The Green Knight Arrives, by Aleksy Cichoń
As Dan Bugg and I work over the summer on prints two-to-seven in the Gawain and the Green Knight series, in Poland, Aleksy Cichoń is going to keep pace, making a corresponding drawing for each print, conjuring his own vision of images based on the text. As the work unfolds, we’ll discuss the various ways in which we approach the themes of Gawain and the Green Knight. Here the conversations begin.
Aleksy, what a wonderful image to find in my inbox this morning. This is a beauty.
I was trying to think of a word to describe how you draw, and fluency is the word that keeps coming to mind because it expresses the quality of being at ease in a language, and you draw with exceptional ease. Compositionally it is enticing and mysterious. The Green Knight doesn’t emerge through the door sitting high in the saddle, blazing with energy. This feels like old magic, something that starts slowly in darkness, stirs, rises and grows in strength, uncoiling into the light. I’m drawn by his averted gaze, the slumped body, his arm outstretched with palm uppermost, the sprig of holly held lightly between his fingers, and the energy in the horse’s stance, balking at the threshold and the throng of the Christmas revellers out of sight of the viewer. All these are unexpected choices that work wonderfully well. But particularly strange is the fact that he sits sideways on his mount, rather than astride. It’s entirely unexpected, visually arresting and psychologically intriguing. This green man doesn’t have to master his green horse the way mortal men master their beasts, between strong thighs and with commanding hands. These two, are as one, and whatever passes between them requires no signals or physical control. I’m touched that you made and shared this drawing with me.
One of the reasons that I wanted to be a painter rather than an illustrator, was because I feared illustration might turn out to be a job where I would only gain employment if I produced to order, which I felt I had neither the skills nor temperament for. So I made my way as a painter who exhibits and sells in galleries. But now, perhaps because of my profile as a painter, I occasionally get asked to make book covers. I’m quite sure I couldn’t make a living at it, but I like that my work as an artist has reached out and created these opportunities, because I have always enjoyed the art of the paperback book cover, particularly in the European tradition.
The poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is full of descriptions. Pages and pages of them. The poet offers forensically detailed accounts of what people wear, and the Green Knight’s appearance is described down to the the embroideries on his garters. So as I work on the print series, I avert my eyes from those descriptions, because the words make evocative images in the imagination that don’t need realising in the illustrations. Instead I make accompanying images to the text that prompt different trains of thought, opening unexpected ways of seeing.
In your drawing, you have done the same thing. You’ve created an image to make the reader turn his eyes away from the text, and toward something inward looking. It’s emotionally powerful in the way that a description of the Knight’s wardrobe, is not. This, for me, is the great skill of the artist/illustrator confident and skilled enough to rise to the challenge. I would love to see you express further ideas based on this text. Judging from your first drawing, you would find surprising solutions!
Do you know the work of Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), who was a painter, illustrator and muralist? Your drawings remind me a little of his.
Frank Brangwyn drawing of a leadworker
You have the same ease with a pencil, making lines flow across the paper with mesmerising energy. I can see connections, too, with the great illustrator Arthur Rackham. (1867-1939)
Arthur Rackham illustration for Aesop’s Fables
Your proposition of The-Green-Knight-Challenge is so great! I’ll participate in it with pleasure! It’ll be an antidote to my laziness in drawing. This is an amazing theme to explore. Furthermore, my last readings’ll not go to waste. What a good news.
I hope you’re well and many thanks for nice words about my knight. (You might know what my reaction was.) Sadly I had only shitty Xerox paper, but it was very relaxing for me – I hope that I’ll paint something bigger and better based on this sketch.
Brangwyn! (funny thing – I was thinking about adding some ink to this pencil piece) I know some of his paintings – especially the one with shirtless workers. I like his applying of paint: thick and bold but without fatal manner of Leyendecker, for example. Leyendecker stuck in “everything satin” style of painting, extremely fashionable in his time. Certainly he would be something like Sargent in illustration but without success and … without talent. Leyendecker is wildly weak and still idolized by crowds of contemporary illustrators – let’s try to guess why. Just terrible example of popular artist.
I understand very well your dilemmas about being illustrator, especially when you starting career straight as illustrator – you’re required to do job just like more advanced storyboard maker. In Poland this is daily situation and it looks like you’re not professional who knows what to do – you’re only man-machine doing exactly what they want. No risk, only conformist form of everything. Few years ago I was working as illustrator for Cracow’s University of Agriculture – some pictures illustrated collection of polish agricultural proverbs. One of them was about goat killed by wolf. Right, interesting for every draughtsman. So I did one inky picture and author of book refused to publish it. “Too sexual!” she said. Haha, OK, your loss! By the way – the bigger copy of this piece is hanging in the office of the director of publishing house. Too sexual for book but not quite for the office.
Detail of a screenprint stencil in progress for The Green Knight Arrives, by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
So, you’re ‘approved’ painter and you’re becoming an illustrator… OK, hold on – I know nothing about it but when I’m looking at examples of covers made by you – I’m impressed. And I’m happy that you’re doing exactly what you want to draw/cut/paint. Because of that, these books are unique, well-designed and beautiful as objects.
Yesterday I showed your works friend of mine – in one word: she was chuffed! She’s studying fashion and business (really terrible mixture) in Denmark and she day by day write to me that she suffer because of all contemporary things. Not only rags, but art at all. So I’m some kind of super hero who brings cure for her pain – great pictures. This time the great ones were yours. She greets you and she told me that she’s happy because good painters are rarity. Especially with that power of colour!
And about your prints – are they lithographs? I’ve never did anything ‘really graphic’, expect one linocut – so you must forgive my question. I ask because the colours are extremely vivid. I associate litho with gentle palette.
The Penfold Press specialises in screenprints. However, I’m making the separations on True-Grain, which is a transparent, granulated plastic film that was invented to replace unwieldy lithography stone. I work on the grainy surface with lithography crayon, which is why you might mistake the prints for lithographs.
Detail from Christmas at Camelot by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, editioned by Daniel Bugg at the Penfold Press.
Below: working on True-Grain film at the Penfold Press.
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Lovely to see you casting your net once again and catching bright fish.
And here is a curious Green thing for you: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/december-green/
Marly, this is exciting, a new translation/re-working. I read the first instalment at the above link, and then found more on the site. THIS repays investigation.
Thank you for pointing me in what might be a profitable direction. Oddly enough, today I began working on the third print in the series, Gawain’s Blow to the Green Knight, and so it’s really stimulating to be looking at something new at the starting point of the image.
Dear Clive :
I imagine how great it would be to have a Big Art Book, with the poem both in the original middle English and in the Simon Armitage translation, annotated with your suggested re-working of the end. It could be llustrated throughout with the set of Penfold Press Gawain and the Green Knight prints, plus reproductions of the artworks made as studies for the prints, and the Alesky Cichon drawings too.
One would never get tired of reading the book and of telling the story and explaining the images to one’s grandchildren. A book like that would be something to pass on to new generations.
It sounds like a magnificent volume, Maria, though for the version you envisage, permissions would have to be sought, negotiated and agreed with Simon Armitage and his publishers.
There has been talk of producing a book once the full set of fourteen prints have been completed. Certainly Dan Bugg and I would like that, though we’ve not yet had discussions with any publishers. (In this instance self-publishing is not an option, because the cost of such a lavishly presented book would thereafter require the comprehensive distribution best done by a publishing house set up for such a big enterprise.) As I see it, central to the book would be the participation of James Russell, who is the curator/writer attached to the print project, observing and commenting throughout its progress. James wrote THIS piece when Christmas at Camelot was launched last year.
But right now it’s early days. We’re at print number two of the planned fourteen, and our schedule is to complete seven in time for a big event… yet to be announced… in September. After that it will take at least another year to produce prints eight-to-fourteen, with completion estimated in the latter half of 2017. So I very much doubt that a book could be produced before 2018, which gives us lots of time to plan it.
Right now it seems a daunting enterprise, but also rather exciting as an idea. We shall see. We shall see. No promises yet.
If I am still alive and kicking by 2018, you have a standing order for 6 volumes, for me to give away to my children and my siblings. (Plus one for myself!) And if the book had a poem and a song by Jeffery B and a dance by Jordan M in an attached DVD, that would be even greater.
I know those books would be expensive, but there is time enough to save…
Please, please, please, think about the idea.
By the way, I recall a project for a book of Jeffery’s Dark Movements poems, illustrated with your paintings. I hope it goes on. I have my own book, made with print-outs from the Artlog, and bound in leather, but the quality is not what it should be. It is just to help me wait for the Real Thing.
Un fuerte abrazo para los tres desde Madrid !!!
Maria, you are a slave-driver! Here I am with another five Gawain prints to produce by September, the completed artwork for the picture-book of Hansel & Gretel due by next month, plus the artwork deadline for the Hansel & Gretel toy theatre commissioned by Pollock’s Toyshop in Covent Garden, also imminent! Then there’s my tattoo project, also snapping at my heels, and the papercut project with Peter Lloyd. When am I to sleep?
Sigh. Oh well, such is the artist’s lot. I will do my best for you. The idea of a Gawain book is just a tiny seed that we have yet to get to sprout and grow. Time will tell. The possibilities of an illustrated edition of J. B.’s Dark Movements poems, is something he and I discussed only yesterday. A publisher must be found, and Jeffery has some idea’s about that. Another project where we’ll have to wait and see.
I’d love to see a picture of the leather-bound volume you assembled. Can to take one and e-mail it to me?
My youngest, the genius, who works in Dublin, comes for a weeks next friday for a whole week, and I’ll ask him to make a small video with the home made book, and I shall send it to you.
That sounds like a lot of trouble, though it would be lovely to see. He could probably film something on his camera and e-mail it to me.
Many thanks, Maria. I didn’t know you have a son in Dublin!
Love all this global collaboration Clive! Such talent. Wonderful indeed!
Thank you, Lorrie. I do enjoy these world-wide conversations and creative exchanges via ‘messaging’!
Sending love your way!