The Work of William Blake

Seminal figure of romanic painting, poetry and print making, William Blake received little recognition in his life time but is now regarded as one of the greatest artists, poets and revolutionary thinkers Britain has ever produced.  Despite spending most of his life in London, spending only a brief period in Felpham, Blake’s imagination far exceeded the environment in which he existed and his unique visual language communicates powerful themes that resonate with all of us on some level.  His work, commonly recognised as being part of the romantic movement, simmers with strong universal themes with religious undercurrents, philosophical questions and enigmatic charm.  Influenced by the ideas of the French and American revolutions, Blake was not conventional in his religious views although he believed in God and was clearly fascinated by biblical stories and lessons.  He disapproved of organised religion and his work reveals the thoughts of a questioning, curious mind that explored the nature of existence and the meaning of life but rejected simplistic, repressive dogma.  Born in 1757, Blake was an unusual child from the beginning telling his parents that he saw visions of God despite their disapproval and embarrassment at his claims.  He spoke of angels he spied while walking in the idillic countryside and his parents, recognising that they were dealing with an unconventional boy, did not send him to mainstream school, teaching him to read and write at home instead before sending him to drawing school after he expressed an interest in art.  Part of his training was to sketch Gothic tombs at Westminster which clearly influenced the style and content of his art throughout his life.  He would later study at the Royal Academy.  His enthusiasm for communicating ideas and sharing knowledge is not only evident in the nature of his work but in his life choices.  He married an illiterate woman, teaching her to read and write, she would later assist him with print-making.  This spirit of discovery and unpretentious description is an integral aspect of his art which is no less complex or sophisticated for it.  His imagery is expressive and explicit, every piece allegorical and detailed, enlivened by patterns and colours that pulse through each flowing composition.  His figures communicate in a theatrical way, operatic and dramatic they are reminiscent of gargoyles and saintly statues he would have studied in his youth but they are inarguably human-vulnerable and emotional.  Unconventional and radical in his thinking, Blake rubbed shoulders with other progressive figures such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft.  It is said that he was involved in an explosively violent riot provoked by a parliamentary bill revoking sanctions against Roman Catholicism.  Wielding pickaxes and shovels the mob attacked the gates of Newgate prison, setting the building on fire and releasing the prisoners inside.  Biographers disagree about whether Blake was forced to join the angry crowd or whether he joined willingly, overcome by a sense of exhilaration and purpose.  In 1788 he began experimenting with relief etching which would be the medium he used for most of his books, paintings, pamphlets and poems.  Because of his renaissance-like ability to excel in so many different areas of artistic expression, Blake’s images and words continue to dominate collective consciousness, shaping our idea of spirituality and have inspired countless creative endeavours since his death in 1827, when on the eve of his anniversary, he made one final portrait of his beloved wife Kate before passing away in his bed.

blake 16blake15blake14blake13blake12blake9Cerberus 1824-7 by William Blake 1757-1827blake7blake6blake5blake4blake3blake2blake1blake11

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