The William Blake Blog

A Blakean Year: 2022
As we emerged out of lockdowns in 2022, so the year turned out to be an active one for Blake in the arts.

On a personal level, this Blakean year began with a bang rather than a whimper as Sibylle Erle and I organised the Global Blake conference. More than 40 speakers gathered online to discuss aspects of Blake's reception around the globe, whether revolutionary comic strips in Italy, Blake and the counterculture in Brazil, or his relations to Zen Buddhism in Japan. You can view recordings of the conference as well as subsequent talks on Zoamorphosis or the Global Blake site.

While that was a personal achievement, Blake was making waves elsewhere. One of my particular favourites for the year was Christine Oatman's Stories of Innocence and Experience, an installation that emulated a 1950s classroom with various tableaux of books and educational apparatus displayed as the tools forming our transition from innocence to experience - all of it, as the title of the piece indicates, greatly influenced by Blake. January also saw the performance by RSC actress, Ruth Rosen, of her one-woman show Burning Bright at the Keats Community Library in London, while various commentators reflected on the new year's revelations that Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, wrote some of his music under the influence of Blake. Other big name musicians who likewise talked about their passion for Blake during the year were PJ Harvey to Rolling Stone, and Bono on the BBC's Desert Island Discs, while Billy Bragg talked about Blake and nationalism to the Blake Society and in an interview with Vanity Fair about his forthcoming museum, Bob Dylan said that Blake was ever present.

As well as passing references to the Romantic's influence, 2022 saw some substantial musical contributions: in May, Parthenia, a viol consort in New York, performed A Reliquary for William Blake, Will Ayton's composition for viols and voice based on several of Blake's poems. In September, the Scottish classical guitarist Sean Shibe released an album, Lost & Found, that took inspiration from Blake as well as Hildegard von Bingen. Throughout November and December, St James's Church, Piccadilly - the church where the artist was baptised as a baby - held a series of concerts and talks called Visions and Voices: Inspired by William Blake. The highlights of this season included a performance of The Westbrook Blake by Mike Westbrook and his band, and A Golden String in which I was on stage alongside Susheela Raman and Sam Mills. December also saw the performance by Tiffany Skidmore of electro-acoustic opera called The William Blake Cycle: Unseen, Unbodied, Unknown at Virginia Tech.

In February, the fashion house of the late Alexander McQueen announced its Spring-Summer collection inspired by Blake's designs, and after its huge exhibition that was interrupted by the pandemic, Tate Britain announced a series of new free displays that included Blake as well as John Singer Sargent. Blake's poetry made its first appearance on TV for the year as "Poison Tree" was recited during an episode of Peaky Blinder, one of my other favourites of the year being a reference to Auguries of Innocence in the SF series, The Peripheral which aired in October on Amazon Prime. (Trivia: The shows creators had previously name checked the same lines in Westworld.)

Throughout the year there were various exhibitions by artists who claimed Blake as an inspiration, beginning with Theodora Allen, whose exhibition Syzygy went on show at the Poe & Blum gallery in Santa Monica in February. Hew Locke's The Procession at Tate Britain likewise used Blake's images of abused slaves, while in Asheville, North Carolina, Melissa Crouch and Mina Gerard opened a new gallery, The Tiger, that sought to bring with it a Blakean sense of openness to art. Towards the end of the year, Sudanese painter Kamala Ibrahim Ishag put on her show, States of Oneness at the Serpentine Gallery, and Srijon Chowdhury included art that took elements of Blake's "The Human Abstract" for an art piece displayed as part of Same Old Song at Seattle Art Gallery. There was also an important online exhibition of "fake Blakes" - illuminated books produced after Blake's death using his plates or facsimiles - on the Blake Archive.

Elsewhere in the arts, there were a number of stage performances of Blake-inspired works as well as Burning Bright already mentioned. The most significant was the return of Jez Butterworth's play, Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre in London, starring Mark Rylance and Mackenzie Crook. In May, Toby Pritchard performed his one-man show, Albion, Awake! at Swedenborg House, while Linda Wilkinson's play Ghosts on a Wire about the London coal station, The Pioneer, and which included William Blake as a character, had its premiere in May at the Union Theatre, Southwark. The year ended with the theatre group Complicité announcing a cast to put on a theatrical version of Olga Tokarczuk's Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead to be performed in 2023.

This year saw the return of the Glastonbury William Blake festival, with performances by Jenny Bliss, Tim Gallagher and many more, while London-based architects used AI and culinary delights to construct a Blake-inspired fantasy. The combination of tech, art and Blake continued in Apple stores, which teamed up with the Getty Museum to create Blake's devils from his illustrations to Dante for the London Apple Store.

It only remains to mark the sad news during this year, which saw the passing of the artist Simon Lewty, who included Blake among his various inspirations, and Niall McDevitt, the poet and activist whose work took much of its inspiration from Blake.

The Year in Pictures