Blakespotting: News about William Blake, May 2018

At the start of May, U2 began their Innocence + Experience 2018 tour through North America, crossing the continent with the aim of providing a series of performances in New York before heading on to the European leg. Aside from the date, this is the same title as the tour they undertook three years ago (after the release of Songs of Innocence) and offered a very different experience to the “greatest hits” fest that was last year’s Joshua Tree Tour. Reviews of the events were generally positive, with Rolling Stone magazine calling the band’s opening night performance in Tulsa “more interesting and less predictable” than other recent events, while Barry Egan of the Independent.ie called it “one of the bravest, most powerful and even angriest performances U2 have ever done”.

Among other musical events in May, Pitchfork magazine carried a profile of Max Clarke, whose debut album Hollow Ground is released as the work of Cut Worms – a reference to Blake’s proverb of hell, “The cut worm forgives the plough”. While the songs themselves may resemble early 60s Beatles as much as Blake, Clarke’s other career as an illustrator also seems to fuel his empathies with Blake. In Iowa, the Chamber Singers presented “Watching and Waiting” at the First Presbyterian Church, which included “Tryptych” by Kevin Dibble, a cantata for strings and chorus written in 2004 that draws on the words of William Blake, as well as Milton, the Bible, and Indian and Islamic texts.

For the visual arts, Peter Parks’s exhibition at the Magpie Gallery in Taos, New Mexico, included a series of watercolours that reference Blake as well as John Singer Sargent, American abstract expressionism and aboriginal art, while “A Guided Tour of Hell” at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco includes work by Pema Namdol Thaye, whose hypnotic paintings invoke Dante, Turner and Blake as much as Buddhist art. Hell returned as a theme with the release of the second issue of Her Infernal Descent, in which Blake continues to serve the role of Virgil to Dante as he leads the protagonist, Lynn, deeper into the circle of gluttony. Hell, or rather The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, provided the title for Flights (as in “No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings”) by Olga Tokarczuk, whose nomination for the Man Booker prize was announced in May. As much a lament for “the decimation of her country’s very own ‘green and pleasant land'” according to The Guardian, her work is increasingly being viewed as a challenge to the Law and Justice party in Poland.

The motif of flights made a strange return in May with a recreation of the famous Nike/Michael Jordan poster from the 1990s.  The Minnesota Lynx star, Maya Moore, was photographed in exactly the same pose as Jordan two decades previously, catching a great deal of attention in downtown Minneapolis and reminding viewers just how iconic the original was.

Last but by no means least, May ended with the author and president of the Blake Society, Philip Pullman, giving a talk entitled “Daemon Voices”, the Society’s annual lecture. Talking about the importance of stories and the craft of storytelling, and drawing on his recent book Daemon Voices, Pullman gave examples from his latest novel, La Belle Sauvage, interspersed with readings by the actor Olivia Vinall, who appeared in The Woman in White on the BBC as well as Young Chekhov at the National Theatre.

 

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