Category Archives: william blake

The Fraudulent Moons revealed

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a dork on da moon

Fraudulent Moon & Me.

My self reflects from the Fraudulent Moon which shines so bright from the dark night sky lighting up all who see it, like my life work, I said to myself. Then I realised the work of ‘others’ shines far brighter than mine*. Pales mine into a dim light. Like the largeness of the moon compared to the tinyness of the stars which glitter far away. In reality the moon is rather small. And some of those glinting dots out there make our own sun pale by comparison.

*’others’ fall into two categories both shine and some of them makes more noise, like a hollow tin can rattles down the road when you kick it, some ‘shine’ like the moon others glitter like the stars, I list a few and make no judgement, you can decide which are the moonies: William Blake, Damien Hirst, JMW Turner, Tracey Emin, Frank Auerbach, make your own list.

 

Some of em are genius

Some of em are not

Some of em

They don’t know didderli squat

 

Sometimes I have a gurt notion

That I know quite a lot

But really I know littley liddle

Now strike me dumb

There’s a riddle

 

When you don’t succeed…

CRY CRY again!

I tried an  tried an tried

So

I cried cried cried

Again again again

No pain no gain

No gain but plenty pain

 

Even a Strictly Prancing Pixie Lot

Before she got ‘biffed off’

Had gotten farther than I

Ever did

Cos to get biffed offof it

You gotta been on the train

When a dork on a heap

Nevertheless

Not to worry

I think I found my answer

It’s in Tai Chi

All my life I felt I needed to fight to gain any ground for fear of failure. Through Tai Chi I realised that so often I was battling when I had already won. Tai Chi is based on no force; your Yin becomes your Yang. Negative force replaces positive. No resistance wins the fight.

Instead of putting my mits up, instead of “Straighten Up and Fly a Right” my new mantra is let go, relax, come down off your perch and if there’s no resistance there’s nothing to fight.

I went into a dream, I drempt I was with old friends from college, at some big event. We walked out onto a place and I saw a bird, the feathered kind, and my mate Lemon he just extended an invite with his hand and the bird jumped onto it, just like that. And I thought of Leo in the Hesse book called Journey to the East, one of the best, if not the best of books. Lemon was my Leo. Then I was with Lemon, Avocado and Camellia and we were walking, Lemon had written me his number in case we got separated. Just then some goofball in a BIG (1950s) American car came zooming by and I jumped in for the ride. Soon I realised I was lost. We went over a bridge and my American friend showed me his latest trick which was to spook the jersey cows that basked by the river. I was asking to be let down so I could contact Lemon who by now would have been driving ‘back home’ but awaiting a call from me to come pick me up. I had some kind of mobile phone but it must have come from a lucky bag cos it hardly let me key in the numbers from the bit of paper that Lemon had given me. Then I lost the paper. Now I were really ‘lost’. I asked to be dropped off the train I was now on by some strange logic. I was dropped off at some obscure station in Geordie land, near where me old late mother had been born. So I was madly trying to go thru all my pockets, like you do, turning out all the tut trying to find the number, ‘Ricky don’t lose that number it’s the only one you…need.’ Then I realised I had some money, I mean notes of a pretty big denomination which I never had in the early 70s when I used to hitch hike all over the country. Once I were lugging this massive case thru Accrington at about 10 o’clock at night having hitched several hundred miles from Exeter with only about ten miles to go to get home and they were spilling out the pubs and this old geezer saw my plight (I had no dosh) and pulled out an old ten bob note (that’s equivalent to ten pounds now) and said, ‘Here son, take this and get a bus’, I been a fool a long time and I said back then no thanks and walked on like a character out of Beckett leaving this generous man standing dumbfounded as to why this bloke had refused his generosity. But the fool continued his journey right up to now. At 4am in the morning I woke up and needed a cuppa tea. I went to my window and looked out to see white clouds with dark black breaks. I thought of my cloud of unknowing, ‘I’m in a cloud of unknowing, but wait a minute that’s a book by a mystic monk innit?’ So, hang on a minute can I see any stars thru the gaps? The moon was there gleaming in its reflected glory and there thru a teeny weeny gap yes I saw two minute (that’s mine-newt, not minnit) stars and I thought you know you know nuttin at all boy. And I realised if we know everything we can possibly retain and access with the human brain, like what say Einstein did in his field and Picasso did in his that is a minenewt aspect of it all. we are not capable of knowing much. But if we are lucky like me we get to try and I been very trying long time aks my wife.

After all is said and done I’m a poet and I know it. I’m a writer not a fighter. Walk away walk away. Renee. Renascence. Renaissance.

 

“Love, Light & Peace” was the final goodbye Spike Milligan wrote in his last letter! What more could humans ask for? Maybe a bit more genius from Spike Milligan?

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William Blake (part 2) The Ghost of a flea chez John Varley

William Blake was round his old friend Varley’s house when he saw The Ghost of a flea, no camera at his disposal he quickly called for his drawing implements, or so they say, and proceeded to sketch the darned thing:

 The Head of the Ghost of a Flea. Verso: A Profile and a Reduced Drawing of Milton's First Wife circa 1819 by William Blake 1757-1827

(some images not my copyright, hope that WB doesn’t mind me used it)

How good is that then? What I saw in the Oxford Ashmolean exhibition of Blake’s work is that he was not averse to satire and he did ‘take the mick’. It’s what we boys do when gathered together, we may do a little caricature of someone we all know, and maybe dislike, and then we have a little giggle. Am not saying Blake did this here, I’m surmising. In fact F. W. Bateson in an article in 1957 explains that Blake had a way of looking upon things with what he called ‘double vision’. He saw it for what we see it as, say a thistle, and he would also see it as ‘an old grey man’. A more Blakean example would be that he saw the sun as the sun AND as ‘Los in his Might.’ Reportedly Blake was once asked, ‘Does a firm persuasion that a thing is so, make it so?’ and he replied, “All poets believe that it does, and in ages of Imagination this firm persuasion removed mountains. But many are not capable of a firm persuasion of anything.”

This blArt is looking at one or two other things that he did which have been clarified by Michael Phillip’s (& others) wonderful selection of work for the unique gathering of images in this collection. I have been glancing at Blake’s words & images for over 40 years now and always felt so small, so inadequate, because I couldn’t get the overall ‘feel’ of the man nor his work. There was always something more I had to read, go see, ask about. I think Blake was a highly intelligent, talented, practitioner who was much, let us say, ignored, maybe maligned, by his contemporaries. And I know from personal experience what that type of man does sometimes he stretches the limits. He looks at what’s happening and says to himself, “Now then, I understand what they are doing there, I can do that, only when I do it I shall do it better. And if possible I shall find new ways to do it, better ways.” Now the problem with being an initiator, an original, is that many folk out there neither want anyone to rock the boat/status quo nor do they understand innovation. Most people like it to be explained to them by ‘someone who knows’ before they can adapt to anything ‘new’. So when some of us are dissatisfied with the ‘norm’ and wish to move it on and some of are built that way, for whatever reason, we push, we discover new ways and we are not always the best ones to ‘sell’ the new ideas to , anyone. Well I believe Blake was like that. So he received scorn but was unaffected at being ridiculed. As Samuel Palmer said, “he was…one of the few who cannot be depressed by neglect and to whose name, rank and station could add no lustre…He enobled poverty…”. He rattled boats like Joshua Reynolds’ craft when he disdained painting in oils. He made powerful enemies who would not wish to find ‘good qualities’ in his work and who may (as such is the nature of the human being) even have quietly declared the ‘new kid on the block’ to be insane. It has been a title I have noticed about my own efforts, “You call that art, you must be kidding, my monkey can do better” and other pleasantries. But you see Blake had no desire to convince any of the status quo of his genius, he knew he was rocking boats and continued to do so. His mentors were proven already; Milton, Dante, Botticelli, Durer and his mentor, John Varley whose beautiful water colours must have impressed both Blake and Turner. The nice thing about having mentors who have been there and done it who appreciate from experience the qualities in your work, you don’t need everybody else to give you credit. Blake even disputed Dante with Dante, his late work on Dante is in fact not an affirmation but a disputation! Blake did not agree with Dante’s take on Heaven and all and he satirises his own hero, but such wonderfully illustrated satire, I don’t think Dante would include Blake in Purgatory.

Let’s look at some of the other incredible revelations in this exhibition. I knew before I went in that Blake had had an interest in Swedenborg. Blake’s own parents were non-conformist Christians and in their day that meant REALLY none conforming and Blake had obviously been influenced. Swedenborg in his book ‘Heaven & Hell’ and other writings had us believe he had been taken by angels to other planets and introduced to beings of non-human origin. Obviously to ‘believe’ him we would all need to suspend our understanding of what is real. Blake came to the conclusion that Swedenborg was a fraud and went on to satirise him in, wait for it, ‘Marriage of Heaven & Hell’.

swed alone

This work is astounding in its introduction of new techniques of print but more so in its mentions of Swedenborg by name, he was not disguised as a flea. I have dipped into Swedenborg’s writings but came away more confused by his work than by that of Blake. Blake had annotated Swedenborg’s ‘Wisdom of Angels’ on p56 earlier, ‘Good & Evil are here both Good & the two contraries married’. I knew of ‘Marriage of Heaven & Hell’ as one of Blake’s works BUT, idiot that I am, I had not realised he had used Swedenborg’s title within his own ‘Marriage of Heaven & Hell’. He is using it as pure satire. Taking the mickey out of the Swedenborg title by incorporating it in his own title. One of Blake’s disputes with Swedemndborg, maybe why he condemned him (?), was that the latter had not really dipped into ‘hell’. That he was only familiar with heaven. Blake considered that the incumbents of hell had a right to their opinions and had a right to be represented, so he married them. Brilliant. How better could you rectify an omission? And I believe this also gives a deeper insight into the way Blake’s mind worked. He was like Peter Cook & Spike Milligan combined into one. Almost as important he represented Swedenborg in the guise of his first draft of his later larger print of Nebuchadnezzar. He had him crawling on hands & knees. Then the technique he used was also new and it heralded his later larger version of Nebuchadnezzar in technique.

a blake socty neb

Back in 1978 I had stood and admired his larger works with their mottled surfaces but I waited to hear from Michael Phillips last week to see/realise that Blake was hundreds of years ahead of his time with his technique which predicted that of Max Ernst’s ‘decalcomanie’. Or behind the time, depending on which way you view it. ‘Tempera painting was an ancient form executed with pigment ground in a water-miscible medium.’ Tempera was the form he was mimicking because he disdained oil. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/586515/tempera-painting

Image038

So he put water based inks onto his plates but allowed the colours to permeate and intermingle, so each ‘take’ was different from the last and all of his takes were in fact monoprints, each unique in itself! So am lifted from the hell of not-knowing into the heaven of finding out how he did it and more importantly that should be reflected in my own future work. This is a massive injection of inspiration into my willing to be influenced by Blake hands. I did a series of etchings during a recent Master’s degree and I, deliberately as I have always done, made each print I took from the plate different from the last. What I did not do, which Blake did, was add more layers of colour. So, watch out prints of the six mystics, I’m coming back to see you.

So, inspiration, that’s what I will finish this little blArt with, how Blake has inspired so many by his work. Blake’s graphic revolutionary technique of ‘illuminated printing’ and his other innovations were so ‘far outside the ken’ and were not picked up on by the print trade of his day except maybe in Samuel Palmer’s adaptations and one or two others of the ‘Ancients’ group directly influenced by Blake. The fact is few would have had Blake’s tenacity, his dedication to task (for little immediate remunerative reward), his technical dexterity and his DRIVE to create in every area; print, write and make image. Blake would also, like Rembrandt after him, change images as he took different pulls from the plates.

This is shown amply in three prints of The House of Lazar on show. One recumbent fellow’s hand moves from limp to ‘splayed in tension’.

up face gulp face

One face changes from a toothful grimace to an open mouthed gasp. The long length of paper (?) which straddle across the top of the page in the hands of the bearded character changes in each print. In two there are arrows and in one the ends which curl in the other two become as a scroll.

a flash a whorl a scrol

Blake was using visual imagery to show fluctuating ideas and meanings which themselves changed as a result of the imagery shifting. It’s a self-perpetuating wholistic creativity, a process in which the most of us are mere dwarfs compared to the Master, Blake.

Also three versions of the title page of Europe A Prophecy show how Blake experiments with creating difference. First he did a trial grey monochrome proof, then on another he added some water colour on the snake and added a figure beside the snake. In a third version in ‘relief etching with colour printing’ which in fact shows as textured like tempera. So Blake was really working surfaces for effect and for the difference that visual creativity brings but he always maintained a tight grip of the textual printed outcome, so they can be read, except that is in instances where he obliterated the title words Europe & Prophecy maybe to enunciate the figure? Blake was giving his customers individualised visual feasts. I see similarities in the modern artists Frank Frazetta http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/fantasy/Frank-Frazetta.html & Richard Corben’s work http://www.corbencomicart.com/gallery.html. He could never have been still. Even on his death bed he created over 100 images to Dante’s writing. Samuel Palmer who became one of the so called ‘Ancients’ who followed after Blake reported on visiting him, “ …’tho 67 years old but hard working on a bed full of books sat he like an Antique patriarch, or a dying Michael Angelo. There he was making in the leaves of a great book the sublimest designs from his Dante.” These were no acolyte’s acceptance of the words of another genius, no, Blake disagreed with some of Alighieri and he satirized him too, even expressing his own alternative views one of which was his belief in a form of Christianity which believed in a merciful god which would allow forgiveness for all sins, rather than a vindictive one.

Blake’s experience and imagination was one of the most developed ever witnessed in the western world and his dexterity in making word & image remains unrivalled. He has inspired including, in my view; William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelites, Kahil Gibran, Baum, Tolkein, Kenneth Patchen, Phillip Pullman, J.K. Rowling and myself (Pete Kennedy), plus many many more, maybe even including the children’s favourite in the 1950’s Tiger Tim.

I wonder what he might have done with modern technology at his fingertips. He would be fascinated with the luminosity that emanates from our computer screens and of course we know Blake had no access to Photoshop, did he? All the changes he made were rendered by hand. Bless him and his ever helpful wife Catherine.

And by the way the Ashmolean’s catalogue is a great read so thanks to they for doing it and to Michael Phillips, Colin Harrison & Martin Butler for the insights written into it.

Well done, I nominate all three o’yez Honorary Ancients!

Above are my own views and they are not necessarily all based in worldly reality but I believe they give added insight into the marvellous man whose feet did indeed traipse upon the streets of London and it’s hallowed hills which would ‘assume a kind of grandeur from the man [passing] near them’, as Palmer would say of this fitting companion for Dante, this man without a mask!

blakeman in my card

Another blArt composed by Pete Kennedy MA (Art & the Book), Adv Dip Ed (Cambridge), DMS (Danbury), B/Ed (Exeter), RA Doubtful. Thorsday 11.12.14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Blake ‘The Master’s Eyelash’ at Ashmolean, Oxford. Part 1

Michael Phillips attention to detail is such that he said the bristle from a brush he found on a Blake print in an American collection might have been one of Blake’s eyelashes, then he extemporised, “Wouldn’t it be good? They could then extract DNA from it and behold, LITTLE NEW BILLY BLAKES!” Am not sure if they let even one more William Blake loose in the modern world it would be a good thing? I think the one and only did leave enough for us to ponder upon ad infinitum, and we still won’t squeeze it dry of the Inspiration & Imagination the great man passed down to those of us willing to try to walk the path awhile with him. And as all who have trodden the path all know Blake is both hard to understand and greatly mis-represented but for those who walk with him and his spirits of fleas and Albion the path is full of surprising little miracles and revelations. Phillips has walked a long way with Blake and has found out a great deal about the master’s methods which in turn he is keen to pass on to us lesser mortals. For myself I am willing to drive to London or Oxford to hear him and watch him demonstrate Blake’s techniques because I believe an artist learns more by ‘doing’ than just watching. Ever since I caught the Art-Bug aged about 17 in the late 1960’s I have always created art of my own and made my own paltry attempts at ‘writing’. My efforts opened many doors for me and one day my own ‘doors of perception’ may be flung wide open too. One man in the audience asked Michael why folk like The Door’s Jim Morrison didn’t know about Blake being the source of Huxley’s quote about the doors of perception, which I think belittles the Door’s frontman unnecessarily as he too wished to be seen as a poet of note and is by some. http://zoamorphosis.com/2011/03/how-much-did-jim-morrison-know-about-william-blake/ The reason for the link to Huxley was because Aldous was known to have taken some hallucinogenic substance (of which Blake also almost certainly partook?) and written a vivid account of his experiences whilst LSD etc were in vogue when Morrison was writing his lyrics for the Doors. http://healthland.time.com/2012/01/24/magic-mushrooms-expand-the-mind-by-dampening-brain-activity/ the American erstwhile Punk princess Patti Smith too is a great fan of Blake as she recounted and demonstrated when she read and sang some of his poems along with her own at an Annual lecture of the Blake Society.

michael phillipshands

I have been going to Exhibitions like the massive show at Tate (now Britain) in 1978 and this exhibition for me equals if not betters that show with its scope. I’m no aficionado and there’s much I need to read in his own write and about him but this exhibition is the best I’ve seen on Blake. Phillip’s insights grounded in his working knowledge of Blake’s printing techniques underpin the theme of this literally wonder-full show which both informed me and clarified some things and has led to a breakthrough in my understanding of Blake.

It has to be said that the first room of the show seemed dull to me but it became apparent that it was there to illustrate the feel of the time when Blake entered the hands of Benjamin Malkin who, in the spirit of the recently formed Society of Arts, opened doors for Blake the son of man from ‘the middle ranks, a hosier’. He entered the Par’s school of drawing in 1767 whilst still only 10 years old and was encouraged to attend auctions at Langford & Christies and view the works ‘to become familiar with the different styles of the recognised masters of the day’ (like Durer’s engravings). Blake also collected books and prints cheaply and was attracted to satirical books printed in unorthodox styles like George Townshend’s ‘Political & Social History Of 1756-7’. Although the norm was to print words and images in separate process he probably decided, early on, that he wished to print word (letterpress) & image (engraving or etching) at the same time in one pull/take.

 press

The next room sees Blake taken on for an apprenticeship by James Basire in 1772 where he learned the ‘Secrets’ of the engravers’ techniques, the tricks of the profession and saw pencil copies from Raphael & Michelangelo that his master had done in the Sistine chapel & St Pauls.

By 1783 Blake’s first letterpress book of poems revealed his ‘absorption in …the bible, Shakespeare, Jonson & Milton’. Blake indicated early on that he was not afraid of courting controversy and challenging society norms when he empathised with the disgraced poet Chatterton, whose had tried to pass off some of his own compositions as 15th century poems before taking his own life thinking his pursuit of recognition was in vain.

Basire sent him to draw the tombs and sculptures of dignities in Westminster Abbey which were then printed and we see some of the results in this show. He would have been allowed to peruse illuminated manuscripts in the Abbey. Blake learned to write backwards/words with facility like the engravers of his day and the exhibition shows his delicate effort to move from individual letters to cursive style. He learned to master both engraving & etching but that was not the end of it. He created a form of printing totally original to himself so that he could put his words and images onto one plate and print it with one pull. (Phillips is going to be demonstrating these techniques at the Ashmolean on Tuesday thru Thursday 9-11th December {check times} on a press similar to the one Blake would have used. His demos are very insight-full!)

michael phillips

This was probably because for Blake print was only a means to an end, the end being to get over his thoughts, ideas and dreams, whereas most others in the print trade were craftsmen paid to do the work of others. Blake called his new method Illuminated Printing not only in a nod toward the Illuminated manuscript but also, as Phillips pointed out, because of his use of pure pigment and the type of paper he used which allowed his early books to reflect light through the inks not just back off them thus giving a look of illuminated light, much as we see on the computer screen nowadays.

Blake sucked in ideas from all the sources he revered and his fertile imagination kept on developing both him and his ideas as his own personal view and vision grew exponentially along with his consummate skill. Because he was not from an aristocratic or high society background fashions had no hold on him and he would not conform his ideas to suit anyone. He was a grafter who came from a working class tradition of dedication to task yet he had been allowed in to a world of the privileged and on entering it had the penetrative eye of somebody untamed by societal convention and expectation. Blake, like Leonardo, was to experiment with methods of creating his imagery throughout his life. Unlike that other Renaissance master, Michaelangelo, Blake could draw the female form with consummate skill showing slenderness and grace.

plastic box ad

There is still much more to say about the Ashmolean show, the things it has re-awakened in me and also inspired but for the sake of you who have only limited time to peruse blogs I shall finish here and continue this Blakean piece in my next blArt! If you wish to see the next installment just hit the ‘follow’ button and you’ll be sent notification when i post it. Namaste.

and a big thanks to all the folks who have already ‘liked’ this post, the best is yet to come (I think)