Paintings by Clive Hicks-Jenkings
Clive Hicks-Jenkings knows like nobody other how to transform the aesthetics of the Middle Ages in modern forms filled with irony and pathos of postmodernism.
In his paintings occurs elusive slow life , once we look away from them – inside there are changes. He can be intimidating, gentle, cruel. But always he remains true to himself. Painter Clive does not try to please us. It focuses in its own cocoon of sincerity. And, having opened for itself its magic humanity, we can dive into the world of fine feelings and fabulous transformations.
Each painting is like a source of light which need energy. When is dreaming in shadow without eyes of viewers, it looks like it is happening nothing.
But just somebody coming closer, the art is just wake up and starting give light. The viewers are like batteries for paintings, drawings, any kind of art. And need each other, ones giving energy, other give back light, which help us to orientate in life.
We can see from far the light of Clive Hicks-Jenkins. And it is time to come closer.
Interview with Clive Hicks-Jenkins
What you take from childhood to next days of life? Which moments from past are helping you in life?
When I was a young boy, I visited a bookshop with my mother. On a high shelf was a large volume about Egyptian art of the Amarna Period. On the cover was a photograph of the famous ’swan-necked’ portrait bust of Queen Nefertiti. It was not a child’s book, but my mother saw that I was fascinated by it, and she asked the assistant to bring it to me so that I could look at it. The book was very expensive, but when she saw my response to it, my mother scraped together what she had in her purse, and purchased it for me. The book and what I learned from it opened my mind to previously unknown possibilities. At this distance I can see it was an incredible gesture that she trusted me enough to acquire it for me. We were not a wealthy family. The cost of the book meant there was much that my mother would have to do without, but that didn’t stop her. I have it still. It became so worn over the years that I had it rebound. Every time I take it from the shelf and look at it, a thousand memories emerge. For me the book represents my mother’s trust in what I might become. Whatever disagreements and misunderstandings we had later, and there were many, I know whenever I touch that book, that she loved me.
Do you feel responsability in art in front of friends or history?
I feel the responsibility to be as good a painter as I can. I don’t think much about others when I paint, or about history. For me painting is a private act, and while I’m painting I try to forget that one day others will look at the work. I can’t be responsible for what others may see in it. I can only be responsible for being honest, and as good a painter as I can manage.
How is for you the connection between arts – poetry, painting, graphic, cinema? What is the most important inspiration for your ?
Anyone growing up in the west during the twentieth century will have been exposed to many art forms. I was taught to read proficiently from a very young age. (I could read well enough by the time I went to school.) My mother used to take me to the cinema on Saturday afternoons, and we saw more adult-themed films than children’s films, and so I was used to sitting quietly in the dark with her, concentrating on the stories and images, and discussing them afterwards. I grew to love cinema then, and I love it now. But not Hollywood and blockbusters. Now I prefer European film.
However, the things that most influence/help me when I’m in the studio, are poems. I pin sheets of poetry around my easel when I’m working. I have some very close relationships with contemporary poets, with whom I collaborate, and they with me. Most artists have postcards of paintings by favorite artists on their studio walls. I have those too, but not on my easel. It’s words that do it for me. I translate the feelings I have when I read poetry, into paintings.
Do you keep in mind a movie which is important for you, one – two…
There are many films I treasure that I run in my head, so many times have I seen them. But the one that is emblazoned on my heart, is Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête of 1946. I was taken to see it by an older friend, a student I’d met at drama club. He took me to an old flea-pit of an ‘art-house’ cinema in Cardiff, where it was showing in a double-bill with another Cocteau film, Le Testament d’Orphée. I was about thirteen, and it was as though I’d been transported through the films to other worlds. I feel the same way about them now. Moreover the intervening years haven’t affected the way I view La Belle et la Bête today. When the images flicker on the screen, I am a boy again, in love, on the brink of discoveries, and my heart pounds like a drum. It has a physical effect on me. I become dizzy, almost intoxicated by it. For me it is the most beautiful film ever made. I joke that when they bury me, they should toss a dvd of La Belle et la Bête into the coffin with me.
Do you believe in person?
Um, I’m still not quite sure what is meant by this question. If you’re asking do I believe in ‘people’ in the sense that I believe in their goodness, then yes. Despite all the terrible things we see in the world, the cruelty, brutality and selfishness, I still believe that we have the capacity to aspire to being better than all those base things. I don’t think it will ever come to pass, because there will always be bad people. But I seek out the good, wherever I can find them, and I rejoice in knowing quite a few.
Most beautiful place where you want to built house, which one can be?
This is difficult. If the place were too far away from my roots and my loved ones, then it would not be a happy move for me. As such I have discounted anywhere abroad, no matter how beautiful, and so Paris is out.
I think that I would like to live in Chagford in Devon. It’s a tiny town, very pretty, nestled on the moor. I have many friends there. It is a friendly place. I would like to build a house with a beautiful view, maybe just outside the town, but close enough to walk to it.
Which book is with you for long time?
The book of Egyptian art that my mother gave to me. (See above.)
Or which you would like to illustrate?
I would like most to illustrate the Ramuz libretto of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat. I nearly got to do it once, but then the translator died, and the publisher pulled out. I still dream that one day I may have the opportunity.
What is for you meditation, what means for you this word?
Having the time to think about my work. So often my days are filled with deadlines and rush. Meditation for me is the time to be quiet, perhaps with just my dog for company, with music on the cd player, the sun shining outside and the windows open to let through a breeze that feels like silk on the skin. Then I can just drift away.
Are you sure with your paintings? Do you have depressions?
Painting is a battle that I undertake with myself. Sometimes, when things go badly, it is almost unendurable. But the feelings of relief when the problems have been solved and the painting begins to emerge, are almost an ecstasy. I do occasionally get depressed, though rarely about my painting. Depression does not last for me. I sink very low for twenty-four hours, and then everything starts to clear again. I don’t call it depression. I think it’s a part of being human, and I have strategies for negotiating my moods. These ’sad’ episodes are just a part of being human.
I read somewhere that education in Great Britain teach students to be not open, to hide emotions in public and not show what you think really, it is true? Or how is ? How for you was education? what helped you much? And what you would forget like bad dream from education
There are some sections of society in which this is more noticeable. The private education sector in the UK, called confusingly the ‘public school’ system, takes children away from their homes very early to live in boarding-schools. So these privileged children have to learn to fit within the system from a tender age, and it can have devastating effects on their emotional developments. In these more questioning and enlightened times, it’s beginning to be seen that the process is very damaging for them. They disconnect emotionally, but also grow up believing themselves to be better than others, born to rule and expecting the rights of privilege. Our current prime-minister… who I despise… is the result of this system, which is why he always sounds like a ‘head-boy’ in a school, telling everybody else what to do. Because this ‘ruling-class’, both historically and to this day, give the impression to the world of being emotionally immature, we have the reputation outside these islands of being ‘not open’. These people certainly suppress their emotions and try to give the impression that the only thing that matters is the appearance of leadership and confidence. If I wanted to learn wisdom, I would not read the autobiography of a politician, or at least, not the autobiography of any of our present politicians. They lack statesmanship, belief in anything other than themselves, and they seem to function only within an adversarial system, which means that they bully and try to shout louder than anyone else. I believe that we need politicians who know how to work with all sections of society, and do what is humane and for the good of everyone. They need to listen, not shout. We have a wonderful national health system, but the present government is trying to undo it and move to a private system that will only work for those who can afford it. The ‘public school’ system has a lot to answer for.
What would you like to do at first lesson when you would be a teacher?
I would make time for every child in the classroom to talk with me. I would want to hear about their lives, what made them happy and sad, and how they saw themselves in the future. Then I could help them.
Alice-in-Wonderland. Illustration from the 150th anniversary edition of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, forthcoming in 2015 from Inky Parrot Press.
‘Problem is not that we are older – problem is that we still are young’ -is it about you? About which mistakes were you sorry when was young?
I wish that I had not grown up in a country that at the time was so ignorant about homosexuality. I had a secret life from as early as I can remember, and I was ashamed, fearful and lonely, because society was so disapproving of what I knew myself to be. I grew up with no role-models, no-one to confide in. I had to find my own way to self-worth, emotional security and physical satisfaction, and it was not easy. I am sorry that was the way things were. It was not my fault that the society I was born into held these views, but I wish I had been more confident to be myself. Things are much better now in the UK. We’re all a lot more open, and sexual acts between consenting homosexual adults are no longer a crime. Peter and I live openly as a couple, and no-one thinks anything of it. But elsewhere in the world, things are not so good, and that saddens and angers me. I regret that I was not able to be myself when I was a young man, the person I now know myself to be, and I am angry that young people in other parts of the world suffer in similar ways. (Or worse, because in some Islamic countries you can be killed by the state for being homosexual.) I regret that my mother died before I met my partner Peter, and that her prejudices about homosexuality went unchallenged by me. I am sorry that I wasn’t braver when I was a child. But I am brave now.
Portrait of Clive Hicks-Jenkins and his terrier Jack, taken at the artist’s home, Ty Isaf.