Art

Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ Artlog:

Welcome to the first exhibition at the Artlog. It evolved out of the interest of regular visitors in my practice of making articulated paper maquettes for use as compositional aids. A few of them felt encouraged to produce maquettes of their own, and thereafter everything just blossomed. Some contributors have submitted a single maquette, and others many.

This is simply an amazing online exhibition, now complete with the addition of Part 5. The above link takes you to all five posts in reverse chronological order.

I’ve shared videos of the May 6 poetry reading for The Book of Ystwyth, but the main event was the opening of Clive’s 60th birthday career retrospective exhibition at the National Library of Wales the following afternoon. And fortunately I didn’t have to worry about videoing that one; they had a professional filmmaker there to do it for them. This is the result.


Watch on YouTube.

Following Andrew Green’s introduction, Clive’s own remarks focus on the central role of place, love and community in his work:

Being a painter isn’t just about standing in the studio and making still lives and landscapes and narrative paintings. It’s about the people you surround yourself with, people who cluster around you, the people you love.

Would that all gifted artists and writers took their social obligations so seriously.

The exhibition continues through August 20th. If you’re anywhere in the U.K., don’t miss it! It’s a huge exhibition and well worth the time and effort to go see it, I think. Browse the works on Clive’s website and his blog posts about the exhibition for a preview.


The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (part 1).


The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (part 2).


The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (part 3).


The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (part 4).

In lieu of a podcast this week, here in video form is the full, hour-long poetry reading I flew to Wales to take part in last month. This was a group reading in support of The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, whose launch coincided with a 60th birthday retrospective exhibition of, and monograph on, the contemporary Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins (who I interviewed in the two most recent episodes of the Woodrat podcast). All six of us — three Yanks and three Brits — had written poems in response to his paintings, and The Book of Ystwyth includes a generous selection, illustrated with full-color details of the paintings in question.

In the reading, ably MC’d by Damian Walford Davies, as you’ll see, each poet appears twice, once on either side of a break (which occurs in part 3), so that the first poet is also the last, the second is the penultimate, etc. Here’s a key to who appears in which video:

Catriona Urquhart (read by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Ian Hamilton): parts 1 and 4
Andrea Selch: 1 and 4
Callum James: 2 and 4
Marly Youmans: 2 and 3
Damian Walford Davies (as reader): 2 and 3
Me: 3

Anita Mills was the camerawoman. I take the blame for the sound and all the editing. The bookstore’s set-up had the podium in shadow, which meant that the camera often focused on better-lit bookshelves behind our heads. In the process of lightening and increasing contrast on the videos, the color turned spotty, whence my decision to make it black and white. I assure viewers who have never been to Wales that it is a fully modern country now, and almost everything is in color all the time.

The Book of YstwythAs for the book: quite apart from its contents, which are of course scintillating, it’s a beautifully designed object with high-quality paper and image reproduction, retailing at a very affordable $15.95/£9.99. It was published in the U.K. by Grey Mare Press in association with Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales, and in the U.S. by Carolina Wren Press. Click on either link to order.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins in context
(l-r) Clive points out hart's-tongue fern; Jack on bridge over Ystwyth; sand martin nests in the riverbank; Basil the Shetland pony; Clive in front of his painting "Green George"

The conclusion of our May 5 walk around Clive’s neighborhood in rural Wales, near Aberystwyth. (It should stand on its own, but do listen to Part 1 if you haven’t already.) I’m grateful to Clive for taking the time to show me around in the midst of frantic preparations for the launch of his retrospective exhibition just two days later (for more about which, see the series of posts on his Artlog). We’re also lucky he’s such a great communicator, because as the naive quality of my couple of questions about his painting demonstrate, my general knowledge of art is woefully inadequate. Nevertheless, somehow this walking conversation with Clive has turned into one of my most satisfying podcasts to date, I think. Give a listen.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
(l-r) view of Llanilar, Clive and Jack at table, three Welsh cows

Join me for a walk with the Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and his dog Jack. Clive and his partner Peter Wakelin live a few miles from Aberystwyth in a beautiful old place called Ty Isaf, which I’d been reading about on his Artlog for a couple years now, and was lucky enough to visit — and even stay three nights in — earlier this month.

I thought it would be fun to record a tour of Clive’s neighborhood for the podcast, allowing us to hear how a major artist relates to, and finds inspiration in, the land and people around him. For those unfamiliar with his work, it’s worth mentioning that specific places have always featured prominently in his paintings. Even elements which I had assumed to be fanciful, such as castles beside the sea, turn out to have been common features of the local and regional landscape. (For more on the sense of place in Clive’s work, see the essay by Andrew Green, “The Place of Place,” in the new monograph simply entitled Clive Hicks-Jenkins, from the British art publisher Lund Humphries in cooperation with Grey Mare Press.)

Podcast feed | Subscribe in iTunes

Be sure to check back next weekend for the conclusion of our walking conversation, in which I prompt Clive to talk about his journey from the theater world to art, what he looks for in painting, and more.

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

in response to a drawing by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

The blackbird has built a caravan park
on a roundabout where five roads
join a hot pale highway.
What led her to choose the straight & narrow
over a hedge’s Medieval maze of streets?
She eyes the lights, which only blink,
& cocks her head at the pulse
of unseen traffic.

in response to a painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Paper Garden

They said you were blue
so I got you a card.
It sings when you open it.
The clouds move, & the usual
stars & crickets: a card
like a garden, missing only
the mated pair of primates
flinging their feces at some snake.
I’ve just flown out from the tree
beside the tree beside the tree
& there you are, your eye on
my hugger-mugger life.
I have to say
you’re beginning to creep me out.
Where did that enormous
coffee mug come from
& why is it wearing a leopard’s spots?
And God, much as I appreciate
you holding my world in
your mitt, I have to ask:
whose damn blue egg is that?

in response to a painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Flight of Swallows Over the Field of Gold

Calm are the thoughts, serene the visage & regular the bowels of he who partakes of a dragon’s bone. Swallows visit him with eternal summer. For as every doctor of traditional Chinese medicine knows, dragon bone powder (long gu) is the king of sedatives, subdues manic episodes & tames insomnia. In order to be fully efficacious, its collector too must calm his mind, by (for example) ingesting dragon bone. Therefore it is said: If you want a dragon’s bones, become a dragon. A true sage can rest in emptiness & ride the wind, not knowing where he’ll stop, can turn into a bird & become immortal. The mere sight of him mortifies a dragon, whose proper realm is the boundless void, & it writhes like a candle flame in the wind & gutters into stone. From this rapid constriction comes its famed astringency, so useful in the fight against night sweats & diarrhoea. The sage has only to pierce the dragon’s skull & let its spirit loose, becalmed in the void called extinction.

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Another alternative reading. (I think Clive thought he was painting St. George.) One website I looked at said that these days, long gu is derived from fossil bones — presumably dinosaurs and mammoths. However, Chinese medical use has driven other, actual species to the brink of extinction, such as the black rhino and the Siberian tiger.

in response to a painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Touched

Will you dance? I fear
the chance won’t come again.
Cold nights and dry days
have loosened our once-
youthful grip & put
a sunset color in our cheeks.
Let’s take a turn, swing
to the wingbeats of the rust-
voiced grackles. Let’s swirl,
break trail for the rain,
for everything good.
Later we can have a tete-a-tete,
escape the stares of those
golden-haired debutantes
& lie whispering together
in a golden bed.
We can dream of increase
in the sleek crops
of nightcrawlers.
But first we must part
from our parent oaks.

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Update (10/27): I should explain what I’m up to here. Clive’s painting is his take on the Annunciation, a creative re-imagining of an oft-painted myth. Marly Youmans noted in a comment that she’d never seen an Annunciation in which Gabriel actually touched Mary like this, and the sunflowers and the abundant oak leaves were novel additions as well. Traditionally, the Annunciation is celebrated in March, but the leaves and flowers suggest late summer or autumn.

I thought it would be fun to try an intentional misreading of the painting. My first draft had them as a human couple, with Gabriel as an Edward Scissorhands kind of mostrosity, the wings actually deformed limbs from a partially reabsorbed twin. But the more I looked at the painting, the more I focused on the oak leaves. At first they were simply the occasion for the dance, but soon they took over and the figures at the center of the painting became something like leaf spirits.

Back on May 1, the (London) Times had a feature called “40 bloggers who really count.” If you’d thought the equation of popularity to cultural significance was a uniquely American phenomenon, think again: somehow the authors found room for seven fashion blogs, two Hollywood blogs and two gossip blogs, but not a single science, nature, art, poetry or religion and philosophy blog. They included just one blog apiece in the literature and memoir categories (Maud Newton and dooce, respectively), the latter especially surprising since I believe that the memoir blog is still numerically the most dominant genre.

I flirted with the idea of doing my own, rival list of Top 40 blogs, but started thinking about all the blogs I’d have to exclude from such a short list and thought better of it. Besides, if I’m so opposed to the “Top 40” mentality, why pander to it? Still, if you’re not reading blogs like the Marvelous in nature, Coyote Crossing, The Rain in My Purse, Drawing the Motmot, Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ Artlog, Paula’s House of Toast, Crack Skull Bob, or tasting rhubarb, you don’t know what you’re missing. There’s way more to the blogosphere than politics, celebrities and gossip.

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I was pleased this morning to see an old blogging friend back at it with a new photoblog, from this shore, which, based on the photos she’s posted so far, promises to offer far more real and intimate glimpses into East Asian Buddhist monasticism than one could ever hope to get as a mere tourist.

“From this shore to the other shore:” a common metaphor for the crossing from samsara to nirvana, delusion to wisdom, in East Asian Buddhism.

The photographs and interviews here are part of an on-going project to both document and express the lives of Buddhist nuns.

Face it, it’s hard to find non-idealized portrayals of monastics even when they’re just boring old Cistercians or Benedictines, without the additional layer of exoticism you get from having them be Zen (Seon) Buddhists. How often do you get a chance to see that world through the eyes of someone who has lived it herself, day in and day out for five years?

Then this afternoon I discovered that Anthropological Notebook is back — another chance to see supposedly exotic people being very human and ordinary. Lye Tuck-Po is a Malaysian anthropologist who has worked extensively with the Batek, a hunter-gatherer forest people of peninsular Malaysia, and is also an accomplished amateur photographer. She took down the original incarnation of her blog last August “due to pressure of work,” but has now started it up again, intending to use it “mainly for posting photography.” One can also follow her work on Flickr.

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The Smorgasblog on my sidebar is the main way I link to other blogs, but since it’s exclusively text-focused, photoblogs get short shrift. I also tend not to link much to microbloggers, haiku poets, and the like, since that would entail quoting posts or poems in their entirety — a violation of Fair Use under U.S. copyright law. I’d have to email for special permission, and most of the time I’m just too damn lazy. So it is that I almost never link to one of my favorite poetry blogs, Grant Hackett’s Falling Off the Mountain. His one-line poems are simply amazing.
UPDATE: Grant deleted his blog without explanation on June 1, 2010.

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Speaking of micropoetry, tiny words (also on Twitter) recently began serializing a new issue after a longer-than-expected break. I like this magazine not only for the great content, but also the minimalist design and the fact that it is doing nearly everything right, in my opinion. Most online literary magazines are clusterfucks of poor usability, non-existent SEO, missing or malformed RSS feeds, and a lamentable tendency to try and ape print magazines in every way possible, so it’s refreshing to find one like tiny words whose editor not only has a firm grasp of how the web works, but even seems interested in expanding readership beyond the authors themselves and their immediate friends.

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I launched a new website myself last week, a blog in the guise of a discussion forum for my videopoetry site Moving Poems. Check it out if you’re at all interested in news and views about the videopoetry/poetry film medium, and email me if you’d like to contribute posts. I explain my thinking and goals for the forum in an overview post.

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Lest you think that blogs are no longer culturally relevant just because the cool tech kids have moved on to other things, “Surprise: Traditional Blogging Platforms Still Reign Supreme,” a headline in ReadWriteWeb recently announced. Even the bulk of online conversations still take place in blog comment threads, not on Twitter, Facebook and their ilk. Unique, personalized websites with regularly updated content on the front page still rule the web, and that really shouldn’t be a surprise. Would traditional print periodicals be in such trouble otherwise?