Blakespotting: News about William Blake, April 2018

Among new releases in April, the first part of the graphic novel series, Her Infernal Descent, appeared. Written by Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, with art by Kyle Charles, it offers an update on Dante’s journey through the underworld as a woman is taken in search of her family with William Blake as her guide. I reviewed the first issue and the next installment is due in May. Another major event was the premiere of Daniel Kidane’s Songs of Illumination at the Leeds Lieder festival on April 22, and again you can read the review of that performance on Zoamorphosis.com.

The end of the month saw the publication of Blake’s A Descriptive Catalogue on the Blake Archive. Printed in a small run, the Catalogue was written to accompany his one-man show of 1809-10 and the one review, by Robert Hunt, branded the exhibition the work of a lunatic. You can read about the history of the Catalogue on the Blake Archive blog and view the work itself under Manuscripts and Typographic Works on the Archive.

Sadder news was the death of Alice Provensen, at the age of 99, on 23 April. For some forty years she had worked with her husband, Martin, on illustrations until his death in 1987, before continuing a solo career into her nineties. During the period that she worked with Martin they produced illustrations for a number of children’s books, including the wonderful A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard. She is survived by her daughter, Karen, and you can read her obituary at The New York Times.

In other news, the Glasgow International this year included Mark Leckey’s Nobodaddy, described by The Guardian correctly, I think, as a “deeply troubled figure” and obviously based on Blake’s character of the same name. Meanwhile, a show by Alec Lewis at Tenby Art Gallery, West Wales, called The Painted Word demonstrates the influence of William Blake’s art and poetry – as well as that of Dylan Thomas and Leonard Cohen – and runs until June 10. At Union College in Schenectady, NY State, the exhibition “Blake@Union: From Print to Digital” is on display in the Lally Reading Room. Curated by Caitlin Williams, it shows the College’s collection of Blake works and will run throughout the summer.

A number of reviews of Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film, Dead Man, started popping up – such as this one at Slant Magazine, due to the release of the film on Blu Ray. If you haven’t had chance to catch up with this classic, which is a great surreal western as well as an homage to William Blake, then now is your chance. There was also some musical news with a new album, Hollow Ground, by the group Cut Worm (named after Blake’s proverb, “The cut worm forgives the plough”), although the other event was another death, this time of Bob Dorough, who wrote “Conjunction Junction” and worked with Allen Ginsberg on that poet’s album of Blake songs set to music.

And finally, Blake provided another pop culture reference in the form of HBO’s new season for Westworld, its dystopian vision of a future world of slavery and violence. In a reddit Ask Me Anything, director Jonathan Nolan cited a line from Auguries of Innocence, “A Robin Red breast in a Cage Puts all Heaven in a Rage”. As Cindy Davis remarked in a review of the new season, “if that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what would.”

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, March 2018

March ended with something of a bang in terms of Blakespotting, with the public unveiling of the new arrangement of Team England’s theme for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. Recorded by Tokio Myers, the current champion of Britain’s Got Talent, and The Voice star and Commonwealth silver medallist, Jazmin Sawyers, their new version of Parry’s “Jerusalem” attracted a huge amount of attention during the month. As well as having a remarkable voice, Sawyers (who won silver in the Glasgow 2014 games) also attended the 2018 events to participate in the long jump. Team England announced the version mid March, and the British newspapers carried a fairly typical series of stories, with plenty of explanations as to why the song is performed instead of “God Save the Queen” and, my personal favourite, The Sun explaining why “This is… the right anthem for England“. If you haven’t heard it already, the link to the new version appears below.

The exhibition at Petworth House, William Blake in Sussex, continued to attract attention in March. There is a straightforward notice in The Argus and I shall note my own review of the exhibition and catalogue. The highest recommendation, however, is for an extremely thoughtful review by Esther Chadwick is available at Apollo Magazine, in which Chadwick also notes how Blake “was drawn to the patron of [his] strange work”, A Vision of the Last Judgement. Certainly the National Trust attracted a great deal of attention for the event, with it being sold out on the day that we attended and showing off Blake to his best effects.

In other news, Eric G. Wilson, a professor at Wake Forest University, published a collection of stories, Polaris Ghost, which offers the intriguing claim to connect “the dots between William Blake and David Lynch”. It’s available on sale now and in the near(ish) there will be a review on Zoamorphosis, along with another book published in January but only recently available in the UK, Jeremy Limn’s The Auguries of Lost Lilacs. The Scoundrel & Scamp stage in Tucson, Arizona, also saw a performance of Mickle Maher’s 2011 comedy, There is a Happiness that Morning Is, in which two lovers and academics give their views of life as based on the work of William Blake. Kathleen Allen of the Arizona Daily Star called it a “stellar production.”

In music, Englabörn & Variations by the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, was released on 23 March and includes a version of the poem “Holy Thursday” on its second disc. Jóhannsson was famous for his film work, having composed the score for The Theory of Everything as well as a number of movies by Denis Villeneuve and had tragically died, aged 48, in February. Englabörn had originally been recorded in 2002 as his first solo album, and so the re-release with additional material (including the Blake track) was the first record to be issued after his death. “Holy Thursday” is particularly beautiful and makes his sudden death even more poignant. You can listen to it at Spotify.

The end of the month also saw the announcement of a new exhibition to open in April at the Hyde Collection in Glen Falls, New York State, featuring a local artist, Rockwell Kent. Kent is not an artist I have been familiar with, but apparently studied Blake alongside Nietzsche and his politics and private mores “scandalized family, friends and adversaries” according to a preview in The Post Star. While his work has passed me by so far, one image that has been used to publicise the exhibition – Flame – is so clearly Blakean in its inspiration that my own curiosity has been stimulated to explore his works more fully. The show, the first comprehensive one since 1974 after his death in 1971, opens on Sunday 8 April and runs until July 22.

 

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, February 2018

Eurynome by Faith Wilding, 1978-9.

Although a relatively quiet month on the Blake front, the arts saw a number of events and exhibitions that were inspired by William Blake in one form of another.

Faith Wilding: Fearful Symmetries is an exhibition of the artist’s work at Carnegie Mellon University, where Wilding formerly taught, as well as working with the cyberfeminist art collective subRosa. Quotes accompanying her impressive pieces draw upon a range of writers and artists, including Emma Goldman, Virginia Woolf and, unsurprisingly considering the exhibition’s title, William Blake. Her work, as Bill O’Driscoll points out, is frequently overtly political, and anyone in Pittsburgh will have a chance to see it throughout March before it continues on a national tour.

The artist Siggi Ámundason, whose large-scale pen drawings reference William Blake as well as eighties anime, Goya and Francis Bacon, displayed some of his work at the Kjarvalsstaðir Museum in Iceland: his work, part of a larger exhibition entitled “Tales of the Unseen”, will remain on display until April 22.

An exhibition on works inspired by T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land also takes in William Blake as well as Paul Nash and Henry Moore as part of the eclectic mix of Eliot’s themes and inspirations, according to Hannah Luxton. “Journey’s with the Waste Land” is on display at the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate until 7 May.

Film, stage and TV also had offered some intriguing snippets during February. While not directly inspired by Blake, the latest drama by Clio Barnard, Dark River, is a reminder that one of her previous short films, Lambeth MarshJoseph Walsh at the Financial Times, was so inspired. Dark River began an adaptation of Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass before evolving into a story of the aftermath of abuse in the English countryside, and indeed according to Blake’s poetry remains a source for the latest film.

Elsewhere on screen, Blake had a cameo from his death bed in the new TV series, The Frankenstein Chronicles: while, as Meghan O’Keefe observes, it is something of a stretch to say that Blake and Mary Wollstonecraft were firm friends, nonetheless his small part is a significant link in this entertaining show set in 1827 London.

A performance of Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem at the Crow’s Theatre in Toronto drew enthusiastic reviews, as per this from Kelly Nestruck who declared it “pure theatre of the kind we rarely see”. Kim Coates, the Saskatoon-born actor best known for his work on Sons of Anarchy, plays the role of Rooster Byron and the play continues at the Crow’s Theatre until March 10.

February saw the 40th anniversary of Derek Jarman’s punk tribute, Jubilee: a long-time fan of Blake’s work (he dedicated the film to Blake along with many others of his heroes), Jarman’s nod to the Romantic poet in the movie includes a brilliant version of ‘Jerusalem’ by Amyl Nitrate which, while not as visually compelling as her version of Rule, Britannia, is still striking. As Adam Scovell noted in The Quietus, the film is “a time capsule” of the time when subcultures could afford to grow in England’s capital.

Musically, February saw the release of Shawn Colvin’s The Starlighter, which includes a version of Blake’s “Cradle Song”. Colvin, an American singer-songwriter best known for her 1997 Grammy-winning song, “Sunny Come Home”, discussed her music as part of the #MeToo movement with Michael Raver at The Huffington Post. We’ll be carrying a review of Starlighter at some not too distant point in the future.

Finally, the bizarrest Blake reference in February came from Ben Shapiro, who made the following, oddly compelling remark about Donald Trump:

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, January 2018

 

The Blakean new year began with a bang as an important exhibition opened at Petworth House in Sussex. Entitled William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion and organised by the National Trust, the owners of Petworth, this offers a rare opportunity to view some of the works created by Blake during his sojourn at Felpham in 1800-1803 and collected here together for the first time. Petworth itself, home of the 3rd Earl of Egremont when the Blakes were living nearby, has long housed the artist’s remarkable The Last Judgement which was commissioned by the Earl. Having opened on January 13, the exhibition will run until March 25 and opening reviews were exceptionally complimentary. The Guardian described him as “now revered as one of the greatest figures in literary and artistic history”, while The Times called it a “revelatory show”. For more information, including ticket prices, visit the National Trust web site.

For those seeking a more intimate insight into Blake’s life on the Sussex Coast, the National Trust is also offering brief visits to the cottage in Felpham where he and his wife lived. As the cottage is empty and awaiting renovation, there are only a few times that it is open to the public (on February 14, 21 and March 14). Twenty miles from Petworth, the trustees are clearly hoping that a number of visitors will take up this opportunity to explore more fully Blake’s time outside of London.

A less grand but, in many ways, rather wonderful exhibition is also running in Sheffield at the Graves’ Gallery, part of the public library in the city. William Blake: The Book of Job, brings together a later reprinting of his 1826 illustrations to Job, and is on display until March 3. In the United States, the William Blake Gallery, set up by the antiquarian book collector and owner of a huge selection of Blake-related works, John Windle, in San Francisco, also announced at the end of the month a new exhibition, BLAKE BOOKS: The Commercial Engravings of William Blake, A Tribute to Gerald E. Bentley, Jr. Opening on February 2, it will run until April 30.

Another exhibition covered here previously, William Blake and the Age of Aquarius at Northwestern Block Museum of Art, attracted an amusing review of its catalogue by Dominic Green at The SpectatorWhile slightly facetious in typical Spectator fashion, it also demonstrates a fine appreciation of some aspects of Blake’s reception, an artist “whose visionary voice continues to inspire each new generation”. Another contribution to his reception history is John Yau’s The Wild Children of William Blake, which explores ways in which Blake serves as a model for modern visions of the arts rather than necessarily as a direct source of inspiration. Published by Autonomedia, hopefully I’ll be reviewing it here once it becomes available in the UK. Finally, another new announcement for 2018 was that for the forthcoming publication of Her Infernal Descent by Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, illustrated by Kyle Charles. Published by AfterShock, the graphic novel will tell the story of a grieving mother’s descent to hell “guided by the spirits of William Blake and Agatha Christie” and looks to be one of the most original works inspired by Blake for some time.

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, December 2017

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 albumThe 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.

 

The Blake Archive publishes Vala or The Four Zoas

In a major piece of news on Thursday, the Blake Archive announced that it was publishing a digital version of Vala, or The Four Zoas, Blake’s great, unfinished manuscript.

Begun around 1797 when Blake was completing work on the first volume Edward Young’s long poem, The Complaint: or, Night Thoughts on Life, Death & Immortality, Blake worked on and revised his manuscript copy, frequently using proofs of the Young volume (the only one out of a projected four to be published) to compose his epic poem and drawing on a similar structure of nine nights to tell his narrative. Although The Four Zoas itself was never completed, in it Blake created his most complete version of the complex psychodrama of the zoas, those “four mighty ones” in every man, and it furnished a great deal of material for his later epics, Milton a Poem and Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion. Northrop Frye called The Four Zoas “the greatest abortive masterpiece in English literature”.

As the editors of the Archive observe (echoing plenty of previous editors), the manuscript is “messy” and “complex”. The version available is currently a “preview” version, with full images but, as yet, no transcription of the separate pages, itself an incredibly complex undertaking. The edition is based on fresh digital photography from the British Library and you can find more technical details on the Blake Archive blog.

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, November 2017

As the month that marked the 260th anniversary of the birth of William Blake, November began with a bang rather than a whimper as U2 announced on the very first day that they would release a new album, Songs of Experience, in December as well as embark on a new North American tour, Innocence + Experience in May 2018. If there remained any doubt as to the source of U2’s inspiration, publicity materials made it quite clear who was being referenced in their work:

Songs of Experience is the companion release to 2014’s ‘Songs of Innocence’, the two titles drawing inspiration from a collection of poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience, by the 18th century English mystic and poet William Blake. Produced by Jacknife Lee and Ryan Tedder, with Steve Lillywhite, Andy Barlow and Jolyon Thomas, the album features a cover image by Anton Corbijn of band-members’ teenage children Eli Hewson and Sian Evans.

Preceding the album launch in early December, largely positive reviews began to appear. Variety declared it the band’s best since How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, Alexis Petridis at The Guardian called it a “fantastic return to form” and Rolling Stone thought it a mature and thoughtful album.

One of the biggest bands releasing an album based on Blake’s 1794 illuminated book would be enough by itself in most months, but the start of November also saw a programme by another major name, the author Philip Pullman whose collection of essays, Daemon Voices, was serialised for Radio 4. The final episode, “Soft Beulah’s Night – William Blake and Vision”, was broadcast at the end of October and was available throughout early November, part of a series of events to celebration of the publication of La Belle Sauvage on October 19, volume one of The Book of Dust, the prequel to the trilogy His Dark Materials.

Aside from U2, November saw a number of other Blakean-themed musical events and releases. CityPages.com included an interview with Thomas Abban (looking for all the world like a young Marc Bolan), who listed William Blake among his influences on his 2017 debut album, A Sheik’s Legacy. Another debut album, Mercy Works by Toronto post-punk band Casper Skulls, also draws upon Blake’s work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, for the track “What’s That Good For” and was reviewed at NowToronto.com. Longstanding Blake aficionado, Michael Horovitz, played with the William Blake Klezmatrix Band at the Royal Albert Hall on November 16 in anticipation of a new spoken word album, Lyrical Soulmates. DIY Magazine carried a review of Nabihah Iqbal’s latest tracks, ‘Eternal Passion’ and ‘Zone 1 To 6000’, which are influenced by the poetry of Blake and Matthew Arnold, and the new video by another post-punk band, The Soft Moon, for a track “It Kills” from the forthcoming album Sacred Bones, takes inspiration from Blake’s quote,  “Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained”. Finally in terms of music, Martha Redbone was performing from her album, The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake, in East Tennessee on November 30.

There were several Blake-related book reviews: Langdon Hammer’s piece on a new edition of Hart Crane’s long poem, The Bridge, drew attention to the considerable influence of Blake on Crane, most notably in his essay on Stieglitz, whereby he saw Stieglitz’s photography as capable of expressing Blake’s notion that “We are led to believe a lie / When we see with not through the eye.” Similarly, The Sydney Morning HeraldMaurice Sendak carried a charming piece on , reminding readers of his significance as a Blake collector. And lest we forget, apparently Dan Brown’s new novel, Origin, includes a Blakean reference as a necessary clue. One of my particular favourites from the month was a piece by Zen Pencils, a reworking of Blake’s ‘A Poison Tree’ as a tale of school sports envy.

Regarding exhibitions and events, The National Trust announced that it would be holding an exhibition, William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion, at Petworth House, Sussex, from 13 January to March 25. From 1800 to 1803, Blake lived in nearby Felpham (where he began work on Milton and Jerusalem, his great, prophetic books), and the exhibition will bring together works from Tate, the British Museum and the V&A to complement works acquired by George Wyndham, third Earl of Egremont, from Blake, most famously the Vision of the Last Judgement. Tickets are currently available at £12 for National Trust members, £18 for the general public. The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, which opened on November 10, had as its highlights two original etchings from Blake’s Songs of Innocence, provided by the great Blake collector, John Windle, who last year opened a gallery devoted entirely to Blake in San Francisco. There was also a new performance of Jez Butterworth’s play, Jerusalem at the Abbey Theatre, St Albans, starring Marlon Gill.

November also saw a series of events and news coming out of the Block Museum, Northwestern University, Illinois, as a prelude to their exhibition, William Blake and the Age of Aquarius and the accompanying book of the same name, published October 17. The first event in November was a lecture by Michael Philips, ‘Printing in the Infernal Method’: William Blake’s ‘Illuminated Printing’, which took place on November 3 and explained Blake’s invention of relief etching in the contexts of eighteenth-century printmaking. By the end of the month, reviews of the exhibition were beginning to appear, such as this one from The Huffington Post, and others by the Evanston Magazine. and Buzzflash.com.

From the Collection: Blake’s Anniversary

William Blake was born on this day in 1757, 260 years ago, at 28 Broad Street in Soho. His first important biographer, Alexander Gilchrist, describes his birth as follows:

William Blake, the most spiritual of artists, a mystic poet and painter, who lived to be a contemporary of Cobbett and Sir Walter Scott, was born 28th November, 1757, the year of Canova’s birth, two years after Stothard and Flaxman; while Chatterton, a boy of five, was still sauntering about the winding streets of antique Bristol. Born amid the gloom of a London November, at 28 Broad Street, Carnaby Market, Golden Square (market now extinct), he was christened on the 11th December – one in a batch of six – from Grinling Gibbons’ ornate font in Wren’s noble Palladian church of St. James’s. He was the son of James and Catherine Blake, the second child in a family of four.

Ten years ago, to mark the 250th anniversary, Royal Mail released a commemorative stamp as part of its “Great Britain, Our Island’s History” series of collections, pictured here. The image is taken from the portrait painted by Thomas Phillips in 1807 and which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

The accompanying card, which provides a brief biography, concludes:

He believed passionately in racial and sexual equality. Several of his poems and paintings express a notion of universal humanity. He retained an active interest in social and political events all his life, but was often forced to resort to cloaking social idealism and political statements in Protestant mystical allegory. On the day he died, Blake worked relentlessly, eventually ceasing and turning to his wife, who was in tears by his bedside. Seeing her, Blake is said to have cried, ‘Stay Kate! Keep just as you are – I will draw your portrait – for you have ever been an angel to me.’ Having completed this portrait, he laid down his tools and began to sing hymns and verses and at six that evening, after promising his wife he would be always with her, he died.

Blake’s life, if not his art, was one of wonderful simplicity and has always been as much an inspiration to me as his painting and poetry. I have never desired his poverty and his struggle, but that he was able to keep faith with Catherine and his visions is something that speaks to me now, some 260 years later after this great man was born.

Blakespotting: August 2016

Unless you’re part of the Donald Trump race relations team, August was probably a quiet month for you. Certainly in the world of Blake news that was the case, even though this is the month that marks Blake’s death in 1827. Despite that fact, any major events seem to be waiting for a much bigger release in September – so much so that the beginning of August was dominated by actor Kit Harington, more famous for his role of “you know nothing” Jon Snow, promoting a new car – the Infiniti Q60 – with words from Blake’s “The Tyger”. You’ll have to wait until 2017 to see whether the Q60 really rivals the BMW 4 Series, but in the meantime you can enjoy Harington’s transfer of poetic appeal to the 400 hp machine in the clip below (and the full version does have nearly the entire poem, which is kind of impressive).

The 12 August marked the anniversary of Blake’s death and, as is traditional, the Blake Society marked his life at the memorial in Bunhill Fields. There will probably be a much more ecstatic celebration of his life in September as part of the Big Blake Project. I’ll be covering the forthcoming “Blakefest” in Sussex in more detail next month which – fingers crossed – will be a major event (and, hopefully, a recurring one). In August, however, it looked as though it was running into some difficulties as the ticketed event – which hopes to attract at least 5,000 visitors – failed to get financial backing from the local council. Another big event which I’ll be returning to in October, but which began to attract a lot of attention online, is the prospective opening of what has been billed as the “world’s largest William Blake gallery“, to be launched by John Windle in San Francisco. What that will actually mean remains to be determined, but Windle’s enthusiasm for Blake is certainly not in doubt.

Rick Pushinsky published his response to Blake’s eighteenth-century collection of poems in August. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: A Study Guide, is a series of beautiful photographs of found and fabricated sculptures, interpreted through the prism of Blake’s imagination. Several of them can be seen at www.pushinsky.com/project/songs-of-innocence/. Another very promising release was Michael Hughes’ novel, The Countenance Divine which, according to Paraic O’Donnell in The Guardian, “is a debut of high ambition that marks the arrival of a considerable talent” in its interweaving of narratives involving a blind Milton in 1666, Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders of 1888, and Blake labouring over his illuminated books in 1790.

Musically, the artist P.J. Sauerteig (aka Slow Dakota) gave a fascinating interview in which he indicated the considerable influence of Blake on his work – not surprising for an album where the opening track deals with a man who submits his song to an angel, only to see it not selected in a contest organised by God. With that lead in, The Ascension of Slow Dakota is now firmly on my must-hear list. U2 has confirmed that the follow up to Songs of Innocence (perhaps one of the most disliked albums of all time because Apple forced iOS users to download it to their devices) will be Songs of Experience. There are few details as yet, other than the new album will be accompanied by a world tour in 2017.

Blakespotting: July 2016

Ronald Searle: image from A Grain of Sand, 1964.
Ronald Searle: image from A Grain of Sand, 1964.

The monthly roundup of sightings of William Blake in the media.

July began with a delightful tribute to drawings created by Ronald Searle for a movie for UNICEF, entitled A Grain of Sand. The first part of the film includes a narration of Blake’s Auguries of Innocence over Searle’s animation, while the second part features live footage depicting the day in the life of a Tunisian boy. The film doesn’t seem to be available (at least in any easily accessible format) but was made, according to the BFI database, by the UN in 1960 to illustrate the problems of overpopulation and the care of children throughout the world.

In Derry, Northern Ireland, award-winning artist Aislinn Cassidy staged an exhibition of her work, “The Sick Rose“, at the Playhouse Theatre. A science graduate and teacher, Cassidy draws parallels between the diffusion of colour in various substances – including the living form of roses – and draws on the religious, political and social symbolism of Blake’s poem. The exhibition was shown in mid-July at the Playhouse and is due to go on to the North West Regional College in September. Another artist showing work inspired by Blake was Emre Namyeter, whose various lightboxes on display in Istanbul drew upon the famous quotation from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite.”

One of my favourite snippets from July was that the half brother of Barack Obama, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, has released an album entitled Reflections on William Blake. Ndesandjo, who lives in Shenzen, China, and is an accomplished pianist, has made two other albums as well as written a more famous memoir in which he accused Obama Snr of abuse. On his web site, he describes the source of inspiration for his album on Blake as a visit to the Tate, but I have yet to track copies of it down.

Staying with the musical theme, a concert at Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, included a performance of Louis Andriessen’s Ahania Weeping as part of an evening of music devoted to Jeffrey Dinsmore, a musician who worked with Andriessen and others before his unexpected death in 2014. Meanwhile, in preparation for the Blakefest due to take place in Sussex in September, the music critic Chris Roberts traced some of Blake’s influences on popular music, while U2 confirmed a new 2017 tour and album entitled Songs of Experience.

During July, the photographer Rick Pushinsky published a collectionSongs of Innocence, inspired by the illuminated book of the same name, interweaving photos of found objects with fragments of Blake’s verse. The end of the month saw a one-off performance of Luke Welch’s play, Waiting for Robert, in Bournemouth as a follow up to the Big Blake project that took place this year. This is another one to track down, though according to the synopsis it centres around the struggles of Catherine Blake and William’s patron John [sic] Hayley, chasing the artist for a commission as William is haunted by the spectre of his Ghost of a Flea, which he believes only his dead brother can banish.