The Green Knight Arrives.
Edition size: 75, image size: 55.5 x 55.5cm, paper size: 70.5 x 69cm
Now available for purchase.
It begins at that darkest, mid-winter point of the turning year, when communities of the northern hemisphere celebrate in order to get through the hard times still ahead. In the poem Arthur and Guinevere are at the heart of the Christmas Court festivities when there’s an unexpected arrival at the door. Chatter ceases, all eyes turn to the spectre stepping uninvited into the warmth and light, bringing with it the chill of snow and ‘otherness’. For me it’s the most thrilling account of an ‘entry’ in the history of English literature.
Here are the stages that went into the making of this image, from sketches to compositional studies and a scale guide made in gouache and pencil, though the processes of building the stencils in layers to the final print. It’s an almost alchemical conjuring for me, new as I am to the mysteries of screen printing. But in the company of Dan Bugg I’m being led through them by a master. He has facilitated this adventure. We are now two prints into a series of fourteen, and number three is already well on its way.
As I explore my options for images to represent the magnificent narrative of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the task is all about finding the spaces between the words. The Pearl Poet garnishes his poem throughout with lengthy and alluring descriptive passages. All action stops as pages of verse are devoted to detailed accounts of the Green Knight’s appearance, the appearance and caparisoning of his horse, Gringolet, the armour Gawain is formally arrayed in to begin his quest and the garments gifted to him when he stays at the the Castle of Lord Bertilak.
Gouache and pencil study
The descriptions of how the Green Knight looks at the moment he rides his horse into the Christmas celebrations, are not what move me to make images. I’m driven more by what underlies the arrival, and by the way everything has changed by the time he leaves.
For this first encounter with the Green Knight we spy on him outside the court, eyes closed as he prepares for what lies ahead. It’s essentially a portrait, an intimate close-up to draw the viewer into what’s about to be unleashed. Sorcery of the winter variety is afoot, and as though in anticipation of what will one day unfold at Camelot… the seeds of its destruction having been present at its inception… the tower beyond is crowned with flame. Everything must end, everything must fail eventually, and here the Green Knight is the herald and catalyst of what will one day bring about Camelot’s fall.
Printing and proofing
Proof overworked with coloured pencils.
Curator and art historian, James Russell, on the print.
‘Arthurian legend is full of warriors, but the Green Knight is unique – unearthly, even monstrous, yet still a knight. His unexpected arrival during the Christmas feast is one of the most famous entrances in the canon of British literature, accompanied in the poem by what Clive calls a ‘forensic’ description of his outlandish appearance.
Clive looks beyond the poetry to explore the character and cultural implications of Gawain’s nemesis, in an intense portrait of mingled power and vulnerability. The upper body of the Green Knight fills the frame, his statuesque head and massive arm suggesting the might of an ancient god – but in a sensitive pose reminiscent of Rodin. That flowing beard hints at the graphic gravitas of a playing card king; look again and it is a river flowing through a tattooed forest. Our 21st century Green Knight is a modern primitive, whose identity is etched into his skin.
A fascination for the decorated body has long been a feature of Clive’s work, and here there is a powerful pictorial contrast between the blood-red towers and battlements of Camelot and the organic forms inked into the Green Knight’s skin. As he prepares to bang on the door of King Arthur’s great hall, we can’t help but notice the lopped oak tree on his raised arm. Is this a record of violence done to nature? Nothing is explicit, but much is implied in this luminous vision of contrasting cultures: medieval Christian civilisation on the one hand, and, on the other, the timeless wild.’
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My friend the postman has just brought me ” The Green Knight Arrives”.
It is gorgeous.
Thank You Clive
Tank You Dan
Heavens! How fabulous! I’ve just arrived at the Artlog to find this glorious piece…..I am really overwhelmed by it – and I particularly love that wonderful green…luscious and reptilian at the same time. The red and the blue seem to emphasise (being more ‘hot blooded’ to me) the coolness and otherness of the green. And that beard……ready to receive rivers of unearthly blood……..
Thank you, dear Clive, as ever for sharing this work with us. xx
Oh it the finished print looks splendid! As do the drawings and studies from the planning stages for that matter, what a fascinating process 🙂
Congratulations to you and Dan! It’s evident that you are enjoying the companionship of this collaboration and I’m sure that navigating the route to realising each print is a journey you are both relishing every step of the way. I’m looking forward to watching this series unfold.
There’s an eloquent strangeness that defines your work, which is perfectly suited to the telling of this tale. The Green Knight is an endlessly mysterious character, so I find it fascinating that you have chosen to invite the viewer to step right in for an up close and personal meeting with him, which I must admit is both a tantalising and an unsettling experience. I am left wondering whether he is the personification of an ancient unnamed force, which originates deep in the forests that once covered this spectred isle, or a mere mortal briefly touched by magic. Peter Ackroyd has written that the enduring power of the Arthurian saga lies in its “inscrutability and ambiguity”, so I know which interpretation of the Green Knight I prefer, given that there is no definitive answer to my musings!!
p.s. I forgot to say that I am very much enjoying reading James Russell’s insightful commentary on the series.
Thank you Sarah. I feel that rather like the Pearl Poet himself, we’re all getting into our stride with Gawain and his green nemesis.
James’ accompanying text for this image makes my spine tingle every time I read it. He ‘gets it’ in every way, which is a huge relief. When I labour into the small hours in my eyrie at the top of the house, I can never be sure whether what I’m quarrying from my core will hit the spot for onlookers. In the end I can only do it for myself, and then invite the viewers in. James stepped in and saw and understood, as did you, and Maria, Phil, Zoe and all the kindly visitors to the Artlog who’ve left messages responding to the image. It’s been quite a journey to get this far, but what lies ahead is becoming even more exciting than I anticipated at the outset!
I studied this story in college (a really long time ago) and this image is stunning. I also enjoyed your description of the process.
I’m glad you like it, Claudia. I am greatly enjoying working on the series.
Clive, this is delightful. I love how you share all your steps and process and how you have not taken a literal interpretation, but one that makes us think and smile! I too am fascinated in how your ‘tattooed’ arm makes him modern, but the imagery is ancient indeed. So very inspired!!!
What a generous comment. Thank you.
What a moment in the text, but my, you’ve nailed it Clive, and in such unique style. The final image makes me swoon. That big, muscled arm and tattoos are so powerful, but is The Green Knight ready to strike with that holly branch, or is he warding off some anticipated blow? With his eyes closed he’s inward looking; but what is moving through his mind? It’s an image to savour, I think, to come to know and to unravel it secrets over time, I LOVE it 😊. Oh and the Jewel colours and glowing architectural details are just mouthwatering too!
Well that’s all made me smile!
Oh, I love the tattoos across the arm, his expression–what a fabulous success! The stencils are pretty fascinating on their own….
Thank you, Zoe. It’s been quite an adventure. I love making the screen print stencils. I get terribly excited as the layers begin to bring forth the image. Magical stuff!
My print is already on its way home !!!
Dan, at Penfold Press was quick off the mark too.
Thanks, both of you.
Oh my! The WAS fast!!!
I can’t wait to get my copy of the print.
The prints are rather big, so as I don’t have enough wall space any more I am planning to have a big flat box made to put the prints in it, together with the Old English copy of the poem, the Simon Armitage transcription, a DVD with the Simon Armitage presentation from Sarah, copies of the texts you post for us here at the Artlog and images of the birth of each print. Also the James Russell text for every print. If I am alive by the completion of the series (and If I can afford to buy them all, which at this time of crisis no one can be sure of) then I shall have a real pirate’s treasure trunk for my own delight and for the delight of others who shall be shown into my cave…
Maria, I love the idea of your ‘pirate’s treasure chest’ of prints and associated material. That sounds glorious. I too must get a box made for the complete edition, as I don’t have room on my walls for the fourteen prints either.
You’ll be pleased to know I hope, that you were the first to acquire a print when The Green Knight Arrives was posted online today. Quick off the mark!!!