While I’m eager to share new work here, I agree with Dan at Penfold Press that we need to hold back from full disclosure of preparatory images for the Gawain series until the prints are ready to launch. So here, by way of a compromise, are some details of the paint and pencil study for The Green Knight Takes Gawain’s Blow, shown in black and white rather than in colour. They’re by way of accompaniments to a conversation between me and my friend Aleksy Cichoń in Poland, who has seen this colour study in full, and today has written to me about it
Aleksy: The radiance of colour in this piece is amazing. But I have a question – who is character in base of column? Samson or Atlas?
Clive: He’s a Green Man. Look closely and you’ll see the foliate patterning on his robe. Here, carved in stone, is an early personification of the ancient magic embodied in the Green Knight. And the sepulchre crowned with a winged-lion (above) is also foliate patterned, as though there have been other Green Knights before this one, and the ancient tomb is always waiting for a new occupant. In addition the stone man and lion act as witnesses to the event, as I didn’t want the visual distraction of the King, Queen and courtiers looking on.
Aleksy: When I’m reading your words about this picture… I’m pretty sure that you’re representative of timeless generation of artists, true artists. What true artists do? They create artificial world based on philosophical rules. Furthermore, the image must be like philosophical treatise – multi-leveled, subtle model of petite universe. Well, you can do it. Gawain and Green Knight as universal figures of eternal drama – I’m shivering when I think about it. It’s good sign.
I’m in love with Green Knight’s melancholic acquiescence of his beheading.
Clive: I’m glad you like the Green Knight’s acquiescence. I find it rather sexy, this mighty presence bowing to the blade.
Aleksy: I’m aware of Knight’s load of sensuality, but melancholy side is the most attractive hue of character. Or maybe I’ve read too many books like ‘The Confusions of Young Törless’ and my outlook is distorted. Might be.
Clive: I agree with you about the ‘melancholy hue’. It is the abiding mood of this drawing.
Gawain is crimson, steeped in the blood of all victims who’ve been slaughtered in the name of faith or their masters’ causes. I wanted him to have a whiff of the Inquisition. He’s presented as flawed/tainted in the poem, though he’s definitely heroic in the terms of the times. But things are not so simple now, and we have better insights into what all these fabulous warriors actually did… the Templars, the Crusaders and the Samurai and their ilk, the Alexanders and Lawrences of history, and the Gawains, Lancelots and Lochinvars of fable. No matter how nobly they may be presented, they’re harbingers of death, albeit wrapped up in the ‘honour’ of whichever variety they subscribe to. I wanted this Gawain to be complicated!
Clive: I haven’t had time enough to write to you as much as I would like. Up to my eyeballs in work. No doubt you are too.
I really like this spoof by Mallory Ortberg on Gawain and Green Knight . Made me laugh out loud with it’s American youth jargon! It’s pretty brief, yet conveys the story arc remarkably successfully!
Aleksy: The American Green Knight – pretty funny! And it reminded me some Polish experiments made by St. Barańczak – great polish translator of Shakespeare’s. He wants to summarize content of the dramas in short funny rhymes. As I remember, tragedies (like in original) were ending in oceans of blood, so precis was faithful.
Aleksy is responding in drawings to my progress through Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. You can see his first drawing, The Green Knight Arrives, HERE.
My own Green Knight Arrives colour-study for a print can’t yet be revealed, but here’s a detail of the drawing for it.