Finding Blake creator James Murray-White opens up our special sale of an original artwork — a painting created and donated by a long-term associate of the project, Linda Richardson. Linda has written many posts for Finding Blake — including Tyger School.
We are feeling very fortunate to have been granted the original painting The Tyger! to sell for the Finding Blake project, by gifted artist and creative advisor of the team, Linda Richardson.
As described in her Finding Blake post, Tyger School, Linda painted this beautiful, evocative and quite fierce image of a tiger while working with children on responses to Blake’s poem at her local school in South Cambridgeshire.
The painting has been on my wall behind me over the past few months as I edit the footage of the Finding Blake film, and it’s been a joy to have this tiger approaching, making sure I press on. Now is the time to pass it on, thanks to Linda’s generous gift.
The Tyger is now on sale on ebay. Proceeds from the sale will support:
editing and post-production of the film
arranging screenings over the autumn
website management and design.
Subscribers to Finding Blake are very welcome to contact us to discuss private sale, and a viewing.
The size of the work is 81 inches X 82 inches height. Oil on canvas, signed by the artist. Collection preferred, or post and packaging as a separate cost, to be discussed.
James Murray-White is an independent filmmaker, with work on: art and neuroscience (filmmaker in residence, Cambridge University / NHS Dementia Research Network); applied anthropology (the Bedouin of the Negev); the lives of poets (John Clare; film-poetry with George Szirtes to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale 2019); art and environmental change (associate artist at GroundWork Gallery in King’s Lynn).
Linda Richardson is an artist. Based in Cambridge, England, she makes work that engages the imagination and intuition and tries to make a creative space for the viewer to connect their inner nature with their outer nature to form ideas that are not rooted in convention, reason or rationality. However neither are they pure fantasy that provides an escape from humdrum life. Linda wants instead to awaken the senses to the beauty and wonder of the world in which we live, to activate the attention to the mystery of the human experience.
Linda was interviewed recently for a student documentary on Blake.
Please watch this space for further project updates, including an exclusive Blakean event! InCambridge , on Thursday April 11th Poet Sasha Dugdale reads Joy. Her monologue in the voice of Catherine Blake won the Forward Prize for best single poem in 2016
In her previous posts, Adriana Díaz Enciso recalled how finding Blake on a family shopping trip out of Mexico sparked a series of puzzling encounters with the poet and artist and eventually caused her to embark on her own Blakean novel. Ciudad doliente de Dios would take her from horrific events in Mexico and a writing residency in the USA to Blake’s London. Here, Adriana completes the series, discussing her role in the work of the Blake Society, the publication of her novel and the meaning of Blake’s art as both path and goal.
Around the time I started rewriting the novel, I finally decided to get close to the Blake Society. So close in fact, that I became a Trustee for several years, then its Secretary. This is not the space to say what went wrong, which is documented elsewhere. I’d rather focus here on what nurtured me, what I learnt and what I enjoyed.
It was a joy and a source of renewed inspiration to see how Blake’s work and spirit are still alive for many people, including younger generations. I’ve found amazing, amusing or even daunting the passions that he can still stir — and I am fully aware that some might make similar comments regarding my own passion for Blake. Wondering who he really was in his homeland is very different from doing so in Mexico. The approach back there is by necessity more sober, focusing mainly on his work. Here in Britain, there are layers upon layers of symbolic dimensions touching on the aesthetic, the religious, the philosophical, the metaphysical, the social and the political.
Of course, all these were issues Blake touched upon through his life and work. And it says much about the power with which he did so that so many years after his death, throngs of people are still seeking his meaning, finding new interpretations… sometimes with such a fierce feeling of appropriation of Blake that it borders on worship. I’ll get there later.
Blakean encounters and wounds
In the Blake Society I got to hear the most wonderful talks … and the most bizarre as well. Involved in organising several events, I’ll always be grateful for the chance to channel through them my wholehearted enthusiasm. There was a walk I led in Peckham Rye looking for Blake’s angels on trees; a midnight vigil in Blake’s surviving home in South Molton Street, waiting for our own Visionary Heads to appear as we echoed Blake’s gatherings with artist and astrologer John Varley; then there was the spirit of Orc, embodied in poet Jeremy Reed at the Occupy London encampment on a freezing December evening outside St Paul’s Cathedral; or taking children from Kids Company to read The Tyger to the tigers in London Zoo, the nonstop rain never dampening the children’s zeal.
There were also projects which met failure, such as that of founding Golgonooza, the City of Imagination built by Los, in the streets of London. I had envisaged having Blake’s images projected on buildings all over the city, making true his never materialised dream of being commissioned to paint murals. Then London would be, albeit briefly, a true visionary city. A completely unaffordable project, it was transformed into an illuminated talk at King’s College Arts and Humanities Festival: Golgonooza as the sacred city of the imagination; as the human body; as a reflection on failure. I said goodbye to the Blake Society, inviting Maitreyabandhu, a Buddhist poet of great insight, to talk about Blake and about the imagination as the supreme human faculty.
To be involved in all these projects in Blake’s London was a joy, and a privilege — something I would have never imagined possible when I bought that Penguin edition in a noisy shopping mall. And for that, I am grateful.
It’s impossible not to mention here as well the 2014 Blake Cottage appeal. Part of its leadership, I gave myself to it with full devotion and hope. It was a beautiful project; the support it received from the public was the most poignant certitude that Blake’s spirit is still alive and touching many. Working on it, I am sure, kept me alive during rather trying times.
Part of the plan was to make Blake’s cottage in Felpham, Sussex, a ‘house of refuge’ for persecuted writers. This, I thought, would be quite a concrete way of honouring what Blake stood for — and precisely in the place where he was accused of sedition. The appeal’s original conception meant for the cottage to be the materialisation, through collective effort, of what Blake believed in as a man and an artist.
True, things didn’t go that way, and the problems that ensued nearly killed me (in compensation, perhaps, for the project having kept me alive for a long while?). Yet I don’t regret one bit having invested so much of me in the dream. I believed in what we were doing, and as far as my own experience goes, the path walked with faith becomes the destination. The ordeal also gave me the chance to have a first-hand experience of a Blakean prophetic poem unfolding live, with all its acute drama. It might have been trying, but no one can say it wasn’t interesting. If I lost my Innocence in the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage appeal, I gained loads of Experience. I am therefore grateful.
Finding Blake again: Ciudad doliente de Dios
For a while, the wounds were so bad that I couldn’t even hear William Blake mentioned without my stomach hurting, and so I walked away from him for the first time in over thirty years. My Blakean novel was finished but not published, and finding a publisher was proving hard. But healing came. I knew I’d be alright the day when, out of the blue, I decided to visit Bunhill Fields again. I sat there, by the fig tree and the old stone with its chipped corner — a place which has become hallowed by the pilgrimage of so many — as I had often done while writing the novel. I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular. I just sat there, watching the trees, the pigeons flying, people passing by. It was a very happy day.
I’m now ready for Blake again.
Which is a good thing, because, after a long wait, Ciudad doliente de Dios was finally published last December in Mexico, by Alfaguara, a Penguin Random House imprint, in co-edition with the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Things therefore became quite intense. The novel had to go to print in October, which gave me the shortest time I’ve ever had to read the proofs of a book of mine (and this is my longest one).
It being a book I finished five years ago, I was at moments tempted to rewrite again. It wouldn’t have been wise though, as it would have meant more destroying than building. On the whole, I decided to trust the writer I was then. It has been twenty-one years since I started working on this novel. I believe it has indeed reached the point when it has to go out into the world.
On reading the proofs, I was reminded of what a strange novel it is. I liked that. As a dialogue with Blake’s prophetic poems the visionary mattered more than any conventions of modern fiction, and it feels right to have been loyal to that intent.
I was struck too by the degree to which this is a Christian book, in the sense that Blake was Christian (I hope!). I felt somewhat melancholic. I’ve talked before of how I’d been a Christian who responded to the symbolic power of the myth while struggling with the dogma. Precisely in the years I was finishing the novel, I started to walk away from the remnants of my identity as a Christian, as I discovered Buddhism. There aren’t so many contradictions, and I even find much that sounds utterly Buddhist in Blake himself. Ultimately, the quest of my characters for the meaning of the cross and the figure of Christ is a quest for understanding of suffering, and it’s moved by compassion. The questions in it remain utterly genuine and alive for me.
Another matter I pondered on while reading the proofs is the extent to which the tragedies endured by the country where I was born take centre stage in the novel. Set on the visionary rather than the mundane side of reality, it doesn’t take place in any ‘real’ geographical spot. Its characters walk towards the sacred city, led by an image of St Paul’s Cathedral. However, the unfathomable suffering of a country called Mexico has been woven around the cosmogony of William Blake, in an effort to understand and to find meaning. I do hope, therefore, that Ciudad doliente de Dios honours all the people who have endured such suffering with courage and even — as is the case of the community Las Abejas, members of which were the victims of the Acteal massacre — with hope.
Blake: art as path and goal
It must be clear by now, the importance that William Blake has had in my life, as a writer and a human being. He’s an artist and poet who talks to me. One whom I honour and admire for the way he lived the extremely hard battle it was his lot to fight. A sublime and truly inspired but misunderstood artist who endured mockery, incomprehension and poverty.
However, William Blake is not a saint, and in coming closer to some other people’s appreciation of him, I believe that the kind of fanaticism encountered around him now and then is a great loss: a deviation of what really matters in his legacy.
There is no doubt that he lived an exemplary life, as a courageous human being who remained steadfastly faithful to his call, his passions and his principles, against all odds. He believed in the power of art and the imagination to transform human life by helping us break through the veils which hinder our awareness of transcendent reality. And he considered this power the essence of divinity in human existence. He devoted his life to that vision, and therefore to create beauty and meaning. What else can we possibly demand from him?
He gave us more than enough, and like any true artist, he demands in turn our full regard for his work, our full responsiveness. Any other extraneous meaning whimsically projected onto him is a deviation from this. Blake’s belief in being able to communicate with certain spirits (his brother Robert’s; the sages he saw on the shores of Felpham; and his angels) wouldn’t be more interesting than any other person’s perhaps unusual beliefs, had he not linked that faith to a greater, encompassing one: his faith in the human spirit, capacious enough to hold within it God, the universe and all the questions hence derived.
Furthermore, he was adamant about art’s paramount importance in the life of man, believing that a society which stands with its back to the arts is impoverished, lame and crass. Art was, to him, the vehicle, the path and the goal: what he dedicated his life to. If we make any claim to having accepted his gift for posterity, it is to his images and his poetry that we must turn — and they are certainly not for the literal-minded.
We live in times of confusion, when the arts are often understood either as a commodity, novelty, entertainment, a sorry mirror for the vacuous existence of the consumer society, or (with good but misguided intentions) as a by-product of sociology, which then becomes surreptitiously an instrument for social engineering.
All these approaches strip art of its transcendent principle, and when that happens, art is dead. The death of art means the death of a society’s spirit, of human freedom. That is why artists such as William Blake are important, and it is a thing to celebrate that there are many individuals in younger generations who understand this and want to make Blake’s art and poetry a part of their lives.
The art and the poetry of a man who lived on earth. Nothing more and nothing less.
Adriana Díaz-Enciso is an author of poetry and fiction, as well as a translator. She was born in Mexico, and has been living in London since 1999. She has been a Trustee and Secretary of the Blake Society. Work she has written on William Blake can be found on her website: diazenciso.wordpress.com.
In his first post for Finding Blake, Robert Campbell Henderson shared his intriguing discovery of an unexpected French connection with the legacy of William Blake. Searching a scrap yard, he found a number of copper plate etchings by deceased French artist Serge Arnoux. The etchings had a strong surrealist style and, at the time, little was know about them and why they ended up hours from almost being melted down. Here, Robert provides an update as to how things are progressing, as a prelude to sharing the full series of prints as a special Finding Blake gallery in a few weeks time.
Who was the artist Serge Arnoux? If you do a search on him you will find very little. In fact you are more than likely to get confused by his rather more famous namesake who directed the film Moana in the South Pacific in 1959. Arnoux the artist lived in Glanes in the Lot region of France and had shops in St. Cere, St. Cirq-Lapopie and Bonafacio where, in order to make a living, he sold silk-screened cushions, scarves, dresses, wall hangings and lithographs.
On the death of his wife in 2016, a couple of years after him, their stock and furniture was sold at auction, but not, it would seem, the copper plates as they were not listed in the sales catalogue. Much of what they made was beautiful and craft orientated but I have anecdotal evidence that he longed to devote his time to what he considered real art, much to the annoyance of his wife who by all accounts was the more practical of the two. As such Arnoux forged relationships with other artists whenever he could, in what is a rather remote and provincial area of France. These connections seem to go some way to explain the story.
Serge Arnoux & the poet connection
The relationship between Serge Arnoux and American poet MS Merwin, who is now based in Hawaii, was touched upon in my first post. Merwin, twice American Poet Laureate, had a house in Le Causse de Gramat in France and lived there in the sixties, where he wrote many of his poems, illustrated by Arnoux. When Merwin met with President Obama at the White House for the inaugural reading, in what was his second spell as Poet Laureate in 2010, he quoted William Blake:
The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others only a Green thing that stands in the way. Some See Nature all Ridicule & Deformity & by these I shall not regulate my proportions…
MS Merwin is a strong conservationist (check out The Merwin Conservancy) and it would seem from the above that he may have been influenced by the work of Blake, so I think it’s a fair assumption that he in turn may have influenced Arnoux. Or maybe it was vice versa!
And then there is French poet, writer and composer Léo Ferré. Serge Arnoux met Ferré in the early sixties in St Cere and worked closely with him over the next decade. He actually found him a house, the 14th-century Château de Pechrigal near Gourdon, where Ferré lived along with his chimpanzee ‘Bubbles’.
Ferré and Arnoux worked together at the Chateau on a number of publications, even installing their own printing press. Ferré had long been associated with the surrealist movement from his time in Paris, although latterly he would reject the ideals of the movement and indeed ended up in a long dispute with Breton. It can only be an assumption on my part, but again more than likely much of this rubbed off and could have influenced Arnoux. Below is an illustration by Arnoux for the book Léo Ferré / Alma Matrix / La Mémoire et la Mer. Most of you will recognise the Last Judgement, one of the many copies based on the original painting by Blake. I’ll let you make up your own mind about any influence!
The artist connection
A major breakthrough in the research into the background to the story was input from Martha Daura, daughter of Catalan/American artist Pierre Daura. After reading the initial post on Finding Blake she made contact and has provided, as you will read below, personal and first-hand knowledge of the period when Arnoux made his series of etchings based on the Proverbs of Hell.
As an artist, Pierre Daura mainly worked in landscape, portraiture and still-life. He began engraving and etching in the 1910’s and continued until 1939. He also sculpted for many decades. He spent his childhood in Barcelona before moving to Paris where he was a founding member of Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square), a group of avant-garde abstractionists which included the likes of Joaquín Torres-García, Hans Arp, Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. The group published a journal with the same name in three issues and in 1930 organised an exhibition in Paris showing 130 abstract works by various artists. The group was short-lived but Daura continued to work in abstraction throughout his career. Daura left Paris for St Cirq Lapopie in 1930 and subsequently moved to the US in 1939, spending only the summers in St. Cirq after the war up until 1974.
Arnoux moved to Glanes in the northern part of the Lot region in the mid-fifties and despite the distance between their houses he and Daura became great friends, meeting often and communicating by letter to discuss ideas and work. I have been told by Martha Daura that her father actually taught Arnoux printmaking. She also speculated, amongst loads of other great information, that the Blake prints were likely from around the late sixties/early seventies although it’s difficult to be precise, and that they were never actually intended for a book as I had first surmised but as a boxed portfolio.
St Cirq Lapopie became the home of the founder of Surrealism, André Breton, from 1950 until his death in 1966. He spent every summer there and was a neighbour and close friend of Daura. Breton and his entourage of artists were a big presence in the village and possibly influenced and interacted with Arnoux, hence his surrealist approach. Speculation but more than plausible!
Pierre Dauras’ legacy was donated to the Georgia Museum of Art USA and includes all the correspondence between him and Arnoux, something which I feel will provide a deeper insight into the work. I am in contact with the Pierre Daura Archive who have kindly agreed to release and send me copies of this material.
They also hold nine original prints by Serge Arnoux in their permanent collection that were gifted to or were part of a collaboration with Daura. Part of my find in the scrapyard included five of the original copper plates for these prints. The two on the left are from the collection and I have a third of what to me seems like a triptych. I think these were made and destined for a poem or some sort of writing (probably not Blake, although they do have a rather mystic and surreal feel) as Arnoux rarely made prints as stand-alones. The original titles of the prints are View of a Town, Town with a Curtain and Lost in the Town.
The printmaking connection
As mentioned in the introduction, I am going to print the full series of twenty six etchings that I found and feature them here on the Finding Blake website as an exclusive gallery sometime in February. The actual prints will be printed on Fabriano paper with Chardonnel etching ink and are all the same size 33cm x 24 cm.
All of the prints are what is often referred to as ‘plate signed’ by Serge Arnoux, and all feature the French translation of the proverbs as part of the print. I will add the original English text of the corresponding proverb in pencil to each print.
As yet I have not established whether Serge Arnoux made etchings based on all the proverbs, but rest assured I make regular visits to the scrapyard on the off chance they make an appearance! I hope you will enjoy seeing the work and of course make any comment you see fit. There is already an exhibition of the prints planned for France in June of this year but if anyone is interested in an opportunity to show the work please get in touch.
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 more about all of the above and lots more including a semiotic analysis of Exuberance is Beauty! by Dr Philip Rayner on the ongoing blog on Robert’s website.
You can read Robert’s first post for Finding Blake here — and watch out for the gallery of his prints from Serge Arnoux’s plates, coming soon!