today on Marly Youmans’ blog: The Longing for Depth and Wholeness


Marly Youmans at The Palace at 2:00 a.m., June 21st

“Recently I wrote some sketches about fans and paparazzi as part of my current series of tiny stories, since I’m still too busy to start a novel. I’ve never been much interested in the idea of celebrity or celebrities, but I accidentally bumped into a fan site for Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (the way one does on the internet, following a thread through the infinite Borgesian labyrinth) and then explored some more.
At first, I felt a tad appalled–the latter in part because a great many fans don’t particularly care about grammar, syntax, clarity, and other tools of the trade most dear to my heart. Of course, I don’t care for a great many other things . . . so I won’t reproach them. Clear thinking for me is made of words in the right order, but it doesn’t mean all that much to a lot of people active on the internet. Neither does proofreading. But plenty of people have lived and died without deep engagement with the written word. For that matter, most of our human time on the planet has passed away without written words.
The fascination I felt lay elsewhere. I was intrigued by the idea that a large group of fans were building a story, collaborating on a kind of fiction, telling themselves a thing they needed to hear. It is a story based on clues, and like fiction, it appears as a kind of lie that is more real and compelling than surface reality. The writers are detectives, the story itself a tale of romance between two people who are considered quirky (that is, they are often surprising in behavior, and they have been part of the mainstream but now swim against it in indie films) and smart and good-looking. The tale is clearly related to their roles in theTwilight movies because it is very much concerned with ideas about the ideal and the permanent.
The effort to make the story involves a lot of analysis, the sort of analysis that an engaged reader might apply to a poem or novel or scripture. Every word is scrutinized, every image searched for information–shared clothing, a young woman’s weight gain and loss, sardonic words, tossed-off comments that may or may not be serious. These fragments are compared with other fragments, the puzzle pieces to a larger picture. Tone, mood, and attitude of the characters involved become important and are discussed endlessly. These ‘shippers’ of an ongoing love relationship between the two stars (love, marriage, a new house, a baby) are doing the thing that engrossed readers do. And isn’t that curious?
They’re not the only story makers. The ‘haters’ make their own counter-stories, based on a different reading of information or built off dismissing the stories of the shippers. These stories tend to be more perfunctory and less developed because they are primarily rejections.
Oddly, this sort of storytelling brings up issues about mainstream culture and deep human desires. Why did an obsessed group of fans need to make that story, one in which they piece together clues to prove that Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart live in a private, perfect, joyful world of their own?
Our dark age worships a debased mainstream culture dominated by sex, violence, and speedy electronic jumps from one thing to another. It opposes Melvillean “deep diving,” high art, thoughtfulness, and the spirit. In such a time, it is illuminating to look around and see where storytelling takes hold of people and why. In this particular case, the many fans obsessed with two celebrity figures work to uncover, build, and support a dream of love, a dream of wholeness–an old-fashioned dream that love can have depth and permanent meaning and soul, and that a man and a woman can fit together to become one perfect, complete thing. This dream expresses a core human longing for depth and meaning, raised up from a mainstream culture that is increasingly drained of substance.”


Marly Youmans


My reply, June 23, 2014

“There’s much here to ponder on, not least the whole idea of fan-fiction. I’m engaged by the idea of it. As a child I made a fiction ‘in my head’ about Tarzan. I constructed an inner world that wasn’t written down or shared. It wasn’t based on Edgar Rice Burroughs… I was probably eight or nine… but was stitched together from a mix of films I’d seen, and some of my Tarzan annuals and comics. It was also consciously secretive, because I’d created scenarios I knew wouldn’t be approved of by adults: rather innocent sexual idylls that comforted me in a world where at a deep level I felt isolated and without role-models and shared experiences. We shouldn’t forget what a dark place the pre-enlightened, pre-Stonewall, pre-sexually-liberated world was for children who felt ‘other’. The way homosexuality was represented in films and comedies on TV was not reassuring to fearful, impressionable young minds.

While I’ve never read any fan-fiction, I rather approve of the notion of taking ownership. Better of course if the ownership is of something with a literary level that might spur the fans to improve their word skills, but whatever the expression, I think it’s heartening when people aspire, no matter how clumsily, to creativity.

At the higher-end of the notion of taking a story and turning it into something else, I was excited back in 2012 when the possibility arose of my series of drawings and Catriona Urquhart’s sequence of poems, collectively titled ‘The Mare’s Tale’, being turned into a chamber-work with a libretto. I balked at the idea of any adaptation of the images and the poems into a too-literal narrative, and discussed this with the librettist Damian Walford Davies when I briefed him. So he took the original and biographical underpinnings of the poems and artworks… those being the childhood trauma of my father as described first-hand to me when he was in his eighties, and my later account of the ‘haunting’ the event transformed into in his latter days… and re-imagined it into into a dark, glittering psychodrama of a fiction that entirely honoured the sources, both in tone and in skill. Not exactly fan-fiction… though Damian has been articulate in his love of both the visual and poetic sources of ‘his’ ‘Mare’s Tale’, as has Mark Bowden the composer… but definitely something that touches on the ‘borrowed’.

I would hazard that whatever reservations authors may have about their characters and scenarios being hijacked by fans, and however the results pan out, they must feel excitement that their works have such a potent effect on readers’ imaginations.

On a level closer to home, I privately shared with you some painful events that over the past few years had caused me a great deal of anguish. You quite unexpectedly reworked them into miniature fictions that blew my socks off, so ravishingly jewel-like was the precision of your language, and so insightful your reworking of particular events into a universal mythology. Fables for our age. Moreover they radically changed the way I felt about what had happened to me. THAT’S the power of art.”


Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Images by Clive Hicks-Jenkins from Marly Youmans’ novel Glimmerglass

(Due out September from Mercer University Press)

Catriona on May Day


It’s May Day 2014, and the ninth anniversary of the death of my friend Catriona Urquhart. May Day was significant to her in so many ways. She once phoned me from Oxford at the crack of a May Day dawn, to relay the sound of the Magdalen choristers singing the Hymnus Eucharisticus from the top of Great Tower. So it came as no surprise to anyone that Catrona waited until a May Day morning to die.

Catriona was the writer of the original accompanying poetic text to The Mare’s Tale, a body of my work that has unexpectedly had a life beyond the period of its making, and indeed beyond her passing. (In 2012 another poet, Damian Walford Davies, was invited to write the libretto of the chamber work of The Mare’s Tale, working with the composer Mark Bowden and using my Mare’s Tale drawings… and I suspect, some ideas floating up from Catriona’s poems… as his source materials. He created something entirely new, a dark and glittering psychodrama, which I know Catriona would have heartily approved of.)


In 2012 I wrote here about her garden chair at Penparc Cottage, and how I’d found it some years after her death being hoisted into the tree canopy by brambles. Two years on the poor old thing is even more rickety than it was, and I now have to think about whether to rescue if from total dissolution, or to let it crumble in situ. We hang on to the fragments of the past, but I know too that it was the romantic idea of the ascending chair that appealed, rather than the corporeal remains. She’s not there. I don’t feel her in any more intense way when I sit in it, or recall her better when I look at the view she surveyed from it. She’s in my heart, and that’s really all that matters. Nine years on I can recall her voice as vividly as if she were calling me from the next room.

Here she is, ventriloquising me (that’s the kind of clever thing she did) in an extract from her poem The Lie of the Land. 

We mark each pole we pass and climb the hill.
We shoulder, each, another kind of weight.
Astride the stile, I look from where we’ve come
and sense the power of land to generate,
to interweave with what once was
and what has now become,
to yield:

as gently
and as easily
as field on folded field.

Standing now, I make a survey
of what it was
I thought I knew.
I’m different too, of course,
I’m not as tall.
Neccesarily, I take a different view.

Catriona Urquhart. 1953 – 2005


The Mare’s Tale, with poems by Catriona Urquhart and illustrations by me, is available from The Old Stile Press.

final painting in progress


Borderlands IV is the most recent in my series of paintings based on the landscapes of The Mare’s Tale, and it’s to be my final work for the exhibition. Still a couple of hours at the easel to bring it to a conclusion, but right now my eyes feel raw with weariness, and so I’m calling it a day. I’ll start again early in the morning as I must get it to the framer if it’s to be ready for collection on Saturday.

The other paintings in the series: Borderlands I, II and III

Telling Tales: invitation to the opening

If you can, please come to the opening of my exhibition:

Telling Tales: new works by Clive Hicks-Jenkins


Oriel Tegfryn/Tegfryn Gallery
Cadnant Road, Menai Bridge
Anglesey, LL59 5EW
Saturday May 10th, 5 – 7 pm

The exhibition runs from May 10th – 28th

The image is:
Borderlands III from a series on the landscapes of The Mare’s Tale
Acrylic on panel. 38 x 38 cm. 2014

Marly on ‘Borderlands’

In the studio three more Borderlands paintings are underway, moving toward joining the two little nighttime landscapes I made inspired by Mark Bowden’s and Damian Walford Davies’ music and libretto for their chamber-work-with-narrator, The Mare’s Tale. Last year Mark and Damian used my original 2001 Mare’s Tale drawings as inspiration for their darkly glittering psychological ghost-story, and now I use what they made to inspire new paintings. I like it when creativity evolves into a great snake swallowing its own tail.

Yesterday my friend Marly Youmans wrote of the new paintings:

‘I like your pieces for the exhibition–and am surprised by how much I like those weird, cold-lit scenes. As if by intelligent moonlight. Medieval dreams! They are wonderfully human but estranged in loneliness and sleep, when we abandon the world. Of course, I like the others as well–just was not expecting these.’

Marly Youmans

Marly lives in Cooperstown, NY, and wasn’t able to be at the work-in-progress performance of The Mare’s Tale given at Theatr Brycheiniog last September. But it’s interesting that she’s found in the two Borderlands paintings so much that I gleaned from Mark’ music and Damian’s text.

The Mare Rises in 2015


An exhibition is currently being planned for 2015 that will draw together many of my 2001/2002 Mare’s Tale drawings from private and public collections, plus stage designs, puppets, models, poster-art and animation sequences produced in 2013 for composer Mark Bowden’s and librettist Damian Walford Davies’ ‘chamber-work with narrator’ that took its inspiration from the drawings. There will also be new designs and animation sequences currently evolving toward a next stage of the project.


Here are a few original Mare’s Tale drawings that haven’t before appeared on the Artlog


Conté pencil on Arches paper. 56 x 76 cm. 2001

Stumbles and Falls

Conté pencil on Arches paper. 56 x 76 cm. 2001

Last Meeting

Conté pencil on Arches paper. 122 x 153 cm. 2002

Detail from Last Meeting

Deposition II

Conté pencil on Arches paper. 56 x 76 cm. 2001

Below: some of the 2013 Mari Lwyd material, produced for the staged chamber-work, that will be in the exhibition

Detail of a Mari Lwyd drawing made for the 2013 staging of The Mare’s Tale at Theatr Brycheiniog

Model used for filmed sequences in The Mare’sTale

Below: puppets used in the production

Actor Eric Roberts rehearsing on my set for The Mare’s Tale

Animation sequences from the production will be screened in the gallery

Poster artwork for The Mare’s Tale

Further announcements about the exhibition, soon.

Borderlands: model and drawings

The origin of the series of paintings currently on my easel, is the model I made for the filmed sequences projected onto the stage for The Mare’s Tale, the chamber-work-with-narrative by Mark Bowden and Damian Walford Davies given as a ‘work-in-progress’ performance at Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon last September. (Though it was rather more elaborately presented than ‘in-progress’ might suggest.)

The model is an expressionist ‘collapsing’ of essential elements that have always moved me in the landscapes of Wales and its rural communities: the winding streets and precipitous viewpoints of the South Wales coal-mining communities, a viaduct, sharply truncated in ruin (I had no room for a complete one), a presiding castle, modelled on Tretower, where I spent my ‘seven years in the wilderness’, a squat, single-storey cottage made from boulders and rubble held together with mud and limewash, and a little chapel, elegantly arch-windowed.

All these and more bound together in a whole that, while it doesn’t exist in reality, intensely conjures a sense of what I know and love most about my homeland. And always that sense of being on the edge of the world, where landscapes spin crazily away through the blue yonder, whether in the bleak, scorched-grass uplands of Merthyr Mawr, or the heart-wrenchingly lovely topographies of the Lleyn Pennisula.

When I made the model I was only thinking of it in relation to the staging of The Mare’s Tale. It’s good to have it out again, and for it to be feeding such a flowering of new work at the easel.

Below: one of the filmed sequences of the model made for The Mare’s Tale

Paintings from the Borderlands series may be seen in my forthcoming exhibition

Telling Tales: new narrative works by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Oriel Tegfryn/Tegfryn Gallery

Menai Bridge


Opening May 10th 2014

The Mare’s Tale redux

Up in the studio, there are new stirrings of The Mare’s Tale

The Mare’s Tale began life as as series of drawings exhibited in my first major public gallery show of that name in 2001. The Mari Lwyd was a central character of a once popular mid-winter mumming tradition of rural Wales, and was represented by a horse’s skull nailed to a stick, the man carrying it hidden beneath a ghost-like shroud.

At Newport Art Gallery, giant black and white drawings of my father and the Mari Lwyd that had been his nemesis throughout his long life, fought a final battle to the accompaniment of Catriona Urquhart’s poetic text, reproduced on large wall-mounted panels. The poems were simultaneously published in a beautiful, limited edition book, designed and printed by Nicolas McDowall of The Old Stile Press, and launched at the opening of the exhibition.

The following year the exhibition appeared at Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery, augmented with new work bringing the series to a conclusion. The last drawing was On the Mountain, in which the Mari, so fearsome throughout the series, was shown broken and dying in a winter landscape of dereliction and leafless branches.

On the Mountain. Conté pencil on Arches paper. 122 x 153 cm

After the two exhibitions, the drawings scattered into private and public collections across Wales and beyond. Stumbles and Cannot Rise to the National Museum of Wales, The Mari Lwyd Awakening to Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery, and The Friends Gather to MoMA Wales, Machynlleth. Some went into the collections of friends. Deposition III to Nicolas and Frances McDowell of the Old Stile Press, where it now hangs in the hallway of Catchmays Court, and Both Fall to Simon Callow, who had championed my work and had written the introduction to my Lund Humphries monograph published in 2011.

Both Fall. Conté pencil on Arches paper. 122 x 153 cm

Tend, a work I found difficult to live with, and yet one I couldn’t quite live without, went to friends Dave and Philippa Robbins, and hangs in their Cardiff home where I get to see it regularly.

Tend. Conté pencil on Arches paper. 122 x 153 cm

After the Newport and Brecon exhibitions, The Mare’s Tale drawings continued to be seen, out on loan from public and private collections. Two were in Dreaming Awake at the Terezín Memorial Gallery, Czech Republic, three were shown in the 2003 Wales Drawing Biennale at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and that same year one appeared in Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru, Meifod. In 2011 many were gathered together for my 60th birthday Retrospective Exhibition in the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales.

In 2012, The Mare’s Tale became the visual source material for a new work of that title commissioned by Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra from composer Mark Bowden. Poet Damian Walford Davies, who had several times chosen me as artist for his book covers, was commissioned to write a libretto that drew on key aspects of my father’s experiences of the Mari Lwyd, reworking them into a new and darkly chilling psychological fiction. In 2013 the piece was performed as a work-in-progress to an invited audience at Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon, with actor Eric Roberts as the Narrator, and with James Slater conducting the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra. I designed and directed the production, and the assistant director was dramaturge, Helen Cooper.

The production featured puppetry, animation and filmed sequences of landscape models conjuring London in the Blitz, and an un-named, isolated community in rural Wales. The Mari Lwyd itself was brought to life with onstage puppets, and in projected sequences of animation made with my regular collaborator, Pete Telfer of Culture Colony. This rod-puppet features an adapted maquette that I’d made originally as a stop-motion figure for the production.

Damian’s central character of Jane Seyes was played by two puppets, one of them constructed for her transformation from an apparition to the Mari Lwyd.

As the creative team of Mark, Damian, Helen and I continue to discuss and develop new visual ideas toward the premiere of The Mare’s Tale, in the studio I’m using the puppets and the miniature village built for the filmed sequences seen in Brecon, as the models for a new series of paintings inspired by the music and libretto. When I finished On the Mountain in 2001, I’d thought I’d reached the end of my work on The Mare’s Tale. In fact it turned out to be more a case of having got to the end of the beginning.

Above: model for filmed sequences of The Mare’s Tale.

Here are some of the rough sketches made in preparation for the new paintings.

Below: one of the ‘apparition’ puppets from the production…

… used as a model for this preparatory sketch.

Recent Mare’s Tale paintings will be in

Telling Tales: new narrative works by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Oriel Tegfryn/Tegfryn Gallery

Menai Bridge, Anglesey

Opening May 10th, 2014

Telling Tales

Telling Tales: new narrative works by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Oriel Tegfryn
Menai Bridge
Opening May 10th 2014

Clive Hicks-Jenkins explores a narrative tradition of painting, particularly in relation to the Welsh mumming custom of the Mari Lwyd, and in his examinations of stories with miraculous events at their hearts. His Mari Lwyd drawing, Stumbles and Cannot Rise, is in the National Museum of Wales, his re-imagining of the annunciation, The Virgin of the Goldfinches, hangs permanently in the Saint Dyfrig Chapel of Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff, and his painting, Christ Writes in the Dust, was commissioned for the Methodist Collection of Twentieth Century Art, held at Oxford Brookes University. For a decade he’s regularly produced works on the legendary themes of the blind Breton monk, Hervé, who had a wolf for a companion, and the Irish hermit, Kevin. Kevin held a nest in his outstretched hand while a blackbird laid and incubated her eggs in it, hatched them and reared her young until fledged, a legend recounted by Seamus Heaney in a poem the artist has long referenced in his paintings on the subject.

For Telling Tales: Clive Hicks-Jenkins at Oriel Tegfryn, the artist has made new works of Hervé and Kevin, and has been revisiting his Mari Lwyd theme. In 2012 Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra commissioned composer Mark Bowden and Aberystwyth-born poet Damian Walford Davies, to make a chamber-work with a spoken libretto, taking inspiration from the artist’s 2001 series of large black and white Mari Lwyd drawings known collectively as The Mare’s Tale. Last year Clive Hicks-Jenkins designed and directed the first Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra performance of The Mare’s Tale, and at Oriel Tegfryn will be showing paintings he’s subsequently produced, inspired by its music and libretto.
The artist’s most recent series is inspired by Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, in which Joseph the soldier unwittingly makes a pact he’ll come to regret. Last year Clive Hicks-Jenkins was commissioned to make an animated-film to accompany a performance of The Soldier’s Tale at the Hay Festival, and his new paintings further exploring the story are at the heart of the Oriel Tegfryn exhibition.
See some of the work that will be in the exhibition, HERE