive contributions.

(Postpost: having said that, the images don’t seem to be enlargeable with a click, I may be missing something.  There will be a web album accessible to all with all the pictures separately, at the end of the exhibition.  Apologies.

Lucy)

phil gets creative with a porcelain pen and a 50p purchase

Over at Hedgecrows, my friend Phil Cooper has been making his submissions for the forthcoming Artlog Alphabet Soup online exhibition. He’s using ‘Islands’ as his theme, and with collages snipped from paper he’s monoprinted for the purpose, he’s been producing simply fantastic images. They’re beautifully assembled, with dynamic shapes and compositions full of the sense of wind and air and the tumult of sea and weather. His monoprint textures capture the eddies of water streaming over sand, and masterfully conjure the rearing flanks of rocky outcrops in inky seas.

I’m simply in awe of his abundant creativity at this time, because he’s also taken up the ‘porcelain pen’ challenge, transforming a little milk-jug with a tonal drawing on his current theme of islands. I’ve cheekily ‘grabbed’ an image from Phil’s blog to show it here. Too small I fear to effectively illustrate the detail, but it gives you an idea of what he’s achieved for the cost of  a thrift-shop jug and an inexpensive Marabu pen! Phil is an inspiration to us all! Pop over to his site to cheer him on.