Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre

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My work on the forthcoming Pollock’s Toy Theatre of Hansel & Gretel is all but done. Yesterday I packed the nine boards of original artwork in a stout card box and dispatched them via Parcelforce to Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop in Covent Garden. When scanned, printed and packaged as an assembly kit, this third in the series of Pollock’s ‘artist designed’ model theatres will comprise of six A4 cards in a pretty, embossed Pollock’s folder, complete with detailed construction notes.

There’s a proscenium arch and everything needed to build the stage, two ‘house-curtains’ (one for the beginning and another for the curtain-call), backdrops and cut-cloths for the six scenes that make up the play I’ve written to go with the theatre, and twelve characters to bring the story to life. Standing at some ten inches high when constructed, while not a miniature it certainly qualifies as small, though I hope the attention to detail in it will make this toy theatre feel big in spirit.

Below: backdrop for Inside the Witch’s House

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It’s been a tremendous honour to be chosen for the project. The theatre curtain of the model bears Benjamin Pollock’s name, a responsibility that has made me occasionally blanch at the thought of the weight of his reputation on my shoulders. At every stage of the journey – it’s been over eighteen months since I received the commission to create the Hansel & Gretel theatre – I’ve worked to make this contemporary contribution to the Pollock’s aesthetic one that I would be happy to lay before him. I feel as though I’ve achieved this entirely personal goal, though ultimately that will be for others to judge.

Hansel & Gretel

coming soon to

Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop

Covent Garden

a toy theatre made from wooden building blocks

For The Curious One’s forthcoming website, Johann and I made an image of a toy theatre.

The starting point had been a model assembled from my collection of wooden building blocks.

First I made a drawing of it

but the website needed a stage that could be augmented with scenes and animation, and so we simplified the idea and made an image out of separate components collaged together.

Today I made another toy theatre from building blocks, and added scenery. Here I present…

Day of the Triffids

with a second act performance of The Kraken Wakes!

I feel some paintings coming on!

Into the Wood

From inception to creation, the Dark Movements Toy Theatre stage has been empty save for the settings of a blasted Welsh hill-village, and a threatening forest where trees bristle with thorns. It was started in January, completed a few weeks later, and has since appeared in two of the ten new Dark Movements paintings due to appear in my exhibition, opening next week at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

In the painting Pale Horse, a glimmering presence appeared among the trees, though on the stage itself, the forest was empty. Last night, under cover of dark, the arrivals began.

Beginnings

Realisation

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Backdrop

Wings

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Stage-Curtain and Footlights

Free-standing Set-piece and Ground-row

Artworks

Above: detail from Veil

Above: detail from Pale Horse

The Mari Arrives

The Haunted Wood

The first scene to be made for the Dark Movements Toy Theatre, is a suitable ghostly wood. No toy theatre should be without one. It’s made up of a backdrop…

… four wings, of which these are two…

and a central, free-standing tree, for which this is the drawing.

And this is how it turned out when rendered in paint and pencils

The Dark Movements Toy Theatre, from start to finish.

The Dark Movements Toy Theatre is finished.

Here it is in detail, from first sketches to completion.

The origins of the toy theatre lie in my Mari Lwyd series begun in 1999, The Mare’s Tale

The world of The Mare’s Tale is one of perpetual night. Landscapes and buildings alike are without foundation. The ground shifts, full of traps for the unwary. In this expressionist realm, everything is fractured and dissolving, the air full of spirits and voices. The Mari itself is a shapeshifting thing of many guises, from a monstrous biped with beast’s skull atop a winding-sheet, stalking a landscape of bone-white mausolea…

… to a supernatural horse streaming through the firmament

Preparatory drawing for the toy theatre

Every theatre must have a curtain, behind which all is hidden until the audience has assembled. When everyone is ready, the lights dim, voices become hushed and the curtain whispers into the darkness so that the mysteries are unveiled.

I wanted there to be a Mari Lwyd to welcome the audience as it gathers, and because this is a toy theatre, I envisaged this aspect of the Mari as being elegant, playful and feminine.

To begin with the proscenium arch is cut from medium density fibreboard

After a couple of coats of gesso and paint, the pencil-rendering begins

First to be completed is the drop-curtain

The proscenium arch contains many references from my recent series of paintings, Borderlands

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A tower within its ruined curtain-wall and a discontinued viaduct below…

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… a chapel crowned with flames…

… and darkly twisting houses with steep-pitched roofs and high chimneys belching coal-smoke

Candles splutter and curtains billow

This is a restless world.

The Dark Movements Toy Theatre, alongside puppets and scenery for it, will be on show in my Mari Lwyd exhibition

Dark Movements

Aberystwyth Arts Centre

June 6th – July 25th 2015

‘The Wood Daemon’

Tonight my toy theatre underwent a change of appearance. Out came a box of Skelt scenery for The Wood Daemon, and in no time the stage was transformed from a representation of the garden here at Ty Isaf, into a bosky dell with woodcutter’s cottage and a distant vista of castle and lake. There is nothing quite like Christmas/New Year to send me catapulting back into the pantomimes of my childhood, and so here to entrance you is a world in miniature contained within the magic aperture of my Pollock’s toy-stage proscenium. Happy New Year to all the Artloggers. Long may you frolic here.

Christmas Greetings from Clive, Peter and Jack!

To all friends who come to the Artlog, to the casual droppers-by, to the subscribers, to those who join in conversations in the comments boxes and to those who watch and enjoy quietly, without comment, we wish the very best of Christmas cheer.

2015 Christmas Card in progress

Last year’s e-Christmas card (see above) was a big success, and so this year, with my usual last-minute haste, I’ve embarked on a design that uses the same characters in different guises. (They are my ‘actors’, and the Christmas cards the stages upon which they play. The lady and gentleman who graced the 2014 card were inspired by some eighteenth century gingerbread moulds. This years nods its cap to the great tradition of Regency toy theatre, sometime know as the ‘Juvenile Drama’. When I was a boy I was given a set of fragile, Regency lay sheets by the actor Bill Meilen. They were wonderful, though I fear I cut them up to make toy scenery that has long since vanished. But the splendour of those magical sheets lives on in my memory, and here I’m paying tribute to the sense of theatrical delight they opened up for me. I used this image from George Speaight’s History of the Toy Theatre as my compositional inspiration for this year’s card.

My sketches of the characters, show actors rather less wasp-waisted than those shown on Redington’s title-page of The Mistletoe Bough…

… and here they are in worked-up drawings at full scale. He’s gained a dog, and she a Fairy Queen’s wings and wand.

The scenery has changed too, from a castle, to a pair of rustic artisan’s cottages in a wood.

The base areas of colour are laid down., a combination of acrylic and gouache.

Then the rendering begins.

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The characters I designed for last year’s Christmas card, emerged for a second time in my exhibition at Oriel Tegfryn, titled Telling Tales. For that they played the roles of Oberon and Titania, and by then I was really in the swing of inventing back storied for them:

  • ‘Of course these are not supposed to represent the real Fairy King and Queen, but are ‘theatrical portraits’ of a rather grand though over-the-hill thespian couple. They’ve been treading the boards for nearly half the nineteenth century with their own company of touring players, he an actor-manager of the old school, producing, directing and playing all the plum-roles in the Shakespeare repertoire. The glory days of ‘standing room only’ at Drury Lane are far behind them, and their increasingly threadbare productions have been reduced to playing the more ramshackle regional theatres.’
  • ‘She was a passing good ingenue in her day, but time has rendered her stouter than might be wished for the role of the Queen of the Fairies. She’s been busy behind the scenes to rise to the challenge, with some judicial clamping and stretching devices hidden under her wig. She’s also invested in a set of replacement teeth carved by a retired seaman from Whitstable. They’re a tad startling when she smiles, not least because of a slight mis-fit, and the vestiges of scrimshaw that he wasn’t quite able to polish out. In a good light you can see the upper parts of a large-breasted mermaid on her right incisor, and the tattooed bicep of a Jolly Jack Tar on her left. But she’s skilled with the fan, and deploys it with aplomb to ward off too-close scrutiny of her briny gnashers!’ Thus equipped, and with the aid of greasepaint, tinsel and and a peachy glow from the footlights, she gamely mounts her moth-eaten guinea-fowl and sallies forth to enchant her lord and master, and hopefully the more short-sighted in the audience.’