BLOG Claire Pickard

NWR Issue 108

Dark Movements, exhibition by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Aberystwyth Arts Centre

The foundation of this exhibition is the series of drawings entitled The Mare’s Tale produced by Clive Hicks-Jenkins in the early years of this century and shortly after the death of his father, Trevor. Throughout his life, Trevor Jenkins was haunted by the Welsh tradition of the Mari Lwyd – the figure composed of sheet, ribbon, bells and horse’s skull that is carried from door to door at New Year. The drawings produced by the son depict the final illness of the father; the figure of the Mari Lwyd is present throughout, both exemplifying and intensifying the emotions of grief and loss that the artist explores.

As Hicks-Jenkins explains in his notes to the exhibition, he assumed that when he finished The Mare’s Tale, he had concluded his artistic involvement with the Mari Lwyd. However, over the past couple of years, Hicks-Jenkins has produced a new series of paintings that revisit the legend. These paintings stand alongside the earlier works and in some ways provide a counterpart to them. The earlier monochrome, lightened by only occasional hints of colour, gives way to an explosion of blood red and rich blue. The sculptural quality of the figures in the drawings is replaced by the disjointed marionette-style forms of the paintings.

These two series provide the apparent starting and closing points of Dark Movements. Yet, to see the work in this exhibition simply as part of a linear progression is to overlook one of its most striking features – its profoundly collaborative nature. Hicks-Jenkins’ work is accompanied by poems by Jeffery Beam and the late Catriona Urquhart, herself a friend of Trevor Jenkins. Designs for a collaborative musical piece, created with Mark Bowden and Damian Walford Davies, stand alongside a film by Pete Telfer, itself accompanied by music by Peter Byrom-Smith.

In his notes and on his website, Hicks-Jenkins has traced the various ways in which such collaborations came into being. He emphasises the genuinely mutual nature of these creative processes. The accompanying pieces are not simply commentaries upon Hicks-Jenkins’ work; they are independent creations that have, in turn, prompted further interventions from the artist. Indeed, the entire impetus for Dark Movements came from the unanticipated reaction of American dancer, Jordan Morley, to Hicks-Jenkins’ exploration of the Mari Lwyd tradition. In response to Hicks-Jenkins’ original drawings of the dancer, Morley independently photographed himself in poses inspired by the drawings of The Mare’s Tale series. Hicks-Jenkins built maquettes based upon these photographs, which in turn led to the paintings of the series. These paintings prompted the creation of poems by Jeffery Beam which in turn prompted further paintings by Hicks-Jenkins.

Walking through the exhibition, it is impossible not to be aware of these cross currents. The landscape of the Borderlands series, simultaneously deeply Welsh and almost lunar in its strangeness, is echoed and reimagined in both film and poem. Poems speak to each other – Beam’s ‘Spectral Pegasus’, written during the creation of the Dark Movements Toy Theatre, communicates with Urquhart’s ‘Pegasus’ whilst also standing in dialogue with Hicks-Jenkins’ painting of the same name. Our awareness of Urquhart’s early death adds a further layer of sadness to her elegiac poem’s position within The Mare’s Tale series.

Such connections can be tracked in seemingly endless ways across the exhibition. This is both fascinating and disturbing. The echoes reflect the nature of the Mari Lwyd tradition itself, expressive of the constant turning and returning of the years. They also contribute to our sense that the individual works within the exhibition – so rich in themselves – become richer still as part of a greater whole. As Hicks-Jenkins writes, ‘Collaborations, when they work well, fly back and forth between the participants with increasing energy.’ These collaborations work profoundly well, enhancing both one another and their mutual attempt to understand the tradition of the Mari Lwyd. The energy created through their connections helps to counter the darker movements indicated in the exhibition’s title.

Claire Pickard writes for New Welsh Review

Images, (above) ‘Yarden, 2015’ & (below) 'Toy Theatre' by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, courtesy of the artist and Aberystwyth Arts Centre. The exhibition Dark Movements runs at the arts centre’s Gallery 1 until until 25 July.

Toy Theatre Clive Hicks-Jenkins


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