The Green Knight and the Perfect Pose

There is a pose I’ve loved ever since I was a child. It appears throughout the history of the arts, from ancient Greek vases to the age of photography, and I’ve explored it in many forms in my work as a choreographer, and as a painter. As far as I can remember, I noticed it first in the statue by Rodin, pictured below. Here the hand is raised to a head turned to offer its profile to the viewer. There’s something about the containment of the profile within that triangular space, and the sense of an interior landscape dreamed behind shuttered eyes.


A variation of the pose can be seen in a poster depicting Vaslav Nijinsky as he appeared in Le Spectre de la Rose for the Ballet Russe. Here the arm is draped across the top of the head, so that it tenderly cradles it. The mood is drenched in erotically charged languor.


Much later the Nijinsky pose was recreated by choreographer Mathew Bourne, and the effect is less languid than in the Nijinsky image, emphasising instead a fierce, proud energy and dynamic.


Adam Cooper in Matthew Bourne’s reinvention of Swan Lake, with a male dancer in the role of the Swan that until then had been danced only by ballerinas.

The pose appeared in some of my earliest works. Here it is in a study for the figure beneath the sheet of a Mari Lwyd (a Welsh mumming tradition) made in 1999.


Saint Hervé, made in 2011. Everywhere there are triangles, forming both positive and negative spaces.


Right now I’m working on the next print in my Gawain series for the Penfold Press: The Green Knight Arrives.

The image is a close-up, and is intended to show the moment before the Green Knight pounds on the door of King Arthur’s Christmas court. Here in icy silence, he wipes his brow and prepares for the trial ahead. After this night of wonders, lives will be changed and stories will be told. I wanted a close-up so that I could show the Green Knight’s weariness and wariness, and the dark inkiness of his foliate-tattooed arm. He is the actor waiting in the shadows of the stage-wings, tense and anxious. But when he steps into the limelight, all will be blazing energy and power and magic. The gesture is tender, solipsistic, self-comforting and unexpected. In the spaces around him will be a landscape. Possibly holly leaves, or the snowy pollarded trees that didn’t make it into Christmas at Camelot. For me, this is the playtime, before the hard work of bringing the print into the world.

15 thoughts on “The Green Knight and the Perfect Pose

  1. Of course I’m right there with the eyes closed. All the deep meaning, internal silences, and preparation for movement for the next step in the hand on brow, the eyes closed. Perfecto. Beautiful beautiful image. When I was a child I could only fall alseep if I had my right arm and hand in just such a pose. And even now, at 62, when I’m sleepless or anxious when I get in bed, placing that arm there works to soothe me. Perhaps there is a memory of the arm and embrace and touch of The Great Mother, our mother, my mother in that placement. Bravo as always dear Clive. [Sorry I haven’t been very present of late. I’m trying to organize myself and all that I want to do in the next year and go way behind in the latter half of the year with our building project. I know Sarah has been keeping you abreast of our work together.] Love to you three….

    • Oh we are so alike. I too sleep that way. It is absolutely the position that calms me.

      So good to hear from you dear friend. Life is madcap right now. I have so much on. Ever the workaholic! Love to you and Stanley, hugs and kisses.

  2. This is not the scene I was imagining for the Green Knight arriving at Camelot, which is why I am an admirer of your work, as you never do the expected.

    In our first meeting with the Green Knight, you are giving us a glimpse of what might lie beneath the imposing surface of this supernatural being and it’s a really intriguing choice to make. I have not seen the Green Knight interpreted in such a human way before and my response is that I immediately want to know more about this enigmatic character.

    I’m with Liz on the eyes closed sketches being my favourites and I can definitely glimpse Peter in the first two sketches, especially around the brow/forehead area, which Zoe likes so much!

    • Well Sarah, you know me. I share with you an incapacity to turn off the thinking-tap! And the more I think about the Green Knight’s first appearance in the text, the more I want to offer a different side to what will come later.

      He initially appears in prints two, three and four, and so with three opportunities in which to capture him, I felt that I wanted one of them to be more interior, the following two being intensely dramatic. I suppose I’m seeing this in the way I might if I were making a film. I’m ‘opening out’ the narrative to offer a little of what the poet doesn’t give us. The poet is all in the present, and wonderfully so, but I have the opportunity to peek behind the curtain.

      I really don’t know whether one day this series of images will accompany the poem in print. I like to think they might. If they do, I want that they should expand the text, rather than illustrate it.

      I remember walking around the Dark Movements exhibition in Aberystwyth Arts Centre last year, a copy of Jeffery Beam’s poems in my hand, and how much I enjoyed reading them next to the paintings he’d drawn on in order to make them. I don’t know how many people who visited did that… I know you did… but for me it was the perfect way to enjoy both bodies of work. Maybe one day that will happen with the Gawain series of fourteen prints, and the text that inspired me to make them.

  3. Interesting that you have taken notice of your love for this pose. I love the Rodin sculpture. It has long been a favorite, but I never thought that the triangle created by his arm was his private inner world. I believed he was lost in his own thoughts, but never saw that the shape aided his reverie. I like your way of explaining it, and I love how you have used this device in many of my favorite pieces you’ve done!!!
    Cheers, Clive!

    • For me the sharply angled arm makes a kind of skewed frame that beautifully contains his profile. It’s a picture within a sculpture, and I never tire of looking at it.

      Thank you for commenting. It’s good to know that you enjoy my meanderings.

      Very Best, Clive

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