Tag Archives: mystics

last blArt to BABE

C G Jung spent most of his life investigating the nature of humankind in its dreams and distant past. He was an advocate of the I Ching and a Gnostic thinker. In some ways Jung was an exile from his contemporaries and his own daimon. ‘Since my contemporaries understandably could not perceive my vision, they only saw a Fool rushing ahead. A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon.’ (Memories, Dreams & Reflections, p356)

Pete Kennedy is just an Idjet in a Jug who looks a bit like old Jung did but hasn’t got his pedigree!

mystic pete

So the fool called Kennegly set himself up to do a short ‘performance’ at BABE cos he thought it were a long time before it appened. BUT. It’s appening this weekend coming and he’s reading some poems what he wrote about the artist from Cleves called Beuys who was himself a bit of a Fool rushing ahead into ‘talks’ with his blackboard under his arm.

blakbord bee

So Kennegly is doing Beuy’s life-history in a poem or two or tree. The blog below gives a little bit o backcloth, or should I say a broad canvas.

https://apulhed.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/inside-this-earthen-vessel-poem-6-shaman-beuys/

Hope to see you there.

a flyer back

psThere will be beautiful evocative music composed by Luke E Walker https://soundcloud.com/luke-e-walker/clay-jug-back-story behind the readings which adds atmosphere and an element of chance. Keifer said, ‘To be an artist you need to play & Dance’ or words to that effect. Chris Wilder (?) an assistant in the making of The Bigger Picture’ animation which came secondish in the Oscars said, ‘You go to these places to make dreams come true…’ That’s why am doing ma ting at BABE and hopefully later this year at The Baltic. I’ll bee dancing and prancing like Jagger did (altho am not as ancient as he is! tho nearly yam) with a wing and a prayer on the ledge with Mr G (urdzhiev)

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getting ready for BABE.

So, getting ready for BABE.

You have a new ‘book’ Inside This Great Jug out in time for BABE, why?

pete's earthen vessel

Well, I wanted to complete the cycle of artist’s books which emanated from my love of that poem by Kabir Inside This Clay Jug. It’s the third version of the poem(s) and the last changes which I shall ‘publish’ as an artist’s book in an edition of 25. Although the Beuys’ poem I shall be doing at BABE has already been changed several times since I completed Inside This Great Jug. I have a version which I intend to use at BABE now and that is it! No more alterations or ‘improvements’! And I am shewing that to nobody before BABE, except in spoken form, in practice.

 

So it follows on from and develops the poems in your second book in the series, Inside This Earthen Vessel. What then is Inside This Earthen Vessel (ITEV) about Pete?

 itev cover

It’s about spiritual harmony, peace on Earth, goodwill, humankind(ness). It’s about some (6) humans  who sought to find harmony & answers then share their ideas (whose names make up the title of an earlier book in the series G BATCH)

g bat cova

G Gurdjeff

Beuys

Angeli Silesi

Tenzin Gyatso

Carl Gustav Jung

Hermann Hesse

(As it happens only one of them, Tenzin Gyatso the Dalai Lama, is still living in his human body, the others still live on in the ideas they left for us).

ITEV is a search for peace and harmonious existence. It shows six men who pursued practices which encapsulated a vision of what life can mean and how to prepare for leaving the mix of sorrows and joys of this mortal coil…foil…toil…. Coiling, swirling, twisting, trickstering, mysterying, and most of all it’s about dancing to the sound of the Cosmos, to the sound of one hand.

I have made the words in the new version, Inside This Great Jug, are a bit easier for the casual onlooker to understand which will be important if I am going to read any of them in the Arnolfini to people who may never have met me nor seen my work before. The images are also a bit brighter in Inside This Great Jug as I’ve made the portraits more colourful. Whereas ITEV is a more complex package with the layouts of its poems being in the shape of a pot and the pages remain unbound but kept in a little folder. Inside This Great Jug is a concertina folded book with a cover. And it’s a dinky tiny thing which people seem to like and they are calling it ‘pocket size’.

I notice there’s one poem which is very different from the other six?

Yes well that’s from the collaboration I did with David Jury who took the words from ITEV and reset them in his letterpress version. We edited the poems and even added a subtext. That odd one out is from that version of ITEV. It’s handy really because I chose to have it in this new book cos am doing a reading of it in the ‘talk’ at 4pm on Sunday 12th April. Most of that ‘talk’ will feature the life and work of Joseph Beuys because he is the most artist-like of the six men in the poems and of course it’s being done in an art gallery. I won’t be ‘talking’ all the time I hope to be able to answer any questions that folk bring up although it’s only scheduled for 20 minutes. Then I guess they’ll be rushing back to pack their tables if they are fellow stall-holders. Visitors should have an hour to make final purchases and walk, float or fly out of the gallery, depending how they feel after watching my gig! They may even dance all the way home.

My old mate Duncan recently sent his summary of my Clay Jug Project. I chose to emphasise the words which are emboldened:

Pete,

I’ve been thinking about where you have arrived at with your Clay Jug project ……

You are now presenting and embracing a set of representations of communications of knowledge from six chosen mystics.

In the beginning was the word and yours is represented by the Jackie Leven chant of Kabir’s Inside This Clay Jug , a memory of the oral tradition of conveying knowledge.

Your presentation contains the vocal tradition through poems, complemented by spiritual dance and music in order to enhance the meditative experience; this is a time before the word was conveyed by writing.

Your clay jug containing scrolls represents the first forms of conveying words.

Your self-made books are a next step in the man’s way of representing knowledge, illustrated by drawing and symbols.

Then, you move to type-set books and try and preserve the original energy of the dancing communications, through layout and emphasis.

Even though you can view this as a historic progression of representing the written word, you are trying to maintain and enhance the meaning and rhythm of the original thoughts and vocal communication of the mystics in all its forms together.

You can view your project as a complete set, with no linear sequence, of the different forms of conveying the knowledge of the mystics, they are presented all together and intertwined, so giving more emphasis to the wisdom of the words and the form does not detract too much from the words.

Your presentation and artefacts created, deliver a dancing pageant of art representing the communication of the knowledge of the mystics through the changing forms of communication.

Duncan Walker (14.2.15)

Duncan has been a friend of mine since we met while playing football for the school team in 1961. He has kept a close eye on the way my art and ideas has developed since we were at school. Another old friend who I met in 1969, Ian Woolard, tried to put a comment on this blog last week. He filled in the form on the blog and pressed send, but it never came through. I wonder if that happens often? I mean, there was about a 20% return in ‘views’ from the folk I notified last week, which is great, but never do I get any comments, which should be coming in if only by law of averages. IF you have commented on my blogs and never got an acknowledgement from me then that would be cos it never showed up in my domain. So, you should make comments in emails maybe, then if you wish me to add them to the blog just say so and if I can bear the view expressed I shall add it in. Ta.

Peter the Prancing Prattler

PETER THE PRANCING PRATTLER says, ‘I make it 7 weeks to go to the BABE weekend!’ (you just can’t shut him up). Expect to see him on a table, well he’ll not actually be on the table, alongside his collaborator, David Jury. Now David is not a Prattler no, not at all, not likely, but he’s a darned good printer of letterpress and he’ll have some of his sheets which we collaborated on last summer, for weeks on end.

Let me tell you about the ‘poem’ that David letterpress printed , (which is shown in the featured image at the top of this blArt in situ at the Slack Space exhibition in Colchester until 28th February), because it has a history and even a follow on after we completed the DJ version.

So it began with Destination Dust, a series of ‘poems’ about 6 men of ideas and actions who had impressed me on my journey thru life and art and literary stuff and exhibitions and dances and cosmologies and more. I’m not going to list them here, that’s done elsewhere. I am going to take one of them and try to show the different incarnations of my ‘poems’ about him and some drawings and other forms.

So, to begin at the beginning, Hermann Hesse. A German Nobel Prize writer. A thinker. A poet. A pacifist. A lot of my work is directly influenced by his works. Destination Dust is influenced by his books Siddhartha and also Journey To The East. In my ‘book’ G BATCH the first ‘poem’ is about Hesse.

Hermann Hesse

Whilst following the winding road toward the village of Montagnola

Near Mount Saint Salvatore a footloose exiled pilgrim full with wanderlust

HH encountered a mendicant monk named Dhona chanting a mantra

Dhona said that when he had met Sakyamuni way back when

He asked the beloved one

Sir would you be a human?

Sir would you be a Gandharvan?

Sir would you be a Yaksa?

Sir would you be a god?

To each the Bodhisattva’s reply was No Dhona

What then would you be?

I am a Buddha, brahmin, a Buddha. … All composite things decay…Strive diligently.”

 

As he watched Dhona walk his quiet way HH had the idea

To write a story called Siddhartha

So that people in the West might learn about the Enlightened one.

 

I did some readings from that poem and found it difficult to read out loud so I set about a new version which I planned should be simpler to read.

 

Dhona the Brahmin was a mendicant monk

Who asked Siddhartha

“Are you human or one from Gandharva

Are you a god or maybe a Yaksa?”

 

“Brahmin everything that’s created passes,”

“Go peacefully to your destination,

Strive diligently t’ward your transition, Dhona

Which is escape from Samsara’s wheel of Suffering

 

There was dispute after Guatama’s passing away

Dhona intervening did say,

“The message of the Blessed Buddha

Is still peace and forbearance today.”

 

Thereby the Malla chieftans of Kusinara

On whose soil Shakyamuni died

Reluctantly released the relics

To be divided into eight domains

 

Each claimant built a monument

Which every time turned to rust

Confirming Buddha’s message that

Everything passes to ashes and dust

 

Up on the road near Montagnola

A Wandering Writer named Hesse heard the tale from a mendicant monk

Then he recounted the story to you and to me

In a book called Siddhartha

 

Shakyamuni saw how we can escape

Samsara ’s spinning wheel

Shakyamuni said, “Namaste.

The Light in me

Greets the Light in thee.

I Am a Buddha, Brahmin, I Am a Buddha Now.”

 

I am unsure if it was any easier to read but I then decided to publish it in a ‘book’ in which the poems would all be laid out in the shape of a pot. The word in a vessel so to speak so I designed Inside This Earthen Vessel and proceeded to print some copy so I could fold the cover come folder in which to drop the new set of poems. Funnily enough recently I mentioned to Gary at the Baltic that there is an illustration in the book whereas all the pages bar one are ‘illustration’ where the words become the pot. Then DJ saw the book with its pots as poems and liked them enough to adapt them for his own summer project. He was careful enough to show me any changes or edits he made and slowly but surely his version arose. I am happy to say the Saison poetry library at Festival Hall bought a copy and featured it in their Open Day show.

 V1 hesse sm

You’ll notice there is now a subtext. Where I had left dots DJ wished for words and asked that I write a set of poems which would be appropriate but of a different ilk which I did by writing about my life in the northern town of Burnley. So here is the new ‘poem’

And now, the end is near

I prepare to claw

My way through

And this

I call it bliss

Has come to me

The hard way

But one thing I know for sure

One thing I want you to know

That thing

That thing is this

I did it my way

I found that bliss

Not just a kiss

I went all the way

I did not turn

I ceased to yearn

I found it my way

And now

At last I say

I have the key to untold wonder

The only way for you to find it too

Is to do it your way

I Am I say

I Am today

I was then and I Am now

I Am Real

Now and forever more

I found out my way

A bit far removed from the cultural philosophical grounds of the main poems but NOT! In fact Burnley is overlooked by Pendle Hill where the founder of the Quaker group George Fox experienced a vision in June 1652 (slightly before my time there). http://bcw-project.org/biography/george-fox

A couple of weeks ago I decided to attempt a reading of the content of the DJ version of the poem which is in some ways influenced by the typography of Kurt Schwitters and I saw that a reading would bring in some of Schwitters’ sound poetry ideas. In fact it became a very liberating and creative experience with great potential for its future.

 

Dhona the Brahmin And now was a mendicant monk the end is near Who asked Siddhartha-(Gautama-Shakyamuni-Tathāgata)  I prepare to “Are you human, one from Gandharva? Claw My way through Are you a god or maybe a Yaksa?” this And this I call “Brahmin everything that’s created passes, Strive diligently into your transition, it bliss Has come to Go peacefully t’ward your destination, me The hard way Escape from Samsara’s wheel of Suffering.” But one thing During a dispute when Guatama passed away Brahmin Dhona, intervening, did say, I know for sure One “The message of the Blessed Buddha

Is still peace and forbearance today.” Thing Thereafter the Malla chieftans of Kusinara I want you to On whose soil Shakyamuni had died know Reluctantly released the relics To be divided into eight domains. That Thereby, Each claimant built a monument thing Which every time turned to rust. Confirming Siddhartha’s message that Every That thing thing passes is to truly ashes this and I did it my way dust. On the road near Montagnola And now A Wandering Writer named Hesse heard the tale from a mendicant monk I found that Then he recounted the story to you bliss Not just a and to me In a book called ‘SIDDHARTHA.’ Tathāgata showed how to escape The Spinning Wheel of Samsara  Tathāgata said, “NAMASTE.  The Light in me greets the Light in thee. I Am a Buddha, Brahmin, I AM A kiss BUDDHA Now.”

 

And it doesn’t end there. I have written yet another version for BABE alone which will be published in my new book especially for BABE.

 

There is Hermann Hesse

A nomad exiled from his native Germany

(because he mistrusted insolent might)

who was heard to say

‘There is no reality except the one contained within’

 

Perambulating the Apennine mountains

A Wanderer searching the Door to renascence

His mind a Magic Theatre

A ‘Journeyer To The East’

He bumped into ‘mystic travellers’

Like Dhona the Brahmin

 

Dhona told him of the time

(It was around about 400 BC)

When he asked Shakyamuni

Sage of the Shakya clan

‘Do you come from Gandhara?

Are you a god?

How did you stop clinging on?

How do you emanate so much Love?’

‘Because I am no longer a Brahmin Dhona

I am a Buddha now’.

 

Hesse was inspired to write Siddhartha

Which in turn inspired the back packers

Beat poets like Ginsberg and Dean Moriarty

And Burnley beat nit Daniel O’Dourke.

Later on Jack Kerouac came to greet him

On The Road from the Wild West

 

Dance little sister dance we pray

Twirl and Swirl the Dervish way

Skip along that road with a little sway

Rolling on down to Destiny’s Day

Now you see what keeps me busy. I think this last version positively sings and dances. Hence the monicker, Peter the Prancing Prattler.

NAMASTE TO YAH

The Dalai Lama walked passed by me several years ago

I am not a Buddhist per se Percy (if that is your name?). I am interested in the ideas of Buddhism but I am also interested in football and rock & roller which does not make me a footballer nor a Rolling Stone. The Dalai Lama is the living one amongst my ‘Six Mystics’, men of ideas who moved human cultures forward (to what I am unsure but to a better understanding of why we are here and to whence we are heading would help), which feature inside my Clay Jug Project. I say project, it’s fashionable to call a plan or a dream a ‘project’ because although it began as a topic in my MA studies it was in fact ongoing before that and it won’t leave me alone. Each of my six mystics has led me on in some way down the path of knowledge and each has signposted some area of ‘ideas’ which I have explored. So Joseph Beuys inspires my ‘performances’, not only because when I don a trilby there’s a slight resemblance but because he had so much gall and you gotta have loads of galls if you’re ‘performing’ art. Also he was a reject. His college did not like his ideas so he created his own college and basically had a ‘sit-in’ at the old Institution and his creation became more widely known than the Institution and maybe more influential on folk like Anselm Kiefer and others. Beuys may appear an odd one out in my 6 mystics but he was deeply into the spirit of ancient Celtic culture and each of the ‘mystics’ is into the spiritual in some way. I have always had this feeling that there is more to life than the everyday necessities. I looked up to the sky at 5am today and it was cloudless and thousands of stars were glittering in the darkness. There’s wonder out there and when you listen to Jung you see there’s wonder inside you too. Most of my mystics say that that wonder is divine. Or like Beuys they are driven by it. Hesse looked to the East for inspiration then he built the ideas from Eastern cultures into his books alongside his knowledge of western monasticism which itself was from the East- Egypt, India etc.

 

In a way I am talking about grace and empathy, skills I hope I am learning as I grow old-er. My one big example is the Dalai Lama who passed by me several years ago and O I was lucky to get a wonderful snap of him.

dalama hands

I intend to do some more artworks based around him in the not too distant. I did one awhile back and donated it to the Tibet Society and they were so unimpressed by it saying, ‘In Tibet we have a tradition of making images which goes back hundreds of years. We don’t do Impressionist works.’ So there. Get back in yer garret Peter. Here it is. I was quite proud of it.

 tibet lanscape

 

I copied a photo of some mountains in Tibet with fields running toward them. The stripes running vertically at the back of the mountains are…more higher mountains, and that for me is a portrait of life. I climbed to the top of my mountain, passed my B/Ed degree, and found there was more to do. Now I got an MA too, and a few other things and I have stopped looking for mountains to climb. Not that I am tired, cos I am, but I have decided to enjoy the view more. Am looking back on my life and seeing what I achieved, sharing it with youse, and of course I shall continue to output. But let me show you this da lama an mts smwhere I took one of the mountains and placed an image of the Dalai Lama back in his own country. With a Tibetan wheel of life too. He’s pointing out that behind that mountain is a bigger one and behind that, infinity.

I saw him on tv one night and I took out my paints and I created this

Da Lama in color sketch sm

Which am using in my new mask for BABE in April. Am creating a new book with six re-worked masks in and six re-worked poems from G Batch & Inside This Earthen Vessel. One of the most impressive performances I have seen in all my days was the Tashi Lunpo monks doing Tibetan dance and music with these astounding costumes on. I won’t be wearing any costumes like theirs. In fact the skills employed in making them go back hundreds of years.

a tashi dancers

I am reading a wonderful little book by the Dalai Lama called ‘The Way To Freedom’ in which he explains a lot of the Tibetan Buddhist idea rather well. And I love the image on the cover where he’s got his hands clasped.

I went there on the day he opened the Peace Garden in the Imperial War Museum and I did a drawing for the Tibetans of him and the circle in that garden but they turned it down when I offered it to them. Once again it didn’t fit their ideas. No offence taken.

dalama peace gdn small

He’s in his tall yellow hat holding a Tibetan book called a pothi and overlooking the Peace Garden. And I got a yellow hat like what he wears, but I just look stupid in it, innit? yello hat meOm Man

I have a BIG blart about a local much maligned gallery (of Colchester fame) forming in the pipeline but I need to wait for some replies to enquiries I am making so altho impulse wants me to do it this week the wise, calm strong steady side of me says WAIT. I come not to malign this gallery but to praise it. There’s been enough malignations hitting it already. It needs support and help to develop a better public profile and I’d like to help even more than my occasional blogs about it in the past may have done. Watch this blArt.

My ‘Artist’s Books’ From Slack Space to BABE (11 & 12 April)

So what is an artist’s book? Or what is my artist’s book? In answering the former I can point to some beautiful examples of the form, well no it’s not a ‘form’ as form indicates rules to bind you by, there isn’t a ‘form’ there is just the ‘difference’. The difference is such that  artist’s books are often difficult to file in a library. They often have no side panel recognizing ‘title’. They rarely have isbn’s or all the detail about who published it and the artists’ rights. AND THEY CAN BE UNIQUE IN THE COMBINATION OF MATERIALS THEY JUXTAPOSE. So in Slack Space this week there are artists like Chris Rushton

chris rushton sm

and Miranda Campbell (& Others) who stretch the ‘form’. Chris’s work exquisitely combines her dyed textural papers and folds and tears and cuts into forms.

slac 020

Miranda makes leather bound books but also creates these wonderful things with cracked logs, feathers and curled paper with words on which would look odd on a library shelf. Anselm Kiefer makes unique books in which he uses plasterboard or lead or paper or photos as his base and then he sticks them in acid and throws mud on them and buries them and all sorts of stuff as he approaches each book as an individual work much as he does his ‘paintings’ (he’s not at slack!).

keif bukbird merged

I find his work inspiring with its freedoms and its ignoring of norms and mores (moreys? Morays… moray eels are like his books scarey). But I guess one day when I have shed the fetters of the ‘books’ I have in the pipeline I shall follow his example and make more one-offs and make em big and make em so cumbersome they can’t leave my garden where I’ll mekem wid loads of rubbish and muck and I’ll burn em and kick em and all that cos I once did karate so I can kick like a gud en. I joke but am not joking. I love it when I see the craft in book artists like Kate Bufton at Book Transformations https://twitter.com/BuftonKate and  Fiona Dempster at Paper Ponderings http://paperponderings.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/purely-pencils-part-ii.html both of whom produce voluminously but there’s a sense of control and craft there which altho I admire I wish to break free https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEKVLjXO2Fk I’ve fallen in love with difference, in fact I’ve always loved her. My work is different. At present I am not cutting and folding and binding with dexterity but I am writing about my heroes, what I call mystics; artists, poets, thinkers and Joseph Beuys the shaman. And that leads me to my ‘performances’ which are part of my books. In fact I can cut the strut, fold my limps and unbind my-self thru the dance I do at my ‘talk’ or ‘reading’. And what are books for if not to be read, or scanned. In fact at the first (Slack) reading from my collaborative work with David Jury which is on display at Slack I realised something wonderful. His prints are stupendous and my words are whatever you decide they are

ves 6 sm

but when I put them into an amalgamated form where I could read them as one piece the possibilities are enormous. There’s no video of me doing that yet, so you’d have to invite me to your place if you want to see it for yourself. Last year or was it 2013 I did an article in which I promoted the idea that a pot with writing on was a book cover

the book of gnolidge
the book of gnolidge

and the scrolls around it or dropped in it were the pages. Now am saying my reading is part of my book. Beat that Anselm!

I am not taking the pot to BABE but you should see it on the powerpoint projection in the entrance to the Arnolfini. I am really looking forward to meeting you all at BABE.

 http://www.arnolfini.org.uk/whatson/babe-2015-bristol-artists-book-event

I shall be the last one of BABE’s ‘Performances and Readings’ (Meeting Room, Arnolfini) on the second day, Sunday 12th April

cast in arranged order:

 2pm Judy Kravis of Road Books

2.30pm Graeme Hobbs, Colva Books – Hill Pond. The pieces I wrote were instead of photographs – written photographs.

3pm, Field Study International – Emanation action.

3.30pm Nancy Campbell and Donna Williams – Poems in BSL and English about language learning and extinction.

cover of six mystics intro
cover of six mystics intro

4pm Pete Kennedy ‘readings’ – Inspired by Kabir’s poem ‘Inside This Clay Jug’ (transformed from Rabindranath Tagore’s translation by Robert Bly and recited by Pete) Also, various renditions (with masks) from the original book on Six Mystics- G Batch (G…iorgi Ivanovitch Gurdzhiev. B…euys Joseph. A…ngeli Silesii. T…enzin Gyatso. C…arl Gustav Jung & H…ermann Hesse.), and Inside This Clay Jug and Inside This Great Jug.

Here’s Mercury going into the mystic with one of the most beautiful and touching moments ever recorded. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3RJLOyGVf0

Namaste

ps The featured  image at the top is of Paula MacGregor’s book in the show presently on at Slack Space.

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)