Clive Hicks-Jenkins (1951 – present) is a Welsh artist known for narrative paintings, artists books and for the illustrations provided for a special edition of Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2018) (Hicks-Jenkins worked with Daniel Bugg of the Penfold Press on the final prints). He attended the Italia Conti school in London, where he studied theatre, worked as an actor for the screen and attended classes at the Rambert Ballet School. Hicks-Jenkin’s has also worked as a performer and puppeteer with Cardiff's Caricature Theatre giving him a sense for characterful stylisation and movement. He is a Royal Cambrian Academician and an Honorary Fellow of Aberystwyth University (Callow, 2011). James Russell produced an illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition, Clive Hicks-Jenkins: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight at MOMA Machynlleth and comments there on Hicks-Jenkins influences:-
Clive Hicks-Jenkins has achieved renown in his native Wales and beyond as a painter of rare and powerful vision. It helps that he came to painting by an unusual route, having enjoyed a successful theatrical career - as actor, director, choreographer and stage designer – before the urge to paint became irresistible. Today his paintings of figures and animals are so striking, at least in part, because of the continual dialogue between design and dance, structure and movement (Russell, 2018:7).
The works Hicks-Jenkins produced for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2018) are nuanced and complex images which introduce us to the world of the Pearl Poet. Compositions are full of symbolism (patterns, animal life and references to natural form). Stylistically they have an early renaissance feeling mixed with a medieval folk quality. Sometimes figures in the prints appear as iconic ciphers such as The Travalis or Gawain Arrives at Fair Castle. In these images the knight’s face cannot be seen, he is figure of honed masculinity confronting a monster and traversing the landscape on his steed respectively, defined more by his armour than his interior. Other images portray complex emotion, and show Gawain as a sympathetic but flawed man tormented by his challenges and morality, Gawain’s pained expression in Gawain Staunches the Wound to His Neck, and in The Stain of Sin for example (see Hicks-Jenkins 2022 for images).
Russell comments on the image chosen here, The Green Knight’s Head Lives:-
Calm and resolute as ever, the Green Knight holds up his head. From his neck blood doesn’t so much gush forth as billow out, in a way that is disturbing but strangely beautiful. It’s as if he’s taken off a mask to reveal some other alien self: a primal organic form as ornately structured as lichen, or a lung (2018, 18).
The contrast in the expression between the Green Knight and his steed adds to the tension of the image, while the arboreal form (the gushing blood) speaks to, as Russell states above the Green Knight’s complex otherness.
Armitage, S. (2018) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Faber & Faber.
Callow, S. (2011) Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Lund Humphries.
Hicks-Jenkins, C. (2022) Clive Hicks-JenkinsClive Hicks-Jenkins. [online] Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Available at: <http://www.hicks-jenkins.com [Accessed 24 May 2022].
Russell, J. (2018) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: 14 prints by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the Penfold Press. Grey Mare Press.
Images shared with the kind permission of the artist