Above: Study for the cover of Marly Youmans’ Thaliad

Sarah Parvin recently commented at the Artlog on a post about the forthcoming print, The Green Knight’s Head Lives.

Paul Jacobsthal writes on the Celtic cult of the head: “Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world.”

That brought me up short, because I’ve only recently begun to realise just how much the head has become a recurring motif of my work. Not in the sense of portraiture, which I’m not all that interested in, but as an isolated object, often with a sharp terminating horizontal, as though separate from a body. The head as a subject in its own right.


Study for the illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus, The Old Stile Press

Study for the Green Knight


Study for Marly Youmans’ The Foliate Head


Study for Gawain Transfigured


Paper-cut project in collaboration with Peter Lloyd

Study for Gawain

Page decoration for Marly Youmans Maze of Blood, Mercer University Press

Study for the Green Knight

Gawain Transfigured

Cover artwork for Marly Youmans’ Maze of Blood, Mercer University Press

Cover artwork for Marly Youmans’ Thaliad, Phoenicia Publishing


Decorated page for Marly Youmans’ Thaliad, Phoenicia Publishing

Study for an unmade book

Illustration from The Sonnets of Richard Barnfield, The Old Stile Press

The Green Knight


Unused decoration for Marly Youmans’ The Foliate Head


Page decoration for Marly Youmans’ The Foliate Head, Stanza Poetry

Study for an unmade book


Paper-cut project in collaboration with Peter Lloyd

Cover artwork For Marly Youmans’ Val/Orson, PS Publishing

Poster design for Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale

The Princess from The Soldier’s Tale

Page decoration for the illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, The Old Stile Press


Decoration used on the back cover of Marly Youmans’ The Foliate Head, Stanza Poetry

23 thoughts on “Head

  1. Thanks for posting this, Clive. Was great to think what the head means to others. I certainly love the ones you make!

  2. Wonderful Clive, The studies for an unmade book are beautiful. Photos of previously unrecorded Green Men arrive every week at the moment for me to add to our gazetteer and photographic archive. Sadly a few also arrive that have not survived the ravages of the elements and the years very well. If only someone had taken the opportunity to do as you are and help save these wonderful images for future generations

  3. Hello Dear Clive, and hello all.

    I am again going through a very difficult period, so I come to read and admire, but do not write. But this post is simply too fabulous for me to be able not to say so.

    For me your heads – so calm and so intent, and at the same time so full of danger and of promise with the powerful necks, the big serious slanted eyes, the joined-in-the-middle dark eyebrows, the powerful noses – are what I cannot take my eyes away from. I just Love them. If I manage to survive this period in one piece and to recover some of my old strength, I shall try to travel to Wales, and see “in res” as many of these heads of yours as I am able to see and admire.

    I love the feet too. I look at them, again and again.

    Love from Madrid

    • Dear Maria

      I’m enormously heartened by your kind words. Thank you.

      But I am troubled to hear that yet again, things have not been good for you, and not for the first time I wonder whether you shoulder too many burdens. It isn’t good to hear that right now life is too troubled for you to want to leave messages as you usually do. I’m happy to hear that the Artlog continues a place of respite for you, but I would prefer it if you were able to enjoy it without all these worries.

      You would be welcome here any time. I hope you know that.

      Peter and I send our love and warm hugs.

      • Thank You both.
        Bad times don’t last forever, and if one helps luck, the good times return. And one is twice as happy as before, knowing one deserves the luck.

        But yes, this blog of yours is a true respite.

  4. I have been making contemporary quilts using disembodied heads for some years. The first one with black Celtic heads now, in these sad days, looks so terroristic that I hesitate to show it. I enjoyed your lecture at CASW a while back and love your work. Judy Stephens

  5. Sigh. I still love those Vaughan heads. What a wondrous book they would have made. And an Unmade Book sounds very peculiar! Mysterious, magical.

    I am glad to have been a beneficiary of so many wondrous heads. I was just thinking how much I like the head you did for Thorn. And that one links up so closely with your Gawain.

    • Oh yes, I should have added Thorn to the images here. I’ll do that now.

      This week I making a portrait painting in preparation for the fifth print in the Gawain series. It’s to be titled The Garbing of Gawain. In his plumed, gold-coloured helmet and armour, he gazes at the lining of his shield painted with a representation of the Virgin. It’s to be a companion piece to the only other portrait in the series, The Green Knight Arrives.

      Yes, it was strange about those Vaughan heads. I knew them to be good, and yet their history has been full of rejection. The Old Stile Press book they were preparatory to was never made. Nicolas decided against it and I’m afraid I didn’t fight for it. After that they were framed and sent to my dealer, where they were exhibited though remained unsold, and eventually returned. The very last indignity was when they were rejected by the guest selector, painter Catrin Webster, for the Welsh Drawing Biennnale. I’d been in all of them from the inception, but she didn’t select me for what turned out to be the last one, and at the time I was devastated.

      I wonder whether I ought to retitle them as a series, Unwanted Drawings. No, I don’t think I could do that to them. Besides, it’s not strictly true. I want them, and it’s always heartened me that you like them too, Marly.

  6. How interesting to see just how many disembodied heads have featured in your work over the years Clive and what a wonderful gallery they all make! You must have been subliminally preparing yourself to portray one of the most famous “cephalophores” (the Greek word for head-carrier and my new word for the week!!) in literature.

    I thought it might interest you to know that you are not alone in the challenges you have faced in how best to portray the head-carrying Green Knight. Apparently, there are more than 120 early Christian saints who were martyred by beheading and yet did not die. This left artists over the centuries with an unusual dilemma: Where does one place the halo on a headless saint? Does it go over the neck, over the head, or both? I would be fascinated to see how you would tackle this particular challenge!

    • Oh, halo over the head, no doubt about it. It would be even weirder than I’m capable of being, to put a halo over a stump!

      Having said that, I’m always intrigued by a challenge. It wouldn’t be beyond me to do it, just to prove to myself that there’s a way!

      • Here’s a really interesting blog post, with some fabulous images showing the different ways that artists have tackled the halo challenge, which I thought you might be interested to see:


        It looks like there could be a whole new trope to explore here Clive – “Saints and their Heads” as a follow-on to “Saints and their Beasts” perhaps?! Although, after the disturbing dreams you have been having recently, I think it is probably best to leave this suggestion well alone!!

        • I shall take a look. But I have to say that ‘the dream’ (or rather the nightmare) stayed with me for days afterwards, and so I think I shall steer clear of decapitations for a while yet.


          Oh my! Saint Nicasius, with the top of his head sliced off, looks like all of the page decorations for Marly’s Maze of Blood!!!

  7. Although poets have spoken of the heart being the place where our emotions are stored, truly they lodge in the mind and that is kept snugly in our heads.
    ‘Nodding’ in your direction with love.
    B xxx

    • Interesting how people say ‘Follow your heart’, or ‘The heart wants what the heart wants’, or ‘My heart is broken’, though really all of those things lie not in the heart, but in the head.

  8. Marvellous post Clive, a post that was crying out to be put together; it was the Green Knight that was the first image of yours I ever came across and it hooked me in straight away in a page of thumbnails when I was browsing online. Each head has such character, such power and such expression , I’ve studied them a great deal over the years , they’re magical 😊

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