The Artist and the Poet: Leonard Baskin and Ted Hughes in conversation 1983.

Documentary by Noel Chanan
Publisher: Noel Chanan
Price: £12.00

Reviewed by Ann Skea ©

In 1983, film maker and photographer, Noel Chanan, was a frequent visitor to Leonard Baskin’s studio at Lurley Manor in Devon. There, he was able to photograph Baskin at work. And there, he came to know Ted Hughes, who was also a frequent visitor. Remarkably, since Hughes never liked having his photograph taken, Chanan was not only able to take some unique, relaxed photographs of him, he also managed to persuade the two men to allow him to record a long discussion in which they talked of their friendship and their shared interest in such things as crows, death and mythology. They also talked in detail about some of the books on which they had collaborated.

Using this recording, Chanan has now made a documentary film which is a rare and beautiful record of a remarkable friendship. Baskin and Hughes, clearly at ease in each other’s company, joke with each other, challenge and contradict each other, discuss their “strange” friendship and their collaborations, and remember the events and places which inspired them and set various books in motion.

Many of Chanan’s photographs of both Baskin and Hughes accompany the recording. These are interspersed with Baskin’s strong dramatic images (both drawings and sculptures); manuscript pages of some of Hughes’ poems; and Hughes reading (or, perhaps, reciting) ‘Pike’, ‘A Childish Prank’, ‘Goose’, and ‘Bride and Groom Lie Hidden for Three Days’.

Between them, Baskin and Hughes recall the way in which Crow began in 1965; the to-fro exchange of “doodles” (“Doodles? Great Drawings!”, Baskin corrects Hughes) and poems which resulted in Cave Birds; the shared trip to the “honest-to-god wilderness” of Baxter State Park, in Maine, which inspired Under The North Star; Baskin’s move from America to Devon and his experiments with water-colour painting which led to “the flower book” (Flowers and Insects) and Season Songs; and the book of Baskin’s prints for which Hughes wrote the introduction ‘The Hanged Man and the Dragonfly’.

All these are discussed in some detail. So, too, are the ways in which the two men saw their collaboration: not as illustrations of poems or simple responses to art work but as something which “extends and expands ones understanding” of both, and which works on a “hidden telepathic level” or not at all.

Altogether, this is an enjoyable and beautifully crafted film. It is an invaluable record of the background to some of the work Baskin and Hughes created together, and an interesting insight into the way in which two creative men from very different backgrounds and with very different temperaments shared ideas and inspiration. It is also an important historical record of the long friendship and working relationship between two major creative figures of the twentieth century.

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