Nick’s Ink: the design is delivered.

Facebook messaging between Nick Yarr and me, 14/01/17

Nick Yarr
Exchange safely accomplished – I’m digesting the design – it is very intricate. I can’t believe my arm is that size flattened out – deceiving! The next stage will be getting my tattoo artist on board, and getting the design scanned. Any input as to where to look re scanning will be gratefully recieved! Thanks again, Clive.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
It’s an interesting perception, the size of the arm, as I thought it looked rather small when the ‘wrap’ was flattened out to make a pattern. I was a little worried that it had shrunk over time. However, when I taped it around my own arm it was a reasonable fit. Neither of us are what might be called beefy, and so I’m guessing in terms of skin surface, our arms are similar.

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This will be the first tattoo of the Skin project, and so I’ve no idea what the response of an ‘ink artist’ will be. There are a lot out there now who are both designers and inkers, and some of the star practitioners may well consider inking only their own designs. However I guess it’s the nature of of tattooing to be often transferring a specific design or image that the client wants. For this design, we need first rate copying skills married to the sense of interpretation that’s bound to be a part of the process of making a good transference from pencil drawing to inked skin. It’ll take a lot of subtlety.

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Nick Yarr
Any thoughts on the scanning and where to start? I like the shading and three dimensional effect it gives. I like the flow and intricacy of the design, though the blue is something I’m becoming accustomed to!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Hansel & Gretel was scanned by Saxon Digital Services in Norwich. I think they did a magnificent job, which then transferred to the printing of the book. You can see all the fine etched lines in the printed illustrations which I’d worried wouldn’t reproduce well. I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

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Regarding the blue. Throughout the design process I took images and digitally removed the colour, so I could check out how everything would look without the blue. The blue translates to a smoky shadow and you get a good sense of what the design would look like if you elected to go that way. Personally I like the blue, but the choice is there for you to forego it. Or if my blue is a tad bright for you, it could be pulled back to a more muted one.

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Nick Yarr
Thanks Clive. I like the monochrome  and the blue. I’ll give it some thought. I like the design very much. It’s what I was hoping for, but more extensive, if that’s the word, and extensive in a good way. Remind me of the reason for getting a digital translation. (This is a whole new world for a doctor – lol)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
A detailed digital image might make it easier to download and show any ink artist what you you want to have put onto your arm. A good photograph or series of photographs might do initially, but at some point whoever you select will need to see a scale version or the original, given that it was designed to fit your arm.

Nick Yarr
I see – so I could also then translate the digital version onto paper so they had a full scale design to work with.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Exactly. Also, should you decide to go with a monochrome version, you can give the ink artist a scale image with the blue turned to tonal.

I recall in our original discussions, alone among all the participants you wanted something that was more pattern-like. More about mark-making. I remember being a bit daunted by your brief, because I’m essentially a narrative painter. But interestingly the past years have seen me working more frequently with patterns. They’ve always been there, in the flowery fields of the ‘saints’ paintings (Saints Kevin, Hervé and George) and in the rich diapering of textiles and backgrounds.

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But now, in the Gawain series, they’re increasing foregrounded and given compositional weight to bear. In this gouache and pencil study for the print of The Green Knight’s Head Lives, the patterning of the horse’s caparison and the Knight’s tattoos, cover a good three quarters of the image, knitting it together and conveying the world in which the character lives.

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So gradually I’ve became confident about what I could produce for you. (I am super aware that this is for life.) Had I been designing a tattoo for myself, it would have been the one I’ve made for you. I loved the idea of translating all the traditions of elaborate British historic embroidery and adornment into a tattoo. Your foliate design would serve just as well for the embroidery of an Elizabethan sleeve or doublet, as for a tattoo.

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I want to take a tattoo tradition that’s been rather hijacked by tribal patterning, and make something elaborate and quintessentially British. Transposing what might once have been the embroidery of a sleeve, directly onto skin, feels rooted visually in the decorative traditions of these islands, while being married to the more subversive, modern expression of body modification. I love the idea of a reversal of what once was. The Elizabethan courtier wore his decorated splendour as an outer suit that could be peeled away to reveal the undecorated body. Now the dark suited business man can peel away his sober outer layer to reveal the foliate glories of his tattooed skin.

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I think it’s drop dead sexy, this kind of male surrendering to beauty. Like a buck with a pearl earring. I don’t know how many people will get to see your tattoo, but I think it could be a gorgeous surprise, just poking out from under the cuff of a white shirt and skinny-smart three-piece suit. Hey ho Silver!!!

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Nick Yarr
I agree that tattoos are sexy. Moreover this design is very different to the many tattoos I’ve seen, and that’s a very good thing! I think that finding an artist I’m happy to trust to do justice to your work will be the next challenge. I’ve a few in mind – so I’ll keep you posted! Thanks once more for the time and trouble you’ve taken. It is very much appreciated.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
You might explain at some point that this a part of an ongoing art project. That might have an appeal for an ink artist who was interested in the profile generated by the project.

‘Flowering Skin’: from start to finish

Flowering Skin

Acrylic, gouache and oil-based crayon on board. 59 x 84 cms

Below

First explorations

Under-drawing

Paint and pencil

Sunlight streams over my work-table as I pencil render

Flowering Skin

Acrylic, gouache and oil-based pencil on board. 59 x 84 cms

Lashes into Flowers: the Mari Lwyd revisited

Last year, when I began planning new works on my old theme of the Mari Lwyd, the starting point, again, was my father’s startling childhood experience of the Welsh mumming tradition that I’d examined in the last years of his life and after it. I wasn’t at all sure where the new journey might take me.

In progress: Flowering Skin. 2015

Looking at the drawing after I’d got to this stage, while I liked the emptiness at the left, it also made me oddly uneasy. Paying careful attention to the negative shape binding the two elements of the composition… man and settlement… I added the Mari, as though descending from above, hoof missing a house-chimney by a breath.

I’d already made something a little like this in the recent Dark Movements toy theatre:

I worked at the drawing board for days making the shape of Flowering Skin before standing back and seeing that I had built the new on the bones of the old, creating in the composition a mirror-image of an earlier work.

Red Halter. 2000

Painting is a mystery. I stand at the easel and think I’m in charge. But now I wonder.

Parrot tulips bloom on skin where once a red-ribbon halter streamed. It’s as though a whip lashed at flesh and brought forth not blood, but a Spring flowering.

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Skin/Skôra: Painter Nicky Arscott writes about art and the prospect of a Mari Lwyd tattoo.


I first came across Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ work a couple of years ago. I’d had this idea for a project that was going to involve the Mari Lwyd. While researching the tradition I came across Clive’s paintings and laughed out loud at the prospect of attempting anything quite as powerful, as meaningful or as beautiful as the images I saw in front of me.

I met Clive at a talk he gave in Aberystwyth, and subsequently took part in the Artlog ‘Puppet Challenge’. (I made a mother and baby, attached to each other by a woollen umbilical cord.) When I saw Clive ‘recruiting’ for Skin / Skóra, I immediately thought YES! I tried to leave it a few days before getting in touch, so that I had time to consider seriously the implications of the project (I think I managed about 3 hours) and then I e-mailed Clive to see how he felt about designing a Mari Lwyd tattoo.

Understandably he had reservations. I think, in fact, he was quite puzzled. Why would I want a tattoo of his Mari, with all it represented within the paintings, and with all it meant to him? We arranged a meeting for two weeks later, and during those two weeks I tried to work out what the Mari, and indeed the tattoo, might represent to me, because I wasn’t entirely sure myself. I love the Mari Lwyd celebrations. We go up the road to Dinas Mawddwy and take annual turns to get drunk and dance. I love the Mari song; the voices of the singers get stuck in my head for days. My daughter Lisa is obsessed with the clackety horse’s skull: skulls are one of her passions. Here’s a painting of her with a cow’s skull.

Besides enjoying the event itself, I also love horses. Here are ours: one large (Sid) and one small (Tinkerbelle).

I asked myself whether a love of the Mari Lwyd could possibly warrant the sudden and inexplicable longing for a Clive Hicks Jenkins tattoo of it. The conviction wouldn’t go away, and I was concerned that if people asked me to explain myself… as they almost certainly would… I wouldn’t have a very eloquent answer. I don’t have any tattoos. I’ve never wanted any design long enough to have had one permanently inked onto my skin. How could I be sure of the permanence of this particular desire?

I spent a long time talking with Clive about his work. I feel privileged to have had some of his thought processes and personal history explained as we looked through images of paintings with his Jack Russell terrier sitting between us on the sofa. We discussed the bed sheets that often appear in the Mari series: how sheets aren’t just sheets, but intricately connected to life itself: birth; death; love. One thing Clive said that has really stuck with me is this concept of creating something concrete as a way of coming to terms with a terror that can’t be named. In order to even think about dealing with this abstract ‘nothingness’, we need something physical to hold on to. A conduit; an agent. And how for me that’s what the Mari Lwyd represents on many different levels.

I mulled this over for a while, and then I started noticing something. Here is a poem I wrote a long time ago, when I was about twenty, after reading the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca’s tragic play, Yerma:

YERMA’S GHOST

It was hysterical to wake in cicada-shrill dark

with my sheets ballooning up and down

.

dead grape stench hanging without within

because she’d opened my shutters in the night again.

.

Nena rubia she said let me tell you tall stories

how the sheets will always smell of apples

because I was not afraid to sleep with him.

.

When I was fifteen she got sad because

that was the age she got married.

.

Pobrecita mia. Now you will grow tetas let me see them.

She said they looked like little grapes anyway

and would not get me into trouble

.

but what a drama when I woke up

with la abuela’s dried flower arrangement

sewn into my hair!

.

She lied.

I was a virgin.

.

One summer she said she could smell the baby in her gut.

My feet were wet with her wailing spitting puta puta puta.

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I slept in twisted bedsheets. On purpose

she made me dream apples falling from the ceiling fan.

.

The hottest night I woke to her nailscrabbling the stony floor,

knickers off, a knitting needle in my bed.

I was re-reading the poem and noticed the ‘twisted bedsheets’ and thought how, in a way, there’s something else of the Mari in there: a non-physical presence (in this case, a ghostly echo of the barren heroine in Lorca’s play) given a name. So I started looking at other things I’d written, and realised that these ‘presences’ surface in a lot of my work (including, weirdly, a poem with a strange, chain-smoking, horse-riding alter-ego called Mary) usually as a metaphor for something Other that is also inextricably linked with the Self; some manifestation of the unknown that surfaces within a poem or an image. I imagine that was what got me thinking about undertaking a Mari Lwyd project in the first place.

Here, also, is a painting from around 2010. I honestly don’t think I was trying to say anything in particular with it at the time (shortly after having a baby and moving to the middle of nowhere, amongst other things). The painting looks, in retrospect, like an attempt to harness control in some way, at a time when everything felt a bit chaotic. Funnily enough, it’s called The Mare.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that the Mari figure, for me, is a myriad of contradictory ideas; not just ‘Self’ and ‘Other’, but also anarchy and order, fear and hope. It’s an empty vessel; a fluctuating metaphor, cropping up again and again in all its various forms. It’s an agent of change and possibility, and given that, I think the tattoo Clive designs will alter in meaning throughout my life: an ever-shifting symbol, reminding me of the permanent fact that nothing ever stays the same.

Nicky Arscott. January, 2015

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.

Skin/Skóra: making a maquette for Misz

I already have a wolf maquette to help me create one of Misz Ajdacki’s tattoos for Skin/Skóra…

… but decided that I’d need a bear maquette too, to aid me with the design that will mirror the wolf on the opposite shoulder.

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Not quite finished yet, but here it is in process. The white paper shapes are the patterns I’ve devised, and the blue ones are the finished pieces worked in pencil. The maquette is held together with many sliding attachments on the reverse, to give me lots of flexibility with regard to positions it can be moved into. There is a profile head as well as a full-face.

Once the maquette has been completed, then I will begin exploring poses for it prior to making sketches to present to Misz.