Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: fourteen paintings

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For every one of the fourteen screen prints in the Penfold Press Sir Gawain and the Green Knight series, I first made many sketches before producing at least one preparatory painting, and sometimes several. Here are fourteen of the paintings produced toward the printing process. Some are in private collections, and others will be in the forthcoming exhibition at the Martin Tinney Gallery.

 

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Above: Christmas at Camelot. Private Collection

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The Green Knight Arrives. 2016. Private Collection

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The Green Knight Bows to Gawain’s Blow. Private Collection

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The Green Knight’s Head Lives. Private Collection

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The Armouring of Gawain. Private Collection

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The Travails. 2016. Gouache and pencil on board. 55 x 55 cms

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Fair Castle: Study for Gawain Arrives at Fair Castle. 2018. Gouache, ink and pencil on board. 55 x 55 cms

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Reynard and the Slaughtered Peacocks: Study for The Three Hunts. 2017. Gouache, ink and pencil on board. 55 x 55 cms

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The Happy Rabbits: Study for The Temptations. 2017. Gouache, ink and pencil on paper. 55 x 55 cms

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Vessel: Study for The Exchange. 2017. Gouache, ink and pencil on board. 55 x 55 cms

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The Source: Study for The Green Chapel. 2017. Gouache, ink and pencil on board. 55 x 55 cms

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Suit of Lights: Study for Gawain Staunches the Wound to His Neck. 2017. Gouache, ink and pencil on paper. 55 x 55 cms

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Out of the Fire: Study for Morgan le Fay. 2017. Gouache, ink and pencil on board. 55 x 55 cms

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Shadowed: Study for The Stain of Sin. 2017. Gouache, ink and pencil on paper. 55 x 55 cms

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Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the Penfold Press: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Part II

The Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff

10th January – 27th January 2018

Private View Wednesday, January 10th, 6 – 7.30pm

 

Mapping the Tale: image making and the narrative tradition

Quite early in my career as a painter I began examining ways to create narratives in my work. To begin with those developed from my own stories and were essentially biographical. My father’s childhood fears and how they impacted his life and death were the source material of The Mare’s Tale. In many ways those were mood pieces, with the narratives forming underlying supports to material that for viewers could be interpreted personally and in diverse ways. I think of them now as more like orchestral compositions in which the character of the music carries listeners to their own imaginative spaces.

Tend, 2002. Private Collection

Later I painted several Annunciations, drawn by the drama of the New Testament account, and made a series of paintings, The Temptations of Solitude, based on episodes in the Lives of the Desert Fathers: a hermit dwells in a tree, attended and fed by an angelic visitor, and a cruel slave-master pursues a fleeing couple across a wildernesses, only to be stalked and devoured by an avenging lioness. I was discovering, perhaps as a legacy of my many years working in the theatre, that the type of paintings that interested me most were ones that told stories.

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The Comfort of Angels Attending the Dying, 2004. Private Collection

Outside of the recent Hansel & Gretel illustration project for St Jude’s and Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop in Covent Garden, the work on Gawain and the Green Knight has been my most comprehensive and complete exploration of a narrative to date. Using the poem as my guide and inspiration, the intention from the beginning was to make fourteen sequential and editioned prints that would tell the story, though for every print to be stand-alone in the sense that I wanted each to work whether viewed as a single artwork, or as a part of the series.

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The Armouring of Gawain. Screen Print. 2016

The process of building an image that encodes not just the narrative ‘moment’, but also has a sense of linkage to what’s transpired and what will come after, takes planning and endless trial and error. Every image has to be built from scratch: composition, colour, tone, and mark-making all serving the narrative. Imagined landscapes, gardens and castles must be conjured, as well as interior spaces and their furnishings. Characters, shown once or repeatedly have to be realised, complete with garments, hairstyles, armour and weaponry. When appearing repeatedly there has to be a balance between keeping a likeness, and yet allowing for physical and psychological change. Arthur, Guinevere, the Lord and Lady of Fair Castle and Morgan le Fay each appear just once in the print series, whereas the Green Knight and Gawain occur repeatedly. In the fourteen prints there are three featuring horses, plus images of hunting birds, a stag, a boar, a fox and several peacocks. Each had to fit within this particular imagined world. Then there’s the need to honour the source material, in this case the 2007 translation by Simon Armitage. I wanted to make a visual response to his text rather than try to represent it illustratively, and to do that I had to steep myself in his words over a long period. The small, hardback Faber & Faber first edition was never out of my pocket. I can recite quite long sections of it, committed to memory by repeated reading.

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Above: building a print with layers of lithography film, each of which will be printed in a single  colour.

For me responding to a text is all about finding the spaces between the words and then colonising them. I invest the characters and events with my own imagined detailing, layering invented elements onto what’s provided by the text. In this way the enchantress Morgan le Fay, who’s only mentioned in the poem by another character, gets a whole print to herself, while the Gawain of my images sometimes appears in ways not found in the poem. He binds his wound with the green sash given to him by the Lady of Fair Castle, and by the end of the series his armour has transformed itself with foliate embellishments, while the back of his hand has been marked with a branching stigmata.

Though the prints were not made specifically to accompany the text, I want anyone looking at them while reading it to discover that the words and images are in dialogue. Gawain begins the story as a glittering young knight, unmarked, privileged and unproven. By the end of it his face is shadowed, his hair is shorn to stubble and he is all too aware of his shortcomings. It’s all there in the title of the final print: The Stain of Sin.

Below: the magical transformation of black and white to the luminous, transparent coloured inks of the final print.

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the Penfold Press

opens at

The Martin Tinney Gallery

on January 10th, 6 – 7.30 pm.

Fourteen prints on the theme of the narrative poem, plus paintings and drawings.

 

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The Toy Town Theatre

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It’s been a long year. For me, and for my partner Peter too, our various projects have kept us hard at work. Peter curated two exhibitions and wrote the catalogues to go with them. Moreover he’s just delivered his manuscript to the publisher on the art of Roger Cecil, and there will be an exhibition next year.

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For me 2016 was largely taken up with three projects: the ongoing series of prints on the theme of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, made in association with Dan Bugg of the the Penfold Press, the halfway point of which was celebrated with an exhibition at the Martin Tinney Gallery earlier this year. There was the publication of Hansel & Gretel (Random Spectacular), which had been two years in the planning and making, and the completion of my work on a forthcoming toy theatre being produced by Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop.

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2017 promises to be just as busy, with a yet to be announced project for the stage – which for the present time I must keep to myself – and the continuation of the Gawain project, due for completion in March 2018.

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For now, and in the sprit of the season’s greetings, the images in this post are of the Toy Town Theatre that Dan Bugg and I produced as a Christmas card for the Penfold Press. Working with Dan has been one of the great pleasures of 2016, and though there were times when we both thought we’d never make our deadlines, of course in the end we did. In the coming year there will be more Gawain work, plus a few surprises, forthcoming from the Penfold Press. Watch this space.

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Drawing in Layers

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Preparing the stencils ready for producing a screen print is a relatively new experience for me, though under Daniel Bugg’s guidance I find myself greatly enjoying the the learning curve. It was odd, to begin with, creating an image only to deconstruct it in order to build again, this time in layers.

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Now I find those layers to be fascinating. Neither the original preparatory image, nor the print that will come later, they have their own transient, translucent allure.

 

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There’s paint, both opaque and transparent, drawings made in lithography crayon and in ink and collaged elements, where films marked with ‘frottage’ – rubbings made over rough surfaces such as the floorboards of my studio – are cut and taped into place to add diversity and density of mark-making.

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Occasionally there are errors, excised with a scalpel and repaired with transparent tape elastoplasted over the wounds.

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Of course, the only people who usually see the stencils are artist and printer. But today, for visitors here, I’ve made an album of images of the stencils for my current print-in-the-making.

The Green Knight and the Perfect Pose

There is a pose I’ve loved ever since I was a child. It appears throughout the history of the arts, from ancient Greek vases to the age of photography, and I’ve explored it in many forms in my work as a choreographer, and as a painter. As far as I can remember, I noticed it first in the statue by Rodin, pictured below. Here the hand is raised to a head turned to offer its profile to the viewer. There’s something about the containment of the profile within that triangular space, and the sense of an interior landscape dreamed behind shuttered eyes.

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A variation of the pose can be seen in a poster depicting Vaslav Nijinsky as he appeared in Le Spectre de la Rose for the Ballet Russe. Here the arm is draped across the top of the head, so that it tenderly cradles it. The mood is drenched in erotically charged languor.

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Much later the Nijinsky pose was recreated by choreographer Mathew Bourne, and the effect is less languid than in the Nijinsky image, emphasising instead a fierce, proud energy and dynamic.

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Adam Cooper in Matthew Bourne’s reinvention of Swan Lake, with a male dancer in the role of the Swan that until then had been danced only by ballerinas.

The pose appeared in some of my earliest works. Here it is in a study for the figure beneath the sheet of a Mari Lwyd (a Welsh mumming tradition) made in 1999.

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Saint Hervé, made in 2011. Everywhere there are triangles, forming both positive and negative spaces.

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Right now I’m working on the next print in my Gawain series for the Penfold Press: The Green Knight Arrives.

The image is a close-up, and is intended to show the moment before the Green Knight pounds on the door of King Arthur’s Christmas court. Here in icy silence, he wipes his brow and prepares for the trial ahead. After this night of wonders, lives will be changed and stories will be told. I wanted a close-up so that I could show the Green Knight’s weariness and wariness, and the dark inkiness of his foliate-tattooed arm. He is the actor waiting in the shadows of the stage-wings, tense and anxious. But when he steps into the limelight, all will be blazing energy and power and magic. The gesture is tender, solipsistic, self-comforting and unexpected. In the spaces around him will be a landscape. Possibly holly leaves, or the snowy pollarded trees that didn’t make it into Christmas at Camelot. For me, this is the playtime, before the hard work of bringing the print into the world.

Christmas at Camelot

Preparing to start on the series Gawain and the Green Knight with Dan Bugg at Penfold Press has been the biggest adventure. And now we’re off at a gallop with the first in the series of fourteen editioned prints based on the poem. Click on the link below to read James Russell’s bracing description of the image.

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You can find details of the print at The Penfold Press