Born to Endless Night: John Frame curates Blake at the Huntington Art Gallery

The Huntington Art Gallery, in San Marino, California, is currently hosting two displays that will be of interest to Blake admirers. The first, “Born to Endless Night“, is a collection of paintings, drawings and prints selected by John Frame and on display in the Works on Paper Room, March 12–June 20, 2011. The second exhibit is Frame’s own display of stories and sculpture, “Three Fragments of a Lost Tale“, showing concurrently in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery.

Frame, who was influenced by Blake and Shakespeare as a young artist, provides three dozen intricately carved sculptures for the “Three Fragments” display. Having worked as a figurative sculptor since the 1980s, Frame has also worked more recently in film and photography. His current project, on show at the Huntington, began as a dream with a cast of characters created from wood and found objects. A book accompanying the exhibition provides a linear narrative to the pieces, but Frame has also been eager to point out that each of the sculptures, ranging in size from 3½ to 32 inches high, also exist as independent objects.

For the display “Born to Endless Night: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints by William Blake Selected by John Frame”, the artist has chosen works from Blake’s illustrations to the Book of Job and Paradise Lost, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and the prints Hecate or the Night of Enitharmon’s Joy, Lot and His Daughters, and Laocoön. Of his relation to Blake, Frame writes:

Discovering Blake in my early twenties, I was drawn immediately into a world that was both charming and unsettling, and a body of work that comprised both literature—which was my primary study at the time—and visual art, where I was to find my own life’s work. Blake was a poet, a painter, an eccentric, and an unorthodox theologian. Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, who confined themselves largely to portraits of the wealthy, landscapes, and decorative pieces, he grappled always with the basic questions of human life… Through imagination, he believed, you accessed the Divine; in the act of creation you realized your purpose as a human being. Blake’s insights have in many ways shaped my own approach to art making, and, no matter how frequent my journeys into his world, I have never failed to find there new wisdom, fresh beauty.

Entrance to the displays is free, and a book of Frame’s own sculptures – T hree Fragments of a Lost Tale: Sculpture and Story by John Frame – is available at the Gallery bookstore or through University of California Press.

“Born to Endless Night: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints by William Blake Selected by John Frame” and “Three Fragments of a Lost Tale: Sculpture and Story by John Frame”. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Morino, CA, March 12-June 20, 2011. For more information visit www.huntington.org.

Newton – Blake – Paolozzi

As today is the anniversary of the birth of Sir Isaac Newton (according to the Gregorian calendar at least, although Newton himself was actually born on Christmas Day, 1642, under the Julian calendar), this seemed an opportune moment to discuss the image that has become part of the logo for this site and has, for me, long served as a good example of zoamorphosis in action.

Blake’s iconic image of Newton, compass in hand, was first designed circa 1795 and another version printed in 1805. Although, as with so many of Blake’s designs, somewhat neglected during his lifetime, it became one of Blake’s exceptional images during the twentieth century, not least insofar as it influenced Eduardo Paolozzi, the sculptor responsible for the huge bronze outside the British Library.

This version, unveiled in 1995, was not the first time Paolozzi, who initially trained as a commercial artist at Edinburgh before being introduced to Surrealism at the Slade in the 1940s, is not the sculptor’s first treatment of Blake’s rendition of Britain’s most famous scientist. Paolozzi’s interest in Blake began during his time at the Slade when Blake was regularly displayed at the Tate under the directorship of Sir John Rothenstein, and intensified when Francis Bacon produced his studies of Blake’s life mask in the 1950s.

Paolozzi has spoken of his admiration for Blake’s idiosyncratic classicism (for example in his illustration of Laocöon) and he first began working on Newton inspired models in plaster and other materials (after the manner of Canova’s terracotta “sketches”) in the mid to late eighties. In “Master of the Universe”, produced in 1989, he began to mechanise the form of Newton, as well as adding some personalised touches such as glasses that accentuated the links Paolozzi found with Newton as well as Blake.

In an interview with Fiona Pearson not long after the British Library statue was unveiled, Paolozzi said that he enjoyed the “ironic tension between Blake’s castigation of Newton’s wish to order the universe and the accepted wisdom that one should celebrate Newton’s intellect and discoveries”. This draws attention to a double play of mutation that takes place within the image: Newton, as the classical imago of British science and rational enlightenment, is transformed by Blake into the beautiful but static (and, indeed, statuesque) image of Urizenic rationalism, almost blind to the beauties of the strange, submerged world around him in Blake’s colour print.

Paolozzi, in good, Blakean style (remember, this is the artist who insists that he must create his own system or be enslaved by another man’s) refuses to accept his Romantic forebear’s conception of the great demi-god Newton. Instead, he converts the marble-painted eyes to bronze and adds a pair of spectacles, instruments of myopia certainly, but also a focus for the task of concentration that he must perform as an artist. Blake’s Newton inspires Paolozzi again and again, but not towards any slavish copy: rather, as a true artist, his business is not to reason and compare but to create his own vision.

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.