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. Gouache, ink and pencil on board. 55 x 55 cms

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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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Forthcoming Exhibition

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

The Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff

Thursday 8th Sept – Saturday 1st Oct, 2016

In collaboration with Dan Bugg of Penfold Press, Clive Hicks-Jenkins is devising a series of fourteen prints based on the medieval verse drama, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – a classic vividly translated for the 21st century by Simon Armitage. The exhibition will present the first seven prints, marking the half-way stage in this major project, together with paintings and drawings on the theme.

Art commentator James Russell writes of the series:

“The story is the kind you might find in The Mabinogion. Sir Gawain is more human than your average legendary hero. Having taken up the challenge offered at the Camelot Christmas feast by the terrifying Green Knight, he embarks on a quest to find this ogre, only to be tested – and found wanting – in unexpected ways. Sir Gawain is both a glittering knight and a fallible young man, and it is this flawed human character that intrigues Clive. Each print is inspired by the text and rooted stylistically in its world, but beyond that Clive and Dan have allowed their imagination free rein.”

An Art Accustomed Eye

The following has been announced by the auctioneers Rogers Jones Co

SAT 21 FEBRUARY 2015, 11:00 AM – CARDIFF SALEROOM, SOUTH WALES

Viewing Friday 20th February 10-8pm and on the morning of sale 9-10.30am

300 + works of art from Wales’ foremost artists

Lot 233

CLIVE HICKS-JENKINS acrylic on panel – still life with toy theatre entitled `Painting for a Child`s Bedroom`, attic gallery label verso, dated 2005, 13.5 x 27.5 ins (34.5 x 70 cms)

The painting was made in 2005 and offered at The Attic Gallery in Swansea, where for many years I showed before the arrangement was in place for my sole representation at the Martin Tinney Gallery. I know that it was purchased as a gift for a child. Twice in the past ten years the owners have loaned it for public exhibition: to MoMA Wales in 2010 for an exhibition titled Art for Children curated by my partner Peter Wakelin, and the year after to the National Library of Wales for my sixtieth birthday retrospective.

The origins of painting lie in the private collections of the Gibbs family, who have customarily purchased artworks for various generations of Gibbs children in the belief that you cannot too early begin the process of educating the eye and the heart in matters of art. Peter and I came to know members of the Gibbs family in 2001, when William Gibbs purchased a painting from my first public gallery exhibition, The Mare’s Tale at Newport Museum and Art Gallery. William invited me to visit his home to see his art collection and meet his mother, his brothers and their families, and over the succeeding years Peter and I grew to know the family and they us. We became friends. In 2004 the Gibbs family collection of art was exhibited in An Art Accustomed Eye at the National Museum of Wales, for which Peter wrote the book/catalogue of the same title.

Within the Gibbs collection, is a small painting by Richard Eurich of a train speeding along a track, and it was this, together with the lovely notion of acquiring art for children so early in their lives, that led me to make Painting for a Child’s Bedroom.  I included in it some of the things I remember loving as a child: a distant horizon, a panoramic view and the sense of a journey, a toy theatre, a glass full of water, a castle and a boat. The plants are two I loved as a child and love now: bronze fennel in the glass and Jerusalem sage in front of Oxwich Castle.

I’m saddened that the painting is coming up for auction a mere ten years after it was purchased with the intention of being the companion of a child through to adulthood. I’m saddened to think that the child did not love it enough, or that circumstances changed in the lives of its owners to a point where they chose to let the painting go. I don’t know the story, and so I can only speculate. But here it is, Lot 233 in the forthcoming auction, and I hope that wherever it goes, it may be loved and enjoyed.

Peter’s book about the Gibbs Collection is still available:

Author: Wakelin, Peter
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0 7200 0555 8
Binding: Paperback
No. pages: 99

‘Collecting and promoting art was at the heart of John Gibbs’ life although his friends and colleagues knew little of the extent of his activities, and the wider art world knew even less. He and his wife Sheila challenged our concept of collecting, acquiring works for public and educational institutions as well as for their own family, including the youngest children. This book reveals for the first time how they created one of the first confident collections of contemporary Welsh art, and demonstrated the value of modern art in Christian faith. The collections they created include works by Ceri Richards, Lucian Freud and Paul Nash, all acquired to help us appreciate the power of art.’

‘Peter’s Jug’, mixed media, 1998.

Above is an image of my first ‘artist’s card’, produced by the Martin Tinney Gallery in 1998. (Martin Tinney has been showing my work almost from the beginning of my career as a painter.) It shows an early still-life of a small ‘marbled’ jug, set against Tretower Castle as I nearly always painted it back then, without the curtain wall that in reality surrounds it.

I painted that little jug many times. It once belonged to Peter’s family, and has long lain wrapped in tissue inside a box because the handle is in three pieces. It’s been broken since I first saw it, though I painted it ‘intact’ in in the several still-life paintings I made of it. In the intervening years I’ve got rather good at restoring broken china, and so I must get the jug out and give it some attention. I’m feeling an urge to paint it again, to see how much my work has changed since 1998.

‘sold’ to the man with with the smile on his face!

Sold at Oriel Tegfryn

The Catch

acrylic on panel – 42 x 42 cm – 2014

 …

While torrents of words have been written by art historians about painters and their works, and while newspapers and periodicals carry the pronouncements of critics on exhibitions of works both historic and contemporary, and there are even inveterate private collectors who occasionally pronounce on their collecting policies, there is very little written by individuals who set out on a mission to purchase a particular painting. Perhaps that’s because art-buyers are shy about trumpeting their acquisitions, or don’t feel able to express in words the feelings that drive their collecting.

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Phil Cooper is not yet a collector, and indeed may never be one, though by admission he felt compelled to purchase his most recent painting, which might be a sign of an incipient obsession. (I’ve know many art collectors who started out innocently enough with the getting of one or two paintings, but then found themselves in the undertow of an unexpected and hard-to-control passion-to-acquire.) But for now, and I hope hereafter, Phil has been measured in his judgements and acquisitions. He is a man who has collected two works by a single painter, and that painter is me. He purchased the study of a dragon I’d made for the cover of the just-about-to-be-launched Marly Youmans novel Glimmerglass, and yesterday he wrote to tell me that he’s acquired a painting I’ve written about here on the Artlog, The Catch.

Phil is an artist himself, and so he sees things with an informed eye. He’s open-hearted and candid in his writing on his own blog, and he’s a generous commenter on the blogs of other artists. In his letter to me he wrote beautifully about what had drawn him to the painting and made him want to have it in his home, and as a direct result of that, he agreed to write again, a piece for public consumption at the Artlog. Here it is:

“I first came across Clive’s work about three and a half years ago. I think I was Googling ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ and amongst the images that popped up was a beautiful painting of the head of the green knight that I now know to be one of three studies Clive made on the subject some years ago. The strong composition and colour palette, the intensity and poetry of the Knight’s expression, and an elusive quality that is less easy to define, all stopped me in my tracks and I went ‘whoa, what’s this?’. I started to jump from one link to another, greedily gobbling up all the fantastic images that lit up my screen. By the end of the evening I was hooked and I went on to become an avid fan of Clive’s work, which I’ve been following ever since on the fantastic, peerless Artlog.

 

Recently, I started to think about acquiring a painting and at about the same time I saw a new work begin to emerge on Artlog. A thumbnail sketch appeared of a bearded man holding a basket or platter of fish. The sketch had all the hallmarks of Clive’s preparatory drawings; dynamic energy, exciting composition, crackling negative space and an exquisite use of line and mark making.

 

When the finished painting of ‘The Catch was revealed online a few days later, I was so taken with it I’d keep snatching a glimpse on my iPad throughout the day, poring over the details and the marvellous effect of the whole. At first I was struck by the glow of the fisherman’s pale skin and red hair against the dark blues and blacks of the sea and sky. Then the beautifully painted mackerel, and tattoo also caught my eye, but what I was drawn back to, what really enthralled me, was that face, with the dreamy, unfathomable, eyes-closed expression.

 

Clive wrote a superb ‘from start to finish’ post about the evolution of ‘The Catch’ on the Artlog, the kind of post that blogging was invented for in my opinion, and being given such a detailed insight into how the painting came into being made me love it even more. Clive wrote about how he wrestled with the eyes of the fisherman, spending a lot of time just staring at the work in progress, trying to pinpoint what might be needed to ‘clinch it’. He mentioned that painting the figure with his eyes closed was a risk, that it could break the connection between the painting and the viewer. It’s true that we cannot know what is going on behind those eyelids; is his reverie concerned with past pain or pleasure, dreams or fears of the future? The tattoo unfolding down his arm depicts a ship pursued by a monstrous nautilus; had he escaped such peril at sea? Is he re-living a nightmare ‘flashback’? Or are his eyes closed in a moment of private relief and gratitude? At the point in time captured in the painting, the fisherman is holding a shallow wooden bowl of plump, tasty-looking mackerel, an armful of riches from the sea, so whatever may have happened is in the past  because right now he is blessed with plenty. There are a couple of fish that look different. Clive referred to them as ‘ghost’ fish. Do they signify the one that got away, a lost love, or the fish yet to be captured, a love yet to be won? Whatever feelings are being felt, that face looks calm to me, soft, the bulky shoulders strong but relaxed, the body and mind quite still. In contrast to the choppy waves and the currents sweeping around the quay, this man is steady and rooted, firmly cradling his precious, hard-won catch. Life’s storms and squalls eddy around him, the waves buffet him, possibly leaving him marked or scarred, but both he and his glittering, miraculous bounty remain intact.

 

Some of these ideas may have informed my decision to go for this particular work of Clive’s. What moves me about a painting and connects me to it might be a whole range of things, some of which I can appreciate consciously and intellectually such as my love of particular colour palettes and imagery, the fine qualities of composition and form, or the beautiful mark making and brushwork. But I know there will also be all kinds of messages bubbling up from my psyche that I won’t quite understand but that might just push my choice in a particular direction, whispering ‘that one, it’s that one’ in my ear.

 

What prompted me to go for ‘The Catch’? Well, one reason I wanted to treat myself to a painting was to give myself something for getting through a very difficult year. We lost my dad last November, an extraordinary, lovely man, and then other challenges came along to blight the last few months, though thankfully these are now ebbing away. I kept coming back to that face, and it reached out to me, something about it saying ‘relax, all is well, stop fretting about those waves out to sea. You’re safe here. Look, your bowl is full of marvels’. The closed eyes really did clinch it for me, they may prevent a more direct contact with the fisherman and his emotional world, but they also seal a particular kind of ephemeral magic into the painting, fixing it like a shimmering gossamer soap bubble stretched across the frame.

 

I’m just so chuffed to bits to have been able to acquire this painting and I look forward to getting to know it better very soon when I pick it up after the forthcoming exhibition at Oriel Tegfryn. I thought ‘The Catch’ could be an early 50th birthday present to myself, though as I don’t reach my half century until next April it’s a very early present – but I couldn’t let this one get away!

 

Thanks Clive for letting me share my thoughts on the Artlog. It was a pleasure writing about how I fell for your wonderful painting.”

Phil Cooper. 14/08/14