Although December was a fairly quiet month in comparison to November, it did begin with a significant event around a new exhibition dedicated to Blake’s influence on the 1960s counterculture at the Northwester Block Museum of Art. While there had been related events running from September, December 1 saw the formal opening of the exhibition with a panel discussing Blake’s impact on 1960s artists and pop culture at Northwestern, discussing exhibits that included more than 130 paintings, drawings and photographs by artists for whom Blake was a significant inspiration. The installation has already begun to attract some very favourable reviews, such as these by the Huffington Post and Third Coast Review, while I’ll be including a review of the catalogue for the exhibition some time in the near future.
The critical reception of U2’s Songs of Experience, covered in last month’s Blakespotting, has been more mixed but that’s not entirely surprising for one of the largest bands in the world. Kitty Empire at The Guardian dismissed it as “an insipid try-hard”, and Carl Wilson agreed that the band was “trying hard” – another example of damning with faint praise. Kristopher Smith was somewhat more optimistic, although he seemed more impressed by the fact the “band has stuck together for forty-one years” than by the music itself, though David Fricke at Rolling Stone called it their best album in a long time and Alexis Petridis named it album of the week. The most bruisingly dismissive subheading came from Fiona Shepherd’s review for The Scotsman: “Inoffensive stadium fillers abound as U2 opt for positivity, love and broad-brush political sentiments”. Lacklustre reviews didn’t prevent the album debuting at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. My own review deals more with the references to Blake’s work, although I would also recommend In Search of Rock Gods for a very detailed posting on that subject.
In other musical news, Femmes Vocales performed Blake’s “The Lamb” as set to music by John Tavener at Heemskerkse on December 17 and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin announced a new album, The Starlighter, with a track based on Blake’s “Cradle Song”, while President Trump’s announcement that he would move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem prompted a rather odd set of reflections on the Blake-Parry hymn by Warwick McFadyen.
Artistic events in December included an exhibition and presentation at the Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas, where Amanda White gave a demonstration of some of the materials used by Blake to prepare his illuminated books. In New York, a solo exhibition by John Davies on The British Landscape opened at L Parker Stephenson Photographs, including retrospective materials from his 1987 collection, Green and Pleasant Land. Back in the UK, prior to the winter solstice three fairies, designed by David Gosling and loosely based on Blake’s dancing figures, made their appearance at the Rollright Stones in Wiltshire.
And last, but by no means least for fans of Sonic Youth guitarist and vocalist Kim Gordon, there was a chance to see the 2015 German horror movie The Nightmare if you were in Seattle – of note because Gordon plays a literature teacher with an affinity for William Blake. There’s no Blakeana, but you can see the trailer below.