The Making of Gawain

The first maquette for the  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight project that I’m working on with Daniel Bugg of the Penfold Press, is finished. Articulated, two-dimensional maquettes… rather like painted versions of the shadow-puppets used by the great animator Lotte Reiniger… have evolved as my compositional aids in the studio. They also serve at the outset of any project as the ‘playtime’ that gets me exploring and into the spirit of things. Decisions get made in them that would be difficult to reach a conclusion on were I to face the choices head on. They simplify my ideas and prevent them from becoming too complicated by concentrating on shape and form. They help me find the subject.

For this series of fourteen editioned prints, I’ve set myself the task of using images to tell the story. The poetry is is glorious. I could make a hundred images for it and not do justice to the beauty of the words. The translation/re-working of the poem I’m using as my reference/inspiration for the series, is the 2007 one by Simon Armitage. But here’s a snippet describing King Arthur’s attiring of Gawain, from a translation by Paul Deane made in 1999.

Then he held up his helm and kissed it in haste:
It was stiffened with staples, padded with stuffing,
Sat high on his head, and buckled behind
where the neck-guard was graced with gleaming silk
bedecked and embroidered with the best gems.
There were birds on the seams of the broad silk bands:
painted parrots on a field of periwinkles,
turtledoves entwined with truelove blooms too thick
to be sewn by many women in seven winters’
care.

Yet nothing half so dear
brought color anywhere
as the circlet’s bright and clear
diamonds in his hair.

It’s heady stuff, all that description. And it works wonderfully in the context of a poem. But it’s the death-of-a-hundred-cuts to the artist, because it’s too detailed. There is too much description. It weighs the illustrator down with information in a way that it doesn’t weigh down the reader. And so for the most part, I eschew the detail of the description, and put myself into the role of ‘illuminator’. My goal is not to illustrate what the poet has conjured, but to help illuminate it with images that aren’t repetitions. I have to build with different blocks.

The maquettes help me in this editing process. They get me away from the descriptions, and into a different space.

But most of all, they immerse me in a world where colour, shape and form become intensified.

Pattern-cutting Gringolet, Gawain’s horse.

18 thoughts on “The Making of Gawain

  1. Pingback: Man Slain by a Tiger | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. I know your maquettes are compositional aids, so are not for sale, but when I see them I always think I would really, really like to buy one. I want to ‘play’ with Gawain as well!

    If I look back to where my obsession started, I guess it can be traced back to those paper dolls I used to cut out and dress on the back page of my much-loved Bunty magazine!!

    This maquette of young Sir Gawain truly is a wonderful thing to behold Clive.

    • Ha ha! There’s every chance that your ‘playing with Gawain’ might be misinterpreted by some, though not by me. No sireee, you wouldn’t find me raising one eyebrow and giving an ‘Ooooo-errr-Matron’ kind of a look! Not in a month of Sundays!

      • You’re a wicked man to even suggest such a thing Mr H-J!

        I feel, despite the complete and utter innocence of my comment, that I am now cast, in your reader’s minds, as a character rather like this one:

        • Sarah
          This video interpretation of yourself made me cry with laughter. Especially the way the young lady has to walk, after so much social work, when , at the end she turns and goes towards the shop…
          Thank you . This was great !

          • Hi Maria

            I’m glad I made you laugh this morning. (-:

            This is Dick Emery, a comedian from the 1970s, playing Mandy, one of his best-loved characters. I loved her as a child.

            Love
            Sarah
            xx

  3. i love this idea: “to help illuminate it with images that aren’t repetitions.” this is a fantastic maquette, with really lovely color tones. i adore his chain mail.
    fantastic!!!!

  4. Gawain looks great. And the way you have him change his posture, intent, and a bit hieratic, goes wonderfully with his dreams of glory and his innocence. One can see He tries very hard to be good, and to behave like the Hero he wants to become.

    And perhaps THEN, a warrior decked himself in diamonds bright to go to battle (I read somewhere that Cyrus, and the Great Alexander, used to go to battle with painted lips and cheeks, and eyes), but NOW, (and your Gawain lives now as much as he lives then ), the diamonds would distract from his deep intent.

    I loved all.
    Can’t wait for you to show us more.
    Thank you so much !
    M

    • I like the idea of Alexander and Cyrus bedecking themselves to go to war. But here, war-paint and diamonds would be a distraction in the images, and so I’ve opted for simplicity.

      I acquired a book a couple of years ago, ‘Heavenly Bodies’, that’s about the skeletons of saints bejewelled and arrayed in finery for display. Apparently there was quite a craze for it, with parishes trying to out-dazzle each other in the presentation of their saints.

      • We have, or at least we used to have, a lot of that in the Spain of my childhood. And during the Semana Santa, the competition of “Cofradías” as to which image shall have more jewels, or richer clothes, is still quite fierce. In spite of the fact that all the images are either of Mary, or of J.C. …

  5. He’s brilliant, every detail works a treat. Whatever pose he’s in he looks alive, dynamic, and with a slight tension to his features that’s perfect; he’s young, but had an adventurous spirit and he has courage despite his fear. What a wonderful maquette!

  6. Clive he is just incredible and you articulated (to make a maquette pun) the complications of illuminating rich inspiration. You have made admirable decisions that convey the message beautifully. He is such a handsome fellow .
    Lg

  7. And we in turn become immersed in this world. I love reading the insights into your process as much as I enjoy admiring, without fail, the results.

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