Blakespotting: News about William Blake in January 2019

One of the most impressive examples of Blakean inspiration to start off 2019 was his use by Refik Anadol, whose astonishing immersive installation, the Infinity Room, was showcased during the Winter Gallery Crawl in Pittsburgh. Created using a series of lasers, the room draws upon Blake’s quotation – later cited by Aldous Huxley – that “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” Born in Istanbul and currently living in Los Angeles, the small cube – each side 12 feet in length – contains mirrors on the floor and ceiling to support, according to an interview with TribLive, “the idea that there is no gravity”.

A significant new literary release at the end of 2018 and which began to receive reviews in January was the fourth novel by Mexican writer, Adriana Díaz Enciso. Entitled Ciudad Doliente de Dios (“The Doleful City of God”), it tells the story of Cristina, a girl abandoned in an orphanage by her parents, who has mystical visions that lead her to a knowledge beyond her years. With an image of Los englobing the fallen body of Urizen as a huge drop of blood for its cover, the book is framed in the cosmogony of William Blake, and a post giving an insight into her thoughts on the Romantic poet and artist can be found at Finding Blake.

Musical sightings and performances included a profile of Martha Redbone for Berkeleyside, whose 2012 album The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake, remains one of the best Blakean compilations ever recorded; she also performed at the Weill Hall, Sonoma State University, on January 24th. Jim Jarmusch (whose 1995 film Dead Man cast Johnny Depp in the role of accountant in the wild west, William Blake) and Jozef Van Wissem, announced a new album – An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil – which draws upon the ideas of Blake, Swedenborg and Helena Blavatsky and is to be released in early February. Another announcement was the new album Inside the Rose by These New Puritans: due out in March, some of its music including the titular track claim the inspiration of William Blake.

The month ended with a performance by Patti Smith at the Camden Roundhouse that attracted rave reviews. Appearing in London at the close of January, Smith’s set included a series of her own music, cover versions of artists such as U2 and Midnight Oil, and recitals of readings of her own work, Virginia Woolf, Robert Burns, and, of course, William Blake. Ellie Porter, writing for theartsdesk.com, remarked on her “ceaseless energy”, while Emily Finch at CamdenNewJournal described her as a “booming bright light”.

“A Blakean Year”: 2018 in Review

2018 began in spectacular fashion with the opening of an exhibition at Petworth House in Sussex on January 13. Entitled William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion, the exhibition concentrated on Blake’s experiences and art from 1800-1803 when he lived at nearby Felpham, as well as other works subsequently created by him for the Earl and Countess of Egremont who lived at Petworth. It was for Elizabeth Ilive that Blake produced one of his most ambitious works, A Vision of the Last Judgement, which rightly formed the centrepiece of this display of some of his most exceptional paintings and prints.

Other exhibitions from the beginning of the year included Faith Wilding: Fearful Symmetries at Carnegie Mellon University, where Wilding formerly taught, and demonstrating her multiple influences, including Emma Goldman, Virginia Woolf and, of course, William Blake. Also on show from February to April was “Tales of the Unseen”, work by Siggi Ámundason, whose large-scale pen drawings reference William Blake as well as eighties anime, Goya and Francis Bacon.

Musically, the big news at the beginning of 2018 was the announcement of U2’s £xperience + Innocence tour to accompany their 2017 album, Songs of Experience. More affecting to me personally was the death of Mark E. Smith, frontman of post-punk band The Fall, in January, whose life was probably best summed up by the headline “Mark E. Smith Was a Complicated Bastard“. He was also something of a fan of William Blake, demonstrated not least by his cover of “Jerusalem” for the album I Am Kurious Oranj. Other releases in winter and spring included two albums that referenced Blake songs – Shawn Colvin’s The Starlighter, and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Englabörn & Variations, including the tracks “Cradle Song” and “Holy Thursday” respectively. There was also, in March, a new version of “Jerusalem” released as Team England’s official anthem for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, as well as the premiere of Daniel Kidane’s Songs of Illumination in April.

Blake-influenced publications in early 2018 included the quite astonishing comic, Her Infernal Descent, which was released in five parts throughout the year. A reinterpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, a middle-aged woman is led through hell by Blake as her spirit guide, offering satire and commentary on life in the twenty-first century as well as a rather profound portrayal of loss. This was joined in April by the publication of Polaris Ghost by Eric G. Wilson, a collection of short stories that reference Blake throughout, as well as Patti Smith’s The New Jerusalem, a new collection of prose poems that offered her response to the election of Donald Trump among other things. Julia Fine’s wonderful debut novel, What Should Be Wild, offered Blakean elements of horror and fantasy in the style of an Angela Carter fairy tale.

2018 was, as ever, a busy one for The William Blake Archive, which saw a number of new publications, including new copies of JerusalemUrizen, and Visions of the Daughters of Albion, as well as entirely new additions in the form of Blake’s Descriptive Catalogue and his Notebook. The major addition, however, was Vala, or The Four Zoas, which now makes widely available the fragile manuscript of Blake’s most ambitious epic poem.

The middle of the year saw a number of Blakean citations in film and television, not least the Criterion Collection of reissue of Dead Man for blu-ray, which prompted a number of retrospective reviews, such as this at Glide Magazine. Much more controversial was the release of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, a bloody serial killer movie that notes Blake’s “The Tyger” as a model and which, frankly, did not receive great reviews. By contrast, more people were impressed by the fact that season two of Westworld offered multiple quotations from Blake’s Auguries of Innocence as a running theme for its depiction of mankind’s inhumanity to robot. Will Franken’s Red, White & Blake sought to rescue the Romantic poet from bland, liberal academics such as myself, offering a heartfelt plea to return Blake to his position as national writer and artist.

Significant news was Tate Britain’s announcement of a huge forthcoming Blake exhibition, and there was a truly wonderful piece of Blake-inspired art by Jack Handscombe, a student at Edinburgh College of Art, who produced an installation of a figure dressed in racing leathers, entitled “After Blake’s Newton (After Paolozzi)”. Elsewhere in the arts, a new piece of choreography and music inspired by Blake, entitled Apolión and directed by Jerónimo Búffalo, was performed at the Art Centro de Arte UNLP in Buenos Aires. In London, a new show in London was announced, Wirework (originally written by Daleen Kruger in Afrikaans in 2009 but translated into English this year) at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Telling the story of The Owl House, a remarkable piece of outsider art by Helen Martins and Koos Malgas, Wirework explores how they created an extraordinary museum, taking their inspiration from Omar Khayyam, the Bible and William Blake.

The biggest event of the summer, however, was the unveiling of a new gravestone, 191 years after his death on the spot where William Blake was buried in Bunhill Fields. At an event promoted by the Blake Society as an apocalypse (or revelation of Blake’s final resting place), crowds far larger than those expected by the organisers gathered to hear Blake enthusiasts offer a celebration of his life and work and to pay their respects to the memory of one of London’s most famous sons.

Celebration of Blake’s life and work was also a reminder of some of the other figures, as well as Mark E. Smith, who had been influenced by Blake in some way and died in 2018. These included Alice Provensen – who lived to the glorious age of 99. 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. Her books included the wonderful A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard.  She was followed shortly afterwards by Bob Dorough who helped Ginsberg set Blake to music and was more famous as the composer of Conjunction Junction. Likewise, the artist and writer Æthelred Eldridge passed away at the age of 88. Æthelred, born James Edward Leonard Eldridge, had served as associate professor of painting at Ohio University from 1957 to 2014, and was directly influenced by Blake. Eldridge, who ran the site Albion Awake, referred to Blake constantly in his art and was even the founder of a Church of William Blake (which, as Roger Whitson tells in his article on Zoamorphosis, burned down in 2001).

As the year turned to autumn, mid September saw a return of the three-day celebration of Blakean arts, Blakefest, which took place on 14th-16th in Bognor Regis. Blakefest has become a fairly regular cultural and artistic festival, with Lene Lovich and a tribute to George Harrison headlining at this year’s event. Other art shows included an exhibition at the Levy Gorky gallery in New York, featuring a selection of works by Robert Ryman, Cy Twombly, Lee Bontecu and Jaspar Johns. Entitled “Intimate Infinite: Imagine a Journey”, the full show included work by 27 artists and unfolded over three floors in a pattern that was inspired by Blake’s Auguries of Innocence.

The autumn also saw publication of one of my personal favourites, the translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Taking its title from one of Blake’s proverbs of hell, the novel was originally written in 2009. Described by Sarah Perry at The Guardian as “an extraordinary display of the qualities that have made Tokarczuk so notable a presence in contemporary literature”, it is one of the most profoundly Blakean novels ever to have been written.

The year ended with a series of Blake-inspired music: the exemplary pianist, Harriet Stubbs, released her debut album, Heaven and Hell: The Doors of Perception,  which opens with an arrangement by Stubbs of “Phrygian Gates”. Composed by John Adams in 1977-8, this is the most overtly Blakean of all the tracks due to the narration by Marianne Faithful which brings together multiple extracts from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This was followed in December with a new musical adaptation of “A Poison Tree” by the space-folk duo Astralingua, comprising Joseph Andrew Thompson and Anne Rose Thompson. The track is also to be included on their forthcoming album, Safe Passage, due out in March 2019. And, just squeezing in before the near year, was Johanna Glaza’s wonderful Albion EP, a setting of parts of Jerusalem, The Emanation of the Giant Albion to music, which we’ll be reviewing later in 2019.

Anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Astralingua: A Poison Tree

Friday 6 December saw the release of a new musical adaptation of William Blake’s song of experience, “A Poison Tree”, by the space-folk duo Astralingua, comprising Joseph Andrew Thompson and Anne Rose Thompson. Based in Denver, Colorado, their music features mandolins, cello and ghostly harmonies in a mixture of classical, folk and psychedelic sounds. The track, which you can hear below (and see the accompanying video), is from their forthcoming album, Safe Passage, due out in March 2019.

Here they tell Zoamorphosis some of the ways in which Blake has influenced them and their music.

Joseph:

I’ve been interested in Blake’s work since I was about 16 years old. A friend lent me a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience and it amazed me. At first glance, it reminded me of the illustrated rhyme and story books I’d read as a child, which endeared it to me. It then became quickly apparent how rich it was in poetry, metaphor, craft, and vision. I bought a pocket copy by Penguin books and carried it around with me for quite some time. I would also go to the local bookstore and pore through whatever Blake collections they had, trying to find the best prints of his artwork.

His artwork was strange, anachronistic, and singular. I saw so many different genres of modern-day art reflected in his works from 200 years earlier – fantasy paintings, storybook illustrations, comic books, and animation. Blake exaggerated proportions, movement, and faces to create effects that I saw in all sorts of pop culture’s artwork. Figures sometimes seemed detached from their surroundings (Nebuchadnezzar), or as if leaping from the canvas. In many, there were layers upon layers of images, blended together like psychedelic paintings. Those were just my first impressions – the exciting things that grabbed my adolescent attention. As time went on, and I came to better understand and appreciate the fine arts, I realized what a master painter Blake was, how capable and detailed, and began to admire him even more.

They say Blake was considered “mad” in his time. I must be “mad” too, as I speak his language and he speaks mine. I imagine I like Blake for the same reason that a lot of artists do. His works weren’t popular in his age but it did not deter him. He didn’t change his style to suit the day. He painted and wrote his truth and vision. Because of that, there’s such pureness and honesty in his creations. His paintings and prints are filled with excitement, passion, and exuberance, and one senses in them the desire to communicate. When looking at his illustrations or reading his poems, you feel Blake’s earnestness. And when you take all this together, you get a sense of his likely isolation and loneliness, his reaching out for someone with whom to connect. In the end, you take his work personally, even though he’s communicating Universal Truths. Plus, his poetry makes you smile.

Rhymed and metered poetry takes work. You have to be more selective with what you say. No word or line can be wasted and you have fewer words from which to choose. A lot of poets have great command of rhyme, but their poetry is lacking. Other poets have beautiful ways of describing unique insights, but all without rhyme. Blake was a master of both. He was so joyfully playful. In his craft, more than just rhyming, he uses alliteration, plays with syntax, mixes and matches lines and schemes. There is such wealth offered to the reader.

Anne:

One thing that stands out to me about Blake, especially in his artwork, is how pure and defined his subjects are, both in emotion and physique. Looking at anyone he depicts, you see beauty, grace, grief, horror, shame, pity, strength, longing, and weakness all expressed – whatever characteristic it is, it is abundantly clear and undeniable.It makes his works so striking and evocative, and I think that’s often missing in modern art, music and media. Our culture now seems to embrace a nebulous, almost non-committal attitude, and characters are often aloof, vague, and undefined. Much the same with our emotions, where there is a prevalence of numbness, disaffection, and distraction. We’re overstimulated to the point of boredom. Maybe that’s why people fall for Blake the way they do when they discover him finally – they see the human experience expressed with such richness and in such volume, much louder and stronger than we are encouraged to experience it. Everything is full of passion and energy. He reminds us of our human capacity for real feeling.

 

“A Poison Tree” is available on Bandcamp, with Safe Passage also available for pre-order.

You can also see Astralingua’s video using Blake’s art on YouTube.

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, November 2018

The main event of November was the anniversary of Blake’s birth, with at least one celebration taking place at the Theodore Bullfrog in London, where members of the Blake Society gathered to sing, play music and recite the poet’s words for an evening of entertainment. Elsewhere, plenty of Blake’s poetry appeared online, as with an article dedicated to his best poems in The Week. The magazine Town Topics also ran a piece on encountering Blake through Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg as a meditation on the Romantic’s birthday.

On a sadder note, the artist and writer Æthelred Eldridge passed away at the age of 88. Æthelred, born James Edward Leonard Eldridge, had served as associate professor of painting at Ohio University from 1957 to 2014, and was directly influenced by Blake. His most recognisable work, the Siegfried Hall Arch, was first completed in 1966 but then redesigned in 1987 and, according to WOUB, restored in 2015 (illustrated above). Eldridge, who ran the site Albion Awake, referred to Blake constantly in his art and was even the founder of a Church of William Blake (which, as Roger Whitson tells in his article on Zoamorphosis, burned down in 2001).

Among the visual arts, November saw the opening of Extreme Nature! at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Largely dealing with excessive visions of landscapes and the natural world, this would appear unfamiliar territory in which to encounter Blake, but the curator Michael Hartman has the Times Union newspaper, taken a fantastical view of the world that allows him to include the Romantic artist’s illustration of Behemoth and Leviathan from the Book of Job to be included. The exhibition runs at the Institute until February 24, 2019.

A delightful artistic detail was the launch of a collection of plates designed by Richard Ginori and Ippolita Rostagno (the latter more famous for jewellery design). Called “The Road to Heaven is Paved with Excess”. According to Rostagno:

The collection ‘The Road to Heaven is Paved with Excess’ is inspired by the poet William Blake. The concept is that you never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough. I love this idea because it wraps up exuberance and restraint into a constant dynamic, which is perfect for this moment in which maximalism reigns.

With each plate starting at £85, the collection is not cheap – perhaps fitting for the excess of maximalism. You can purchase the collection at Artemest.

On a more serious note, The Japan Times included a short but very welcome piece on Kenzaburo Oe, the 1994 Nobel Prize winner for literature whose novel Rouse Up O Young Men explores how the writer engages with his profoundly disabled son through the work of William Blake. The Romantic is quoted extensively throughout the novel which, as Damian Flanagan observes, provides a means to “probe the hinterland of the unknown not merely by rational analysis”. Along with Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth and the recently translated novel by Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of The Dead (reviewed here), Oe’s book is a work that is deeply indebted to Blake.

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, September and October 2018

The big event in August was the unveiling of a new grave stone to mark the actual resting place of William Blake in the cemetery at Bunhill Fields, and which was covered on Zoamorphosis at the time. While most news stories about the new stone appeared by the end of August, in the Church Times, Lucy Winkett, the Rector of Blake’s parish church, St James’s, Piccadilly and who spoke at the ceremony, offered a reflective essay on what William Blake would have to say to us today as a prophet for both his times and ours.

Mid September saw a return of the three-day celebration of Blakean inspiration, Blakefest, which took place on 14th-16th in Bognor Regis, the town next to Felpham where Blake lived from 1800 to 1803 and where he wrote his famous poem, “And did those feet…” Blakefest has become a regular cultural and artistic festival, with Lene Lovich and a tribute to George Harrison headlining at this year’s event. Organiser, Olivia Stevens, told the Chichester Observer that Blake “was the inspiration for so much that has happened since” and that the festival would bring “a lot of great art and music and culture to Bognor”.

One extremely significant release in October was a translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Taking its title from one of Blake’s proverbs of hell, the novel was originally written in 2009 and is now available in English, following the success of her 2007 novel, Flights, which was translated last year and won the Mann Booker prize for best translation. The novel, described by Sarah Perry at The Guardian as “an extraordinary display of the qualities that have made Tokarczuk so notable a presence in contemporary literature”, is quite simply one of the most Blakean novels ever to have been written. An offbeat whodunnit centred on Janina Duszejko, it is extremely funny, suffused with references to Blake’s works, and we’ll be carrying a review of it here soon.

Art shows during September and October included an exhibition at the Levy Gorky gallery in New York, featuring a selection of works by Robert Ryman, Cy Twombly, Lee Bontecu and Jaspar Johns. Entitled “Intimate Infinite: Imagine a Journey”, the full show included work by 27 artists and unfolds over three floors in a pattern that was inspired by Blake’s Auguries of Innocence. As Gorvy told Robb Report, the aim of the exhibition which ran from September 14 to October 24, was “to look intensely at each grain of sand and find within it a whole universe”. The end of October also saw the publication of forty-three pencil sketches by Blake on the Blake Archive, showing his “early debt to academic standards of precise copying and to the neoclassical emphasis on outline” according to the blog of the Archive.

Elsewhere, Blake made a brief appearance via his poem “The Tyger” in Joe Martin’s Us and Them, although that film will probably disappear without trace. There were also some musical interludes: “Jerusalem” was, as ever, a staple of Last Night of the Proms in September and U2’s tour of eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour wound to a close at the O2 stadium in London. More significantly, during October, the passing of Winston McGarland Bailey, better known via his stage-name, Shadow, saw a celebration of his life during which he was called “the William Blake of Calypso“. Bailey was a musician and songwriter who was born in Tobago and won numerous awards for his music, and was awarded a doctorate by the University of the West Indies for his music. Harriet Stubbs released a new album, Heaven and Hell: The Doors of Perception, which we’ll be reviewing soon,  and there was a great profile of Martha Redbone, who set many of Blake’s poems to music on The Garden of Love, in LexGo magazine.

Apocalypse: The unveiling of William Blake’s new gravestone

191 years after his death, a new gravestone was unveiled on the spot where William Blake was buried in Bunhill Fields. At an event promoted by the Blake Society as an apocalypse (or revelation of Blake’s final resting place), crowds far larger than those expected by the organisers gathered to hear Blake enthusiasts offer a celebration of his life and work and to pay their respects to the memory of one of London’s most famous sons.

Blake had been buried at Bunhill Fields after his death on 12 August, 1827 in an unmarked grave, one of eight bodies to occupy the plot, with three corpses below him and another four above him. A gravestone was placed 20 metres away marking that the remains of William and Catherine lay “nearby”. It was Carol and Luis Garrido who discovered the precise location of Blake’s grave in 2006, using records of co-ordinates to find the spot and leading the Blake Society to begin an appeal to gather the funds for another, more accurate marker. The gravestone, carved by Lida Cardozo, was then unveiled on the anniversary of Blake’s death.

The ceremony itself began at 3.00 pm, with a crowd that reports were estimating at between 400 and 800 people and certainly a much larger number than the Blake Society had estimated. Blake Society trustee, Gareth Sturdy, told the BBC that “more and more people are beginning to realise how central Blake is to the national culture”, and certainly the celebrations on Sunday demonstrated the great affection in which Blake is held.

Among those who spoke at the event were the poet, singer-songwriter, priest, and academic Malcolm Guite, who argued forcefully for the church to recognise Blake as a prophet who spoke to the nation’s deepest spiritual concerns, the poet and convener of the William Blake Congregation (and former contributor to Sniffin’ Glue) Stephen Micalef, Lucy Winkett, the rector of St James in Piccadilly, the church where Blake was baptised, and comedian Will Franken, who gave a rousing speech intended to shake the attentive crowd from their slumbers in true Blakean style. The star turn, however, was provided by Bruce Dickinson, who demonstrated that his love of Blake ran much deeper than his 1998 album The Chemical Wedding, offering a vision of how the spirit of the Romantic had touched and transformed his own music. Like most speakers there, when standing before the mortal (or, as Blake would have it, vegetable) remains of the artist, Dickinson refused to accept that he was anything other than very much alive, declaring him “one of the greatest living English poets”. For anyone else, this would have been a mistake, but not for the man who once wrote of himself: “William Blake, one who is very much delighted with being in good Company. Born 28 Nov’ 1757 in London and has died several times since.” Philip Pullman, who had also intended to speak to the assembly, had unfortunately been taken ill the previous night in Edinburgh.

Musical accompaniment was provided by the band Blake, who sang their namesake’s most famous hymn, “Jerusalem”, while a new composition came from Chris Williams: drawing its inspiration from the lines carved on the gravestone – “I give you the end of a golden string; Only wind it into a ball, It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate, Built in Jerusalem’s wall” – the very beautiful piece of music was sung by Sansara, although Williams himself was not able to be there due to visa difficulties.

The end of the ceremony included people laying flowers beside the new stone, along with a further opportunity to pay respects through the placing of 191 candles to represent one of each of the years since Blake’s death. While other inhabitants such as Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan have been commemorated much more visibly at Bunhill than Blake, it is more than fitting that, as Gareth Sturdy has also remarked, his final resting place is now marked in a spot of green grass where children will be able to play in the summer.

 

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, July 2018

July was a fairly quiet month for Blake news, although towards the end a few pieces began to appear about an event that will be covered here soon: the plans to unveil a new gravestone marking the final resting place of William Blake. As Florence Snead reported for iNews, members of the Blake Society discovered the location in 2006 and the new stone will be unveiled in a ceremony on the anniversary of his death on August 12. The Telegraph sought to inject a little drama into the event by suggesting conflict over the choice of quotation to be included, but in truth the new gravestone seems to be one that will bring Blake aficionados together.

One of the most fascinating events for July was the announcement of a new piece of choreography and music inspired by Blake at the Art Centro de Arte UNLP in Buenos Aires. Entitled Apolión and directed by Jerónimo Búffalo, with additional performances by Santiago Culacciati and Esteban Trindade, the piece includes the music of Julia Gala and José Gómez Vega. In an interview with El Dia, Búffalo explained that the link to Blake came from the poet’s depiction of Apollyon, the Fiend, for his illustrations to Bunyan, that showed a world being torn apart by gods who do not give answers to our questions.

The South African carried a review of Wirework, the play by Daleen Kruger that explores the Owl House, Helen Martin’s collection of outsider art in Eastern Cape that includes pieces inspired by Blake, and currently being performed at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London. Michael Popham argued it was well worth seeing despite the good weather and attractions of Wimbledon, although perhaps he was writing from memories of having seen the Afrikaans original. As mentioned last month, performances of William Blake in Hollywood also continued through the month in Utah.

One of the best visual arts pieces for the month was a profile of the internationally acclaimed artist Jaume Plensa in BlouinArtInfo, who has returned to Blake many times. Although not directly addressing pieces such as “One Thought Fills Immensity” or his Blake in Gateshead light installation, he offers the following Proverb of Hell as the ideal model for his own sculptural practice: “in springtime learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” Elsewhere in Vancouver, the Burnaby Art Gallery had a series of illustrations by Jeff Ladouceur, an artist whose sources include Blake and Mad magazine. According to a review in Straight magazine, Ladouceur who was born in New York gives an insight through his show into “the slow path through life”. Similarly, an exhibition in Gratz, Philadelphia, reviewed by the Jewish Exponent, explored the meaning of Job through the ages, including Blake’s famous illustrations.

Something spotted online for July should really have been included much earlier in the year: Isao Yukisada’s River’s Edge was released in February, but I only knew of its existence because of a review in The Real Bits that was published in July. The story details the relations between Haruna and her homosexual friend, Ichiro, who is often beaten and alienated: when they discover a corpse by the river’s edge (hence the title) so things become even darker, but the reason for the Blake connection is that apparently Ichiro demonstrates his life experiences to Haruna by reading her the poetry of William Blake. One that I shall follow up in future.

Finally, there were a number of references to the Romantic poet in relation to the anniversary of the death of Jim Morrison on July 3, such as this one at EuropaFM and this at Il Malilio, most of them noting Blake as the source of The Doors’ name. One of the more interesting to read (though not necessarily with much to say about Blake) is this personal reflection by Sanjin Dumišic.

 

Blake and Data: William Blake on Twitter and the Web, June 2018

The following is a brief analysis of data collected on William Blake trends on Twitter and via Google Search/News for June 2018. Tweets were collated via Twitter Archiver and a data miner plug-in for Chrome used to collect Google items. For a general explanation of some of the assumptions made in the following stats, please see the post at zoamorphosis.com/2018/06/blake-and-data-searches-and-twitter-may-2018/.

Twitter

There was a great deal of variation in June, caused principally by a spike on 16 July which, as can be seen from the frequency chart below, is an extreme outlier caused by a large number of people retweeting a story from the Spanish news site, El Pais. This anomaly (nearly 1200 tweets) skewed the distribution too far to the right, with a standard deviation of nearly 200 above or below an average of some 400 tweets. As such, the chart below shows the distribution across the other 29 days of June, with a mean of 366 tweets per day and a standard deviation of 120 which is comparable to the previous month. Likewise, the total number of tweets – 11,690 – was comparable to the number in May which was slightly more than 11,000.

In contrast to last month, the most popular tweet by a considerable margin was not a quotation by Blake or one of his images but a story form El Pais.

Published on 16 June, the story in El Pais, entitled “La pesadilla de William Blake” (“The nightmare of William Blake”) and about how our docility towards machines and automation has left us susceptible to such things as fake news, is fascinating for a number of reasons. First of all, it is an extremely well-written and thoughtful piece that demonstrates a detailed knowledge of Blake’s work and philosophy: this is far from a mindless invocation of Blake, and while I would not necessarily agree with every aspect of Jordi Soler’s analysis, very much does strike a chord with me and I can appreciated his work. That such a piece was widely shared on Twitter made me optimistic about the demand of a wider audience for more than mere Blake platitudes.

The second observation, however, is that this is a story that largely passed by the English speaking world. It was not translated or offered in English and so (as far as I am able to tell) the vast majority if not all retweets were in the Spanish-speaking world. At this stage (and I doubt this will change much in the future) Blake-related items on Twitter are dominated by the USA and UK, so the fact that this story went viral is interesting in and of itself.

Of the other tweets that topped more than 100 shares, two stand out for different reasons. The first was the announcement by Tate of their upcoming series of exhibitions for 2019, which includes William Blake as well as Van Gogh and Dorothea Tanning. While there were 269 retweets of this specific tweet itself in June, there were many others which repurposed the material in some shape or form.

The final tweet to catch my eye was by @ArtLify. The reason for this was not that there was a particularly huge amount of shares (212) but that it is one of the more esoteric of Blake’s quotes: “Some see nature all ridicule and deformity and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” Taken from a letter to the Revd. Dr Trusler in 1799, this is an unusual Blake quote and almost certainly was widely shared as much because of the associated image by Irene Suchocki as for the words themselves, it demonstrates how more obscure elements of Blake’s works can circulate widely when repackaged.

As with last month, the following numbers are drawn from self-identified locations in Twitter.

Once again, the USA and UK dominate, a pattern that I would fully expect to be consistent across forthcoming months. As such, it is what happens below these two entries that is most interesting. Something that is perhaps consonant with the popularity of the El Pais story is the strong showing of a number of Spanish and South/Central American countries: leaving aside Brazil, this group constitutes some 896 entries (including a number of countries such as Peru and Honduras not listed on the above chart). Again, leaving aside the UK and USA, this distribution can be visualised as follows:

Twitter results (excluding USA/UK) June 2018

As can be seen from this map, there is a significant distribution of tweets from across the continents, with a greater density from Europe, South America and India.

Google Search/News

In terms of more general, non-social media items posted to the web in June, this comprised 238 general items and 200 news stories. Main headline items included the El Pais and Tate stories noted above, although obviously these tend not to aggregate in the same way as Twitter items. Combining both together (not all entries had a date) gives a number of daily posts as follows:

As with the Twitter frequency analysis, one entry (in this case 1 story on 17 June) is very much an outlier. Removing this provides a mean across the month of just over 14 posts a day with a standard deviation of 5.25.

With regard to categories into which the various stories/posts could be classified, Arts (including anything with a visual element and also dramatic performances, but mainly Blake’s images) was clearly the largest, followed by Poetry (mostly self-explanatory, but also including quotations), Culture and Society (a more portmanteau term) and Music.

Finally, where possible all sources for sites posting information about Blake were identified as follows:

As with Twitter, the UK and USA dominate, but activity below these two provides a visually interesting map of stories about Blake below:

Google search/news results (excluding USA/UK) June 2018

Europe dominates (with Italy in the lead in this instance), but there is also a significant showing across South and Central America again, along with a scattering of stories from Asia, Turkey, Canada and Australia.

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, June 2018

The big news during June was Tate Britain’s announcement that it will recreate William Blake’s failed 1809 exhibition in 2019. Speaking to Robert Dex at the London Evening Standard, Alex Farquharson said that the main purpose of the exhibition is to shift the perception of Blake as primarily a poet to a visual artist. The show will open next September and will be one of the biggest displays of Blake’s work since the 2000 exhibition that also took place there.

Although it was actually released at the end of May, Patti Smith’s The New Jerusalem, a prose poem written in response to the Trump Administration’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, became available in the UK in early June. As well as her gnomic, Blake-inspired text, it includes a series of images produced by Smith in recent years. Smith gave a talk at the Festival of Voice in Cardiff and we’ll be carrying a review of the book soon. Other publications in June included Julia Fine’s debut novel, What Should be Wild, with nods to Blake in the form of the characters the Blakeleys and a setting of Urizon, while Hiroshi Unno’s The Art of Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Steampunk demonstrates the influence of Blake among other artists on modern fantasy artworks.

A truly wonderful piece of Blake-inspired art came via the Edinburgh College of Art’s end of year degree show. Jack Handscombe, a student at the ECA, produced an installation of a figure dressed in racing leathers, crouched above a keyboard as a palm tree sprouts from its back. Entitled “After Blake’s Newton (After Paolozzi)”, as Duncan Macmillan, reviewing the show for The Scotsman, observed, the piece is a witty parody of the Paolozzi statue that stands in front of the British Library, suggesting that “digital is all very well, but nature will break out”.

Neko Case released a new album, Hell-On, was released on June 1. At least one reviewer (Ludovic Hunter-Tilney at the Financial Times) noted the Blakean connection to the track “Last Lion of Albion”, as in the chorus:

Last lion of Albion
They’ll use you for centuries to come
Your wound’s the main road into London
You’ll feel extinction
When you see your face on their money

Another musical performance announced during June is Eve Beglarian’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell at, which will be performed at the New York Bang on a Can summer music festival.

Also in the arts, a new show in London was announced, Wirework. Written by Daleen Kruger, the play itself was actually written in Afrikaans in 2009 but has recently been translated, telling the story of The Owl House, a remarkable piece of outsider art by Helen Martins and Koos Malgas. The pair created an extraordinary environment in the middle of the Karoo in the Easter Cape, taking their inspiration from Omar Khayyam, the Bible and William Blake to fill the museum with wonderful statues. The play will perform at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London from July 3-7. Another performance that carried the spirit of William Blake came from Keith Hennessy’s Sink at The Lab in San Francisco. According to the Bay Area Reporter, Hennessy’s dance and chant invokes both Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Also in theatre, Lynne Kaufman’s one act play, William Blake in Hollywood, will show in Cedar City in Utah. Exhibitions during June included William Blake in Colour at the William Blake Gallery, and the owner of the gallery, John Windle, gave a talk on the artist and poet during Melbourne Rare Books Week.

Finally, during June we were also reminded of the Blakean references in Westworld (“Auguries of Innocence”), as a signifier of English identity according to the BBC’s poll (“Jerusalem”), that the Libertines nearly took a more Blakean name, the Albions, and you could have heard a group of Blake scholars – Michael Phillips, Linda Freedman, Susan Matthews and me – discuss the Life and Works of William Blake on the BBC World Service’s programme The Forum.

Blake and Data – searches and Twitter, May 2018

The following is a brief analysis of data collected on William Blake trends on Twitter and via Google Search/News for May 2018. Tweets were collated via Twitter Archiver and a data miner plug-in for Chrome used to collect Google items. The various data is included in a spreadsheet with “raw” and, where possible, “cleaned” (i.e. references to William Blake that do not reference the Romantic artist/poet removed) versions provided.

Twitter

During May, 11,236 tweets were posted, the majority of them retweets. The chart below shows the daily number of tweets that included the phrase “William Blake” in reference to the artist/poet.

As the above chart shows, there was considerable variation across the month with regard to how many tweets were posted or retweeted. The spike on day 13 is almost entirely due to the appearance of a tweet by @41Strange of Blake’s paintings of The Great Red Dragon (discussed later). The average number of tweets was 360 per day, with a standard distribution as illustrated below – which also shows the 836 tweets on May 13 to be very much a statistical anomaly.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of popular tweets were either short quotations from Blake or posts of his pictures.

The most surprising thing about this chart for me is that clearly the most popular shared tweet for May 2018 was an image of Oberon, Titania and Puck with dancing fairies. The image appeared on multiples sources, but the most commonly retweeted was a modified version of the painting posted by @ArtPicsChannel at the end of April (the account regularly retweets this image).

The original painting is held at Tate Britain in London and is watercolour and graphite on paper (it is included below for comparison to the Art Pics Channel version). As the Tate catalogue entry indicates, it probably represents an attempt by Blake to capitalise on the popularity of depictions of Shakespeare’s works in the 1780s, in this instance by illustrating Titania’s instructions to her fairy train in the final scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

What is particularly significant about this illustration to me is that of all the works by Blake I would have expected to see shared among hundred of users, it would not have been this painting.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing c.1786 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02686

Newton and the Ancient of Days, for example, were shared, but only 87 times in the case of the former and a mere 36 times in the case of the latter. With over 285k followers, @ArtPicsChannel tweets tend to be disseminated widely, and this has been the only image by Blake posted to the account since March 9 (when an illustration from Dante’s Divine Comedy did not appear to gain much traction). The fact that other Blake pictures do not go viral in the same way from the account – including the original version rather than the red-tinged one – indicates that there is something about this particular image that appeals to Twitter users, probably because the dramatic red and black looks effective on a range of devices. @ArtPicsChannel has itself retweeted the image 43 times this year alone (and only once for the original), seeming to return to it every few days as a means of gaining audience.

Less surprising to me was the prevalence of retweets of a series of Blake paintings dealing with the theme of the Great Red Dragon from the Book of Revelation. The original source for this was @41Strange on 13 May and this tweet quickly went viral and continues to be shared. This account has a similar number of followers as @ArtPicsChannel (214k in this instance) and this is a collection of images which attracted a significant number of comments discussing the Hannibal Lecter series of films, novels and television programmes.

Of the remaining tweets above 100, “The Tyger” or variants thereof is (for me unsurprisingly) popular, but I personally didn’t expect to see so many references to “Night” from Songs of Innocence. Nearly all the retweets of “The moon, like a flower…” come from the popular account @ArtLify (37.5k followers). “The Tyger” was also the source for another popular tweet, a tribute by @C3rmenDraws which, frankly, does a better job of capturing tigers than Blake’s original. Most of the remaining popular tweets are fairly unexceptional and largely represent proverbs from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a perennial favourite on Twitter. Of the foreign language ones, “Para la abeja laboriosa no hay tiempo de estar triste” is a Spanish translation of “The busy bee has no time for sorrow”, “Vedere un mondo in un granello di sabbia…” is Italian for “To see a world in a grain of sand…”, and Google Translate informs me that “Deneyim dedi?imiz ?ey, yitirdi?imiz masumiyetimizdir” is Turkish for “What we call experience is our innocence”, which strictly speaking doesn’t seem to be verbatim Blake at all. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Spanish “La exuberancia es belleza” (112 tweets) was slightly more popular than the English original, “Exuberance is beauty” (111).

Regarding the point of origin for these and other tweets, where Twitter stores location information the top sources for tweets were as follows:

Unsurprisingly, the USA was by far the largest source of tweets, at nearly 3,000, with the UK in a rather distant second at 1,011. At this stage, it is too early in this project to begin drawing any conclusions regarding other countries: this is simply something I wish to track over the coming year to gain some sense of which countries tend to interact with Blake most in this very general sense. One thing to note is that this list is far from complete, particularly where Twitter provides information in a non-Latin script. The chart below offers another visualisation of the data above:

Tweets on William Blake, May 2018, by country of origin

Google Search/News

Using a data miner plug in to scrape Google searches on a regular basis, a data set of some 286 search entries (that is pages indexed by Google during this period) and 210 news stories was collated, which are treated as part of the same data set in the charts below.

Google searches (general search and news) May 2018

Although there was considerable variation from day to day in terms of the number of posts, the standard deviation was considerably less than for Twitter (which was not surprising, considering that there were only slightly fewer than 500 entries compared to more than 11,000 in Twitter. The average number of posts a day for this group was slightly more than 15.5 with a variance of nearly 8.

The various pages indexed by Google could also be broken down into the following categories: art tends to refer to pictorial representations but can include such things as posters and cards, anything with a visual representation of Blake’s work. Poetry, the next biggest category, can include quotations and snippets as well as extended pieces, while Books tends to reference sales/downloads of Blake-related books. The Music category was quite substantial this month because it included a number of posts relating to U2’s Songs of Experience tour. “Essay mill” refers to the rather dispiriting practice of offering essays for sale – these tend to go down very quickly, and I have been in two minds whether to include them for a number of reasons, but in the end they represent part of the exchange of information about Blake online.

Google search and news items by category

Finally, the following two charts give some indication of the sources of origin for posts about Blake. As with Twitter usage, by far and away the largest number of posts come from the United States followed by Britain.