William Blake Spring events

After the barring of Winter’s adamantine doors, the first months of Spring have seen her issue forth from her bright pavilions with a Blakean intensity, a number of Blake-inspired events having been opened or being projected for the coming weeks.

In the art world, Zoamorphosis has already covered the exhibition of Blake’s work curated by John Frame at the Huntington gallery, as well as display of his stories and sculptures, “Three Fragments of a Lost Tale”, but in the UK the National Gallery of Scotland is also planning a new catalogue, English Drawings and Watercolours 1600-1900, that will draw attention to its less-well-known collection. Due for publication in June, this will include information on the works of Blake (as well as other contemporaries such as Turner and Gainsborough) included in that collection. At the Northumbria University Gallery, in the meantime, the east London-born painter Norman Adams has opened an exhibition, The Way of the Cross, which takes inspiration for the crucifixion from a line of visionary painters that includes Stanley Spencer and William Blake.

In Australia, the 59th Blake Prize, named after the artist and dedicated to promoting diversity as well as provoke conversations that promote religious themes, has come to Melbourne for the first time in many years. The exhibition includes installation pieces, paintings and mixed-media works, nd though the exhibition has now drawn to a close it has done much to promote the work of the Blake Society in Australia.

On the stage, Blake inspired work has been attracting considerable attention. The award-winning play Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth and starring Mark Rylance has opened this week on Broadway at The Music Box Theatre, and runs to the 24th July. Directed by Ian Rickson and starring Mackenzie Crook and John Gallagher, Jr., as well as Rylance, it has already stirred up considerable critical attention with its alternative take on England’s green and pleasant land. Meanwhile, at Theatre Oobleck in Chicabo, a new play by Mickle Maher, There Is A Happiness That Morning Is, weaves Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience around the fate of a hapless pair of college teachers whose decision to have sex on the quads leads to their delivering what are very probably their last lectures.  Maher’s play runs until May 22 at the Storefront Theatre on Randolph Street.

Of other events, Heriberto Yepez will be one of the guest authors to do some readings at the UCSD New Writing Series this month. Yepez is a Mexican writer, journalist and psychotherapist, and a full-time professor at the Art School at the Autonomous University of Baja California, in Tijuana, whose work in translation include a selection of William Blake’s fragments and aphorisms. In music, Andrew Blick of Gyratory System has released an album, New Harmony, that includes the Blake-inspired track “I Must Create a System” (the album incorporating Cabaret Voltaire, free jazz and nineteenth-century socialism as well as Blake among its influences). You can buy New Harmony from Amazon.

And finally (aside from the slightly bizarre news in The Sun, much repeated, that rapper Dizzee Rascal has taken to reading Blake), one of my favourite stories of the month was the contemporary art project run in Guelph, Ontario on April 21. Song for Others was a conceptual take on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, in which Guelph residents sang from some 60 recordings on subjects as various as nursery rhymes to children to love songs and melodies to the sick. You can read more about it on the Guelph Mercury site.


Events, exhibitions, releases February 2010

A number of new exhibitions and releases for 2010 demonstrate the continuing influence of William Blake in a variety of arts and formats.

One of the biggest events for the new year is the Chris Ofili exhibition at Tate Britain, but Blake is also present in the work of a number of other artists whose work has recently gone on display.

The Spanish conceptualist sculptor, Jaume Plensa, who in 1996 created Blake in Gateshead, a laser installation for the Baltic Centre of Contemporary Art, recently unveiled a new collection at the Nasher Sculpture Center. One piece, Twenty-nine Palms, is a curtain of stainless steel letters that spell out passages from some of Plensa’s favourite poets, including Blake as well as Charles Baudelaire and Emily Dickinson. The exhibition, Jaume Plensa: Genus and Species, runs until May 2.

At the Dulwich Picture Gallery, a retrospective of the work of Paul Nash shows how the landscapes created by the artist betweeen 1911 and 1946 were influenced by Blake as well as Samuel Palmer, Nash seeking to forge his own idiosyncratic symbolic language in the style of the Romantic artist. Paul Nash: The Elements is open between February 10 and May 9. It is also possible to see some of Blake’s own work at the Picture of Us? Identity in British Art exhibition that is currently on at the Graves Gallery in Sheffield.

Beyond the visual arts, Blake has had a role to play in a number of new musical releases. The country singer John Goodspeed’s new album, A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), compares Blake to Muddy Waters, while the third album by Midlake, The Courage of Others, cites Blake as a poetic influence. That influence is more than passing for the Danish group The William Blakes, who have released two albums and are becoming increasingly popular in Scandinavia where they are currently on tour.

One extremely significant event is Jez Butterworth’s new play, Jerusalem, currently showing at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London after its transfer from the Royal Court. Jerusalem deals with often-neglected, alternative forms of Englishness, and stars Mark Rylance as a drug-addled gipsy, Rooster Byron. Throughout the play, Blake is an important lodestone for the forgotten aspects of this often cynical green and pleasant land, and runs until April 24.

Perhaps the strangest influence of all, however, is the appearance of some of Blake’s visual ideas in the new game from Electronic Arts, Dante’s Inferno. Aiming to take gamers to Dante’s view of hell, a book of the game indicates clearly that Blake, along with Auguste Rodin and Gustave Doré, was one of the inspirations for the game design.