Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The oldest story

These pictures were inspired by a story from the Mabinogion - 'Math, son of Mathonwy'. They were proposed as artwork for the bar and brasserie of a North Wales hotel I used to work in a few years ago. Here's an abridged version of the story - as you can imagine, it all makes perfect sense, in the way that folklore soap operas do!

Math, Lord over Gwynedd, and Gwydion, son of Don, were both powerful magicians - but Gwydion tried to steal Math's lady, Goewin, for his brother Gilfaethwy. As punishment, Math turned the brothers into animals and sent them into exile. 

After three years Math let them return, making them human again. He asked Gwydion to choose a wife -  good of him, under the circumstances. Gwydion asked for Aranrhod, Math's niece - but through magic, they discovered she was not a 'maid' (ahem), and had a son, Dylan Eil Ton. She was sent away from court, but gave Gwydion a secret gift as she went, which he stored in a chest at the foot of his bed. One day it turned into a baby boy. 
I don't know what kind of gift that was... 

Gwydion went to find Aranrhod to bring her their child, but she was not pleased. She cursed the baby, saying that it would not have a name unless it was she who named him.

So the boy went nameless, until Gwydion played an elaborate trick on Aranrhod in order to gain a name for his son.

He built a ship from seaweed....

'...and where he saw dulse and sea-girdle he made a ship by magic;
and out of the seaweed and dulse he made cordwain, much of it...'

'....and he put colours on them so that no-one had ever seen leather more lovely than that'.

Gwydion and his son boarded the ship and used it as a place to make beautiful shoes. Aranrhod became curious and wanted a pair for herself. Yes, that's right, she's a woman, and she was won over by the prospect of new shoes...

Anyway, she saw how quickly and cleverly the boy made the shoes, and not recognising him, commented on how deft the 'fair one's' hands were. So the boy got his name - 'Lleu Llaw Gyffes', or 'Fair one, deft hands'.

After that, the work 'vanished into dulse and seaweed'.

What an amazing, crazy and illogical story - the best kind! But I chose it because of the traditional element - and also, the story is local to the situation of the hotel. The text contains a lot of strong imagery, referring to the sea, seaweed, boats, cordwain, water and finally the colours. As the hotel was on a quay, that formed much of its identity - so I thought it would be quite fitting. 

I made all these images really quickly, so now I've noticed how I exhausted just a few pieces of text, and I can see lots of things I would like to add or change, or ways that I could have gone into more detail, or drawn out parts of the story more effectively...but I do like it overall. It's one of many, many things I'd love to spend more time with, if time wasn't an issue (or if I was a powerful magician, like Math, and could control it....).

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