The skull of a horse is constructed out of scraps of wood, complete with eye sockets, spiky teeth and an adjustable jaw. It is draped with a white cloth to conceal its operator and decorated with ribbons. This is the Mari Lwyd, a nightmarish puppet that traditionally paraded the streets of Wales as a ritual to commemorate the passing of the depths of winter. It will be resurrected on the walls of the gallery at Aberystwyth Arts Centre from 10th June in an exhibition of work by the artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Once through the door, the Mari Lwyd begins to wreak its havoc. It runs around, it snaps its jaws and neighs, frightening the children, while its leader struggles to restrain it. The mischievous troop chases the girls, plays loud music and even tampers with the fire in the fireplace. The adults laugh about, suitably rosy-cheeked, but, as Clive Hicks-Jenkins remembers, the children quaked in their little boots.
This is the inspiration behind the artist’s upcoming exhibition at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Dark Movements. It is a multi-media presentation of works including new paintings, a new animated film, and a selection of shadow puppets and models used in the 2013 Chamber Orchestra performance ‘The Mare’s Tale’. There will also be a series of large scale drawings made by the artist following his father’s death. The illustrative style of the drawings and paintings, and the use of puppetry offer a sense of fantastical naivety, but alongside the subtle mementoes of death, this exhibition articulates deep-rooted cultural traditions as well as a personal and private grief.
Born in Newport in 1951, Clive Hicks-Jenkins studied dance and drama, working for many years as a highly successful choreographer and theatre director before becoming a full-time painter. He now lives near Aberystwyth. His paintings are held in all the principal public collections in Wales and his artist’s books are in libraries worldwide. A major retrospective of his work was held at the National Library of Wales in 2011.
On Wednesday 10th June we will be joined by Gillian Clark, the National Poet of Wales, who will open the exhibition. You are invited to join us from 6.30pm in Gallery 1 for refreshments and an opportunity to meet the artist. The exhibition will be on show until 25th July with free admittance and publications for sale.