Adam Dix (1967 – present) is a contemporary British artist exhibited nationally and internationally. He studied a B.A. (Hons) in Graphics and Illustration at Middlesex Polytechnic and an M.A. in Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Art. Working in a naturalistic register Dix draws on science fiction and the history of the printed image (old print ephemera and the process of lithography) to imagine curiously anachronistic scenes that are both familiar and alien. Dix often incorporates allusions to forms of social organisation mixing references to ritual, myth, consumerism and religious rites in his images. Hierarchies that are clearly stratified and planned and those that are collective and/or spontaneous are explored with the inclusion of technologies, costume and relics. Discussing his making process Dix comments:-
The paintings are…made by methodically layering thin layers of oil colour glazes, repeating the process from the lightest tone to the darkest tone. It is a watercolour process but done in oil and the majority of my paintings are painted on the flat rather than upright. Some works can have up to 30 glazes (Dix in Eden, 2018:80).
The images produced of Gawain (below) are both made in the way described above and feature the knight with Gringolet (his horse). That reference is counter-intuitively deflating. A mounted knight is so often an imposing figure of martial power and yet here it adds to the sense of being propped up or in costume, and therefore pretending or playing at the role. Dix commented, ‘I was looking at the Mummers plays and clips from the Wicker Man when reading the text’ (Dix in correspondence with the author, 2021). Mummers plays are ritual celebrations or ‘dramatic entertainment…in which a champion is killed in a fight and is then brought to life by a doctor. It is thought likely that the play has links with primitive ceremonies held to mark important stages in the agricultural year’ (Britannica, 2017). Those partaking in Mummers engage in carnival-like behaviours and wear masks and costumes. That manner of spectacle and the idea of a champion who is killed and comes back to life has resonances with The Wicker Man (1973) (originally from a story based in Cornwall, Ritual, 1967 by David Pinner). In both cases a strict Christian is confronted by pagan traditions, rites and sacrifice in ways that expose the artifice of their heroic role and test their faith. Those are fitting references for Gawain who in Dix’s final image, Sir Gawain (2021) could easily be made from backstage ephemera as much as man on an actual horse. These sources and the result also bring into question masculinity and the assumed power dynamic of gendered identity. Male power as a fragile front is an important theme in the exchanges between Lady Bertilak and Gawain that Dix’s image foreshadows as the knight prepares to leave Camelot on horseback at the opening of the poem. Alternatively, going in the other temporal direction Gawain reflects at the close of the poem that following his encounter with the Green Knight he will no longer be able to ‘swagger in the saddle’ (Armitage, 2007:111). Dix’s painting could be the new imago of self that Gawain is left with having had his idealised image of himself severely undermined.
My source material was a new translation of the verse by poet laureate Simon Armitage and whilst conceiving the work I heard rumours of the film being made; so it goes without saying that I am thrilled that Dev Patel has the role of Sir Gawain in the new film by writer/director David Lowery (Dix, 2021b)
There are echoes of this version of Gawain in Lowery’s The Green Knight (2021) and Dix embraced the serendipitous likeness of the slim bearded figure in his paintings (produced before casting) and the choice of Patel. Questioning the notion of a hero and contemplating our habitual sympathies is common to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Dix’s works and Lowery’s film.
Armitage, S. (2007) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Faber and Faber.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2017) Mumming play. Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/art/mumming-play [Accessed 28 May 2022].
Dix, A. (2021a) [online] Adamdix.com. Available at: https://www.adamdix.com [Accessed 28 May 2022].
Dix, A. (2021b) Instagram. [online] Instagram.com. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/adammdix [Accessed 28 May 2022].
Eden, M. (2018) Hypnotic memories of the future. Trebuchet, The Body, 4:77-80. ISSN 1753-030x04.
Pinner, D. (1967) Ritual. UK, Hutchinson/Arrow.
The Green Knight (2021) [film] Directed by D. Lowery. USA: A24.
The Wicker Man (1973) [film] Directed by Robin Hardy. British Lion Films.