Exhibiting Blake: The Prints of Serge Arnoux

Robert Campbell Henderson — who has already shared his intriguing discovery of an unexpected French connection with the legacy of William Blake in two previous posts for us at Finding Blake — brings us up to date with his project to print the Blakean plates created by Serge Arnoux.


To recap, back in September 2018 Robert was rummaging in a scrap yard in the south of France for metal to make printing plates and stumbled across a bundle of paper-wrapped copper. On opening the first parcel Robert glimpsed what turned out to be a lost body of works by French artist Serge Arnoux. The plates depicted Arnoux’s interpretation of William Blake’s ‘Proverbs of Hell’ from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Finding Blake has been following the progress of the gradual reprinting of the plates and his research to try and establish why and how they were made. Robert has now reprinted all of the plates and has featured the full series of prints on his website along with the corresponding translation of the text.

Box set of The Proverbs of Hell' interprétations by Serge Arnoux
Box set of ‘The Proverbs of Hell’ interprétations by Serge Arnoux

Blakean plates 

Robert explained the technical aspects as follows: “The prints were etched on thick copper plates size 33cm x 24cm. They were made using the intaglio technique of hard ground and acid, whereby the ground is applied to a plate to protect it from the action of the mordant and drawn through with a fine needle. The longer the hard ground plate is exposed to the acid, the deeper and wider the line becomes. Everything has to be done in reverse and there is little room for error. This is particularly the case when working with text. A lot of the engravings contain some very fine lines and Arnoux when printing them actually adopted a technique to ink known as ‘a la poupee’ – a French term literally translated as ‘by the dolly’. It is usually more associated with dabbing and wiping different colours on different parts of a plate. Having now re-printed them, I can see why it could be effective. Based on the pristine condition of the plates, I also think that, for whatever reason, many of them never actually made it to the etching press — that is, until now!”

Detail of the copper plates with engravings by Arnoux.
Detail of the copper plates with engravings by Arnoux.

You can also see the prints until June 29th as part of the exhibition ‘Temporal Traces – Magical Manuscripts’ at L’Atelier Melusine, La Trimouille 86290, France.

'Resurrection' 25 prints based of 'The Proverbs of Hell' William Blake engravings by Serge Arnoux. Salvaged, re-printed and hand coloured by Robert Campbell Henderson
‘Resurrection’ 25 prints based of ‘The Proverbs of Hell’ William Blake engravings by Serge Arnoux. Salvaged, re-printed and hand coloured by Robert Campbell Henderson

Temporal Traces – Magical Manuscripts

Below is an extract from the press release for the exhibition:

“The exhibition is replete with history and magic, and follows an elegantly traced timeline spanning two millennia, and comprises a rich mix of visual and sound-based works which include tracings of original ancient Coptic and Greek papyri made by The Coptic Magical Papyri (University of Wurzburg) and Raquel Martín Hernández, alongside the original copper etchings made in the mid-twentieth century by Serge Arnoux, inspired by William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell, and re-printed by Robert Campbell Henderson in 2019.

These prints and tracings occupy the first two floors of L’atelier Melusine, alongside an antique colour catalogue of plates by William Blake, in an eerie dialogue which demonstrates the similarity of the images despite the enormous temporal breach between their creation dates ……. “

Poster for the exhibition
Poster for the exhibition

You can view the prints and read more about the exhibition on Robert’s website at www.photokennel.com.

He tells us that the story still has a long way to run with connections to America and further exhibitions planned. He has also used the plates as the basis of some new work, creating a series of colour interpretations of all the engravings using computer painting techniques. Finding Blake plans to cover the development of the project in future posts.


Notes

Robert Campbell Henderson is involved in printmaking and photography, just for the fun of it. Before 2000 he never really made any art as he was, in his own words, busy with the “day job.” At the age of fifty he did an MA Photography, followed by a burst of activity participating in exhibitions and setting up an art gallery in Norwich, UK. He retired to the South of France in 2006 where he taught himself printmaking and set up his own darkroom and print studio. You can explore his work at www.photokennel.com.

You can read Robert’s previous posts for Finding Blake: Serge Arnoux, Surrealism and William Blake and William Blake and Serge Arnoux.

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