Blakespotting, March and April 2021

To mark the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante, the Uffizi gallery launched an online presentation of illustrations of Dante’s works in March, with the potential for a real-life show to follow in the Autumn, drawing on its extensive collections. While Blake himself was not included in the exhibition itself, it led a number of commentators to reflect on his contribution – among others – to bringing the Divine Comedy to life, as in a thoughtful article by Jackie Wullschläger at the Financial Times and a talk by Luisa Calè for the Blake Society.

April marked a significant piece of Blake inspired work in the form of a short film, BLAKE NOW, featuring the work of five poets who were asked to reflect on the significance of William Blake and create new poems. The church of St James’s Piccadilly, where Blake was baptised, and the poetry society brought together Sophie Herxheimer, Joseph Coelho, Ankita Saxena, Ruth Awolola and Natalie Linh Bolderston, some of them reciting their poetry in the church, others considering the effect that London had on his writing and art as well as their own. Many of those participating observe how they grew up with Blake and how his understanding of vision and imagination shaped their perceptions. You can see the video below.

If Blake Now concentrates on Blake’s influence on multicultural London, another, perhaps more surprising vision for lEngland’s green and pleasant land post-COVID was announced in a regeneration plan for Bognor Regis. While the seaside resort is probably most famous today for being the site of a large Butlin’s holiday camp, it is only a few miles away from Felpham, the village where Blake lived and worked under the patronage of William Hayley for three years at the turn of the nineteenth century, and where he conceived and probably wrote the stanzas that would later become famous as the hymn “Jerusalem”. There has long been a “Blake Trail” through the town and, as such, the new proposals include development for the Big Blake Project, a mult-use cultural centre inspired by Blake and including a theatre/performance and exhibition space, as well as workshops and classrooms alongside places to eat. This part of the south coast has for many years now taken a great deal of pride in the Blake connection and could be a significant stop for Blake afficionados in years to come.

Elsewhere in the arts, Sym Gharial followed up his debut LP as Primitive Ignorant – Sikh Punk – with a new EP in April. Infant Joy on Midnight Streets takes its title from two of Blake’s poems and in a profile for Under the Radar he explores tensions in London and death threats that were made to him as an anarchist punk Sikh. The opening and closing tracks, “The Sun Does Arise” and “The Sun Does Arise II” also take their influence from Blake.

In other news, some of Blake’s poetry has been translated into Persian by Kambiz Manouchehrian and published in a 500 copy edition by Cheshmeh Publishing in Tehran. This is not quite the first such translation – Mehdi Meshgini issued a collection of translations in 2007, although these were published in Canada and, according to Iran’s Book News Agency (IBNA), Manouchehrian’s is the first such signifcant work to appear in Iran itself. And finally, in a new book, Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, by the Japanese artist Makoto Fujimara traced how he had found inspiration from Blake to consider God the artist who calls us all to be co-creators.

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