Print No. 13: The Sorceress

Morgan le Fay is the architect of magic in the poem of Sir Gawain and the Green knight. Here she evolves from drawing through the multiple stencils that will produce the layers of colour in the finished print.

The drawing is made on board and underlies the transparent stencils throughout the process of rendering them, providing me with a guide so that everything aligns. The plastic layers are held in place with alignment pins and punched tabs.

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I make textures using a scalpel to cut through lithography crayon.

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Opaque red oxide paint is used to create flat areas of colour in the finished print.

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The colour samples will guide Daniel Bugg when mixing the inks for printing.

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Texturising the beast’s pelt and modelling with shadow.

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When overlaid the layers of stencils get very dark. Everything will look completely different when printed in colour.

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The outlines of Morgan le Fay, her beast, the flames springing from the beast’s feet and the flowers diapering the composition, have to be carefully drawn around in order to create the background. Because the background is to consist of three layers of colour, the process has to be completed three times, which is both time consuming and a tad boring.

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The flames are rendered to lend form.

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Here the image has been photographed with just three layers of stencils. There are seven stencils required for the finished print, but when the seven are layered they become so dark that the image doesn’t photograph well.

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20 thoughts on “Print No. 13: The Sorceress

  1. I’m still trying to get my head around the technique. Seeing the finished pice will help.

    Just a thought, but this might be analogous to a composer who must hear in his head what a composition will sound like but will only know when the whole orchestra plays together.

    By the way, all the wonderful comments are very educational. I really know nothing of Arthur and his court but some of this stuff above makes great sense.

  2. Our national sensibility has often been described as a mixed or mongrel kind, much like the people from which it derives, but it is distinctive because of its willingness to adapt and adopt other influences. The result is that our best creative outpourings are often a celebration of what Peter Ackroyd calls this bold ‘mingle-mangle’. He describes Shakespeare as the greatest mixer of them all. For me, the ‘Gawain’ series has allowed you to showcase your talents as one of our finest contemporary practitioners of this rich creative tradition, which Ackroyd describes as having an egalatarian, democratic spirit – and an instinct for social levelling – at its heart. I think Simon Armitage demonstrates a similar talent in his intepretation of the ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ poem, which inspired you to create this print series.

    When I was involved in the ‘Gawain’ project, back in 2015, you invited me to contribute to an inspiration board over at Pinterest, where I included some images from a couple of Alexander McQueen’s earlier fashion shows, as inspiration for Morgan le Fay. At the board, one of the shows I referenced was McQueen’s ‘Dante’ show, which took place at Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church in Spitalfields in 1996 and is a show that has gone down in the annals of fashion history. In the show, McQueen turned his models into a mutant hybrid of animal and woman (Artloggers can see a video of the show if they do a search at YouTube). One model was dressed in an exaggerated mantilla headdress, supported by antlers, which increased the height of the woman wearing it to around eight feet. The message was clear, these were women you woudn’t want to mess with. McQueen said at the time: ‘I like men to keep their distance from women. I like men to be stunned by an entrance.’

    Fast forward two years and we find the shapeshifting enchantress Morgan le Fay finally making her entrance. And what an entrance this ‘savage beauty’ makes!!! I love how this print has allowed you to fully unleash the ancient pagan undertones, which many believe lie at the heart of the Arthurian legends and which you have so vividly referenced throughout this series.

    The possible roots of the character of Morgan le Fay run deep into Celtic mythology, where one school of thought has her linked to the powerful Welsh Goddess Morrigan. It was only when the Cistercian Monks retold the Arthurian legends in the Middle Ages, in the form of a religious allegory, that she began to evolve into the ‘evil’ and much-maligned character we still encounter today. This was because the powerful Christian Church of the Middle Ages de-emphasised any role that a woman might have and, by doing that, they diminished women in general until they had little, if any, importance. All of which means that I’m delighted to see Morgan le Fay claim a significant place in your own imagining of the poem, with this arresting portrait of a mysterious ancient goddess, radiating all the power that her deity status bestows upon her.

    • Thank you, Sarah. You make some really interesting points here, not least the lengths gone to by churchmen set on compromising the reputations of what they perceived as powerful women, both in Christian history – Mary Magdalen being a prime example – and in the pagan tradition to which Morgan le Fay belongs.

      Morgan isn’t among the cast of characters of the Gawain poem, though is referred to by Bertilak at the end of it as the off-stage arch-manipulator who set the cogs of the magical events in motion. She certainly doesn’t come across as a malign force – Bertilak speaks of her with affection and admiration – but as one who challenges the perceived orders, in this case the high and perhaps undeserved esteem in which the court of King Arthur is held. It’s a fact that Camelot shows signs of corruption from the outset of the tale, evident in the poet’s description of noblemen ‘kicking’ the head of the decapitated Green Knight as it rolls past them. Every time I read the passage I think to myself, “What does this tell us of honour and chivalry among King Arthur’s finest?” The Green Knight is from his entrance nothing less than a magnificent wonder of nature, yet after Gawain’s blow has severed his neck, the great and good behave like barbarians playing football. So Morgan’s instinct that all is not well in the gilded courts of Camelot, is quickly shown to be not without foundation. (In this respect little changes. Every time I watch the spectacle of what passes for debate in parliament, I’m reminded that civilisation is a thin veneer with snarling dogs beneath it.)

      Despite the sorceress’s physical elusiveness, the late reference to her as the source of events that precipitate Gawain’s journey to honour an oath (while the ‘great and the good’ remained safely closeted at Camelot) ensured I would dedicate one of the prints to her.

      • Thanks for your thoughtful response Clive. The Arthurian Romances are fascinating to look at as part of any comparative religion studies, because of the way it is possible to chart their evolution from Celtic pagan myths to Christian legend. Margaret Murray, the anthropologist, wrote “The God of the Old Religion becomes the Devil of the New” and nowhere is this more evident than in the dramatic changes seen in Morgan le Fay’s character through the ages. She goes from Goddess to benevolent healer to the jealous and evil half-sister of King Arthur, who is bent on his destruction; and from immortal to human.

        I went back to the poem last night and was interested to see that she is called “Morgan the Goddess” in the text, which I had not noticed before. Further research revealed that the “Gawain and the Green Knight” poem is one of the few places Morgan le Fay is referred to in this way. I do think you have honoured her with a portrait which reflects her divine status. This portrait would make the perfect companion piece to the angel you created earlier this year for the performance of Oliver Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”.

  3. Such an exciting piece. Thanks once again for sharing photos of the process behind it. Seeing these photos adds another dimension to the appreciation of your work. Agree with Phil. Bringing all of these together will be out of this world! 🙂

    • Thank you, Bev. The project draws to a close in a flurry of deadlines. Sometimes pressure has a negative effect, but in this case it seems to be spurring me on to be more far-reaching in my ambitions for the images.

  4. This show is going to be out of this world Clive. I can’t wait to see the series all together. What an extraordinary, magical thing you and Dan have created! And the drawings and stencils have a powerful magic of their own. Wishing you energy and stamina for the final few weeks! Px

    • Ha ha! I’m not in the same league as Ms. Morgan, having no beast to ride that ignites flames from his passing! Love from the artist’s man-cave, where the January exhibition deadline exerts a relentless grip!

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