In 2009, I traveled to the Tate Gallery in London expressly to see their collection of the work of William Blake only to be sorely disappointed by the news that his work had been temporarily removed to showcase a growing collection of the works of J. W. Turner. Turner is, of course, an excellent artist and I greatly enjoyed the exhibition as well as a number of wonderful Pre-Raphaelite works that were on display at the time. I came away from the experience with a high opinion of the Tate Gallery and it maintains a respectable rank in my estimation of international art museums (which is a very sly way of disguising the fact that I’ve only been to five-they just happen to have been three in England, one in France, and one back home. Oh well, it takes small steps to follow the road of world travel).
For the Easter holiday, I made another pilgrimage to the Tate Gallery and, to my great delight, the Blake exhibition was in residence. I made a bee-line straight for it and would have been content to spend hours absorbing the grotesque, the strange, and the beautiful in a closed and hushed environment ideal for just such a pleasure. Because Blake favored watercolors as his principle medium, it is necessary that his work is displayed in a dimly lit room so as not to expose the artwork to possible damage. Perhaps it is a minor quibble, but I detest lighting so strong as to cast an obtrusive glare over the paintings and almost always reflecting a solid orb of light directly over the subject of the paintings. However, in the Blake Exhibition, the cool blue-green walls that richly highlight the warm tones of the artwork and the low lighting which allows one to observe the artwork with complete clarity significantly contributed to my deep appreciation and enjoyment of the magnificent. What is most remarkable is that the medium of watercolor, so often used to portray effervescent reflections of nature, is used to such astonishing effect in the macabre and disturbing imaginings of Blake. It is also surprising to realize the small scale of Blake’s work, a fact which is certainly not evident in photographs which display icons of such grandeur and majesty that the mind naturally assumes a canvas to match it. Apparently Blake was interested in adapting some of his original prints to a larger scale, but contemporary viewers were unfortunately disturbed by his wild imaginings and he could never garner enough funds to realize this ambition.
Thankfully, we are blessed with the work that remains and such astonishing work at that. In my estimation, there is no other artist comparable to William Blake in originality of expression. Even novices of artistic appreciation must recognize the singular voice that is unquestionably Blake, an anomaly among painters and poets. Only consider the evocative power of the rather miniscule “The Ghost of a Flea” or allow yourself to be bewitched by the traumatic scene “Cain Fleeing the Wrath of God” and know that once there existed a man of extraordinary genius.
The New Luciad is looking for creative submissions in the categories of prose, poetry, photography, and art. For more information, follow this link. The deadline is 25 April 2014 before 5:30pm.
Music: “Danse Macabre, Op. 40”-Camille Saint-Saëns
Book: The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake-William Blake
Film: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)