Clive, Aleksy and the Green Knight

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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.

 

Clive:

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

Aleksy:

Dear Clive,
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.

Clive:

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.

 

 

Peter and Clive and the exquisite corpse: Messaging 1

Peter Lloyd kick-started the Exquisite Corpse project just before Christmas during a first visit with his family to Ty Isaf. We’d hatched a plan to get together to swop some work. (More about that in a forthcoming post.) From the moment he and his wife Sharon arrived here, together with their children Theo and Rowan, everybody got on famously. Jack soon had Theo and Rown engaged in games of throw-and-fetch and hide-and-seek, and conversations between the adults were breathtakingly lively and diverse!

I have no idea whether Peter had been considering a papercut project for a while, but then decided while he was here that we might collaborate, or whether he dreamed up the idea at 5 am in our kitchen as we sat talking over tea. But after the weekend, it certainly wasn’t long before he messaged me with his plan for the project.

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05/10/15

Peter Lloyd
Hi Clive:) Are you in North or South Wales? Love your work, I’d swap in a heart-beat if you fancied:)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
West Wales, Peter, just outside Aberystwyth. Big old house in four acres.
The notion of a swop is heart-stopping (in a good way) so YES YES YES. Thank you. That’s a ‘yes’, in case you were wondering!

11/12/15

Peter L
Hello Clive:) I am just planning the Lloyd decampment to Liverpool for the festive period and wondered if we might be able to stitch a Hitch-Jenkins sleepover onto the end of the itinerary? Just to say hello and swap some lovely pictures. If you’re both willing and available then we could arrive on 27th then leave on the 28th Dec? No pressure at all Clive

Clive H-J
Oh Fuckbuckets!!! We’re away those dates, staying over Christmas at Lincoln with an old friend. I am sick sick sick at this. We would have LOVED having you. Oh FUCK!!!!!!

Peter L
Hold on to your fuckbuckets Clive… what about if we arrived on the 20th and left 21st Dec?

Clive H-J
That’s a deal!
GREAT!!!!

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15/12/15

Clive H-J
I’m in a complete quandary about the print I’d like. I have a number of favourites. Might it be possible to bring these four, for us to select from?
a) Lord Muck
b) Weekend Warrior
c) Natural Disaster
d Stocks and Shares

The very last sat nav instruction will tell you to take the left fork off, but ignore it and continue along the lane.

Peter L
I’ve been forked off in much graver circumstances:) We’re wellied up and really looking forward to visiting! Very good choices, I’ll delve into the studio and see what I can channel from the plan chests. Really looking forward to meeting the three of you.

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21/12/15

Peter L
Arrived home, safe and sound:) We had a brilliant time and we’re really grateful for the beautiful prints and the opportunity to spend some time with Peter and yourself. Thank you X

Clive H-J
We loved having you, Sharon, Theo and Rowan here, and we had a wonderful time. (Jack too!) I’m feeling buzzed by our conversations and the ideas we shared. And I REALLY want to do that papercut/’Exquisite Corpse’ thing with you. We love our Mexican wrestler prints and I’m going to be STRAIGHT down to the framer with them after the holiday!

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24/12/15

Clive H-J
I keep looking at the wrestler prints in the dining room, and smiling with pleasure!!!
You and I SO have to do a book together. That Exquisite Corpse idea is nudging away in my grey cells!
Have a GREAT Christmas. Love to all. xxx

Peter L
Ha ha, I am so glad to hear that:) I never wake up early Clive, but something clicked that night and I just had to be up and about on the off chance that we might ‘make’. I’ve got an idea for a theme, I’ll run it by you later.
The Ty Isaf effect didn’t just rattle my creative cage, Rowan has constantly drawn since she left the house; in a way that she’s never drawn before?? You, Peter, Jack, the collection or the house is/are magic and have had a very welcome and profound effect on us all! X

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28/12/15

Peter L
I’ve been thinking about our exquisite corpses. Papercut would be ideal because it’s accessible, easy to post and will look unified when we slot them together or print them or laser cut them or whatever we end up doing with them. You okay with Papercut as a process?

Clive H-J
You bet!

Peter L
In terms of a theme I wondered if we might invent a series of contemporary Folkloric characters? Beasts or people in ritualistic dress. I noticed that you had a copy of Arcadia Britannica, these are fantastic images but, as with a lot of Folklore, it harks to the past and relates to the countryside. Could we create a folklore for the city that deals with contemporary concerns and first world problems?

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Starting points for our creations could include…
The Mobile phone (it’s a God. We talk to it everyday, we invest and entrust our closest secrets to it and with faith and patience it solves our problems and helps us find our way in life. Amen to that.
Online dating (a wonderful minefield full of pathos, happy endings and lunatics)
The Proliferation of screens (smart phone, iPad, iWatch, desktop, laptop sat Nav, TV etc. Too many screens or not enough eyes? We could fix that…)
Connectivity through Satellites (we can connect directly from our front room to the celestial heavens and how do we harness this gift? we use it to order Chinese, buy off eBay and find the nearest cash point or greasy spoon)
Time (or the lack of it in our busy lives)
Social Media (it’s a many headed beast; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc.)
Sexting (our folkloric menagerie wouldn’t be complete without a bit of how’s your father)

Clive H-J
HA HA HA!!!!!
Well haven’t YOU the fertile imagination!!!!
Yeah, I’m up for all of that. I don’t have smart phone… though I know I should have… and will get around to it. My little Orange pay-as-you-go, that doesn’t even have a camera, is OK for letting Peter know where I am, or calling for help when the car breaks down, but I ache for something that’s less stone-age.
Interestingly, social media has been where some of my most interesting collaborations have begun. I LOVE it. Have a fantastic thing going with the American dancer and film-maker, Jordan Morley. We got very creative in ways I hadn’t at all expected. He was the model in all the Dark Movements images, and a damned enterprising one, too!
So, bring it on!
You’ve kick-started something here. It all sounds right up my street.
Juicy!

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To be continued

Colourised

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As Peter Lloyd and I produce paper-cut elements toward our Exquisite Corpse project, Peter has been playing with a digital colouring app. The image above is of three cuts made by me (head, text and fetish-boot), put together as a part of the process of trying different juxtapositions. The images below are the results of Peter playing with the image.

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This is all still at a stage of experimentation and development, and although we have ideas as to how we might take things forward, we remain pretty free-flowing while in the the process of creating the paper-cut building-blocks. Usually on projects I have very clear ideas of where I’m going, but because Peter and I have no expectations or deadlines with this, there is a wonderful lack of pressure, and an exhilarating sense of creativity and fun.

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Here’s a ‘colourisation’ of a couple of Peter’s cuts.

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Project status: ongoing

 

Space Face

Here’s my latest papercut head in the Exquisite Corpse collaboration with Peter Lloyd.

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I always loved playing with my Mr Potato Head when I was a kid. I thought it was great, the variations you could get by simply changing the arrangements of the same few elements.

On the web, people present themselves the ways they want to be seen. Images are photoshopped, or even stolen to give new identities to those who want to present themselves as being more attractive than they really are. (Or think they are!) Nothing is as it seems. Straight women have online identities as gay men, and silver-backs enter chat rooms masquerading as teenagers.

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So here we have a face made from a vintage space-age ‘Mr Potato Head’ box. (And yes, there was such a thing, and I found a picture of one on Etsy!) Here the man/woman of the future is a series of disconnected parts put together to suit the mood of the moment. It’s retro, with the hipster’s post-modern nod to a naive past when we all thought that by the twenty-first century, space travel was going to be the equivalent of the rail network.

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Instead we remain earth-bound, though we use satellites as the highway to carry our endless chit-chat. We present ourselves at a distance. No direct contact, just images and words through the ether. Moreover, when the box has been emptied of all its plastic parts, it’s just a void with a picture on a lid. Hey ho!

I have no Mr Potato Head any more, so now I play with Mr Peter Lloyd. Our scalpels are sharp and so are our wits, and our heads are full of pictures.

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Peter Lloyd: All that thinking, all those connections and personal observations tied together, practically and conceptually in the scaffold of a simple Papercut. What other process would allow us to knit these disparate thoughts together into one unified image? What a weird, surreal thing you have created, unlike anything I’ve seen you make to date… you’re there Clive…

Clive Hicks-Jenkins: What have you done to me?

Peter Lloyd: It’s what Bowie would have wanted!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins: Then all is as it should be. (Sigh!)

Below: the cut in progress

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After making a swift sketch of the layout on the black paper, I launched in with the scalpel. Had I thought about it too much… which bits would be black on white and which the reverse… I think I never would have even started. Instead I cut away like a man demented. I find it’s the same when reverse-cutting blocks for printing. If I think too much about the process, I just get tied up in knots. Sometimes I find it’s best to work out the problems while getting on with the job. Too much planning can knock the momentum and energy out of it. If it goes wrong, you can always make another.

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‘Paper-cut Progress’ or ‘Dicing and Splicing With Peter Lloyd!’

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Making drawings of planned paper-cuts is all well and good, but it’s only once the cutting begins that you really get to grips with the challenges. Figuring out how to make everything hold together by ensuring ‘connection’ points is a learning curve, especially when the scalpel slices a little too far and your long-laboured-over sheet of filigree falls apart. (I should probably just tape up the mistakes, but the obsessive/purist in me takes the upper hand, and I always start over again.) However, I’m getting more proficient as the project advances, and it has to be said that my love of ‘negative space’ is a strength when dealing with these images made only of black, connected shapes, against a white ground.

Peter Lloyd is a force of nature, and his scalpel is flying over the cutting board.

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Here is an album of the finished component cuts to date, both Peter Lloyd’s and mine. (We haven’t started ‘stitching’ them together yet.) Interesting how our styles have become unified by the paper-cutting technique.

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Peter Lloyd writes of his image above:

‘It’s a hairy beast, representing our animalistic tendencies. It could also be on fire, representing passion and the ill advised hot headedness that can sometimes end in a regretful text or photo. Lots of duality going on- the beast is a conjoined twin, male and female. It’s a lovely/nasty issue, hence the thorns of the beautiful rose. The beast holds a mirror up to the sext and all that is reflected is bad luck and break up; the 13, the broken circle (or possibly a wedding ring?) and at the base of the handle is a skull, contained in the shape of a house- one slip could destroy the happy home! The edge of the mirror has a black and white chequered pattern, for who hasn’t lived a life without some sort of chequered past? We all dip through our moments of black and white…’

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Peter Lloyd at work, sharing a table at Southampton Solent School of Art, Design and Fashion with the wonderful Charles Shearer, who’s busy making a block for a print.

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From Peter Lloyd’s notebook:

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Janus and the Zig-Zag Lady

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Above: Peter Lloyd’s sketch for a proposed paper-cut

Peter and I continue to collaborate on our paper-cutting project. He’s just completed a head, and I’m working on the drawing for its lower half, prior to getting busy with the scalpel and black paper.

Peter’s Janus-head in progress.

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The finished cut, with my drawing for the body below it.

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My inspiration for the lower part came from the old stage illusion of the zig-zag lady.

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I’ve added in a sprinkle of burlesque, played on the duality of Peter’s bi-gendered head facing in two directions, and referenced the Goddess Kali in the multiple arms, each hand clutching a phone.

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Of course this may yet all change. The fun of projects like this is that the ideas flow as a part of the collaborative process, and the studies proliferate.

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Sometimes the roughest sketches are the ones I get the most out of. The one below is my favourite, though it’s pretty scrappy!

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Today I start cutting.

Papercut Sexting

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Two of the subjects Peter Lloyd has selected for our Exquisite Corpse papercut project, are ‘online dating’ and ‘sexting’. Now while my life at the easel is exciting and creatively exploratory on diverse subjects, in this game/project there’s the opportunity to be wayward, lively and explicit in ways that I am usually not, and it’s a lot of fun.

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The worlds of online dating, chatrooms and sexting are rich pickings for the visual artist. I’ve always enjoyed the ‘big’ subjects, and here we have one of the biggest…sexual desire… fast evolving in tandem with the technologies to express it. The experiences can be enlivening and liberating.

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However, alongside the fun and games, the new freedoms have also brought deception and abuse. The cyber-world opens many doors for us, and while peering through them can be stimulating and fun, there is a dark side too. But then I always like the great Hogarth’s work best when he turns his eyes from the polite salons, to the whorehouses, gambling-tables and alleyways where most of the interesting stuff goes on.

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Right now Peter Lloyd and I are working out ideas and how to express them through the medium of the papercut. Our creations are separate. When we start to complete and splice them together into hybrid beasts, everything will start to look rather different.

Last year illustration graduate Johann Rohl came to Ty Isaf,  and for a month we worked collaboratively on images, commissioned by Sarah Parvin for her forthcoming ‘Curious One’ website.

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While that experience was immensely rewarding and undoubtedly prepared the way for the current project, it felt quite different. With this, there’s as yet no expectation of where the papercut ideas might go, giving us the freedom to be playful and a little cocky.