Finding Blake – Our First Year

We start the New Year with a timely update from Finding Blake creator and filmmaker James Murray-White. As well as looking back at our first year, a highly eventful journey and the successes for Finding Blake, James also shares a couple of sneak previews of what’s coming up next. 


Blimey, as Blake might have said. It’s January 2019 already — a year on from having raised the funding through our crowdfunding campaign and cracking into the Finding Blake Project.

Albion Rose by William Blake (1793-6)
Albion Rose
William Blake (1793-6)
Source: the William Blake Archive
http://www.blakearchive.org

And what a year it’s been on the Blakean trail! From that first interview with poet David Whyte in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford — where Blake was right there with us — all the way through to the ceremony to set Blake’s new ledger stone in Bunhill Fields, London, on the 12th August. And, in-between: journeys down into the underground quarry where that piece of Portland stone came from; coming face to face with Blake’s paintings and words, and with Blakean scholars and creatives of all hues; and a deep encounter with the stone itself, which now bears his name, dates, a quote, and the words ‘Poet – Artist – Prophet’.

The ledger stone is a huge focus of the film I am making: Blake, his stone and its creation by a master-craftsperson of this age and, I hope, the themes of his vision — infinity, eternity, time, and hope.

No simple answers

Have I found Blake? That’s the question that is spinning around me now, and has been for the last few weeks as I’ve been focusing intensely on editing the material. Well, thinking hard on that, I don’t think I have — not in a rounded shape that I can put in my pocket and say, yes, here’s Blake. But of course poetry, mysticism, articulating a vision — these aren’t and shouldn’t ever be that simple or clear-cut.

Life itself isn’t clear-cut (if it is, you’re doing it wrong), and the journey is never about the destination. For me definitely, it’s about the meanderings on the road and the twists and turns. So alongside the cutting and splicing, and the giant jigsaw of the filmed story of the last year that I have in front of me, I’m reflecting upon a year in search of William Blake: his extraordinary words, images and overall vision; the physical life he lived over 70 years; what the impact of all this is, what folk say and feel about him and that vision now; and ultimately, the impact of Blake for today’s world, for today’s Britain.

Folk have asked me recently, ‘Tell me about Blake’, and I can’t articulate his life and work into a sentence or paragraph. Maybe I can with poets like Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, WB Yeats, or John Clare — all of whom I’ve had a longer engagement with over many years and a physical affinity to the places they inhabited: Hull, Yorkshire, Ireland, and the Northamptonshire / North Cambridge territory that John Clare tramped around. Maybe my antipathy towards the city of London has hampered me on the Blake trail (sorry Londoners! I always will be a village lad).

A simple resonance

Walking on concrete constantly creates that physical disconnection. I deeply resonate with Blake’s three nearly harmonious years in Felpham, where he was surrounded by the elements, able to see and sense the sea, and grow things in his garden. I’ve never been interested in trying to ‘explain’ Blake. But filming Carol Leader’s rich lecture on how she uses Blake’s work in psychoanalysis, and the presentations by Reverend Malcolm Guite and Reverend Christopher Rowland on Blake as a Christian icon, have both been wonderful experiences for me, a witness to inspiring efforts to explain or understand him in specific, focused ways.

I would recommend Will Franken’s deep and visceral film Red, White & Blake for his efforts to engage with some of the specifics. And, on the subject of connection to land, friend of Finding Blake Matt Wilmshurst is in the thick of producing Blake in Sussex, a feature drama about William and Catherine’s three years in Felpham. We’re greatly looking forward to seeing that and wish Matt and the team great success.

My film and this project are not about ‘me’ finding Blake. It’s about a shared journey, for all of us: exploring. I’m steering and mediating it, and my voice is there asking questions, commenting and reflecting. I ask a lot of questions of everyone I’ve met along this road; I’m good at asking questions, though in interviews we’ve stuck rigidly to three simple ones:

  • How has William Blake influenced you, personally and professionally?
  • What examples of his work — poems, engravings, images — or his life resonate with and inspire you?
  • How do you feel William Blake is most relevant to the current day: as artist, spiritual visionary, political inspiration?

And I have been delighted when interviewees go wildly off with their answers: there is no right Blakean answer!

Finding Blake  — the film

But back to the product: the intangible tangible thing that this project has been created around is and is nudging toward in this chunk of Blakean time. I have a file full of sections and rough cuts, and an overall structure that I’m slotting sections into. I’m thinking about where interview clips go, and which sections resonate with others and with which words, and how much to mess around with linear time.

I’ve done a big chunk of this initial editing and structuring up in a quiet cottage in Cumbria, thanks to a great friend of and contributor to the project, Clare Crossman. While there, I discovered that Kathleen Raine — probably the single person who did the most to promote Blake into our era — had a house nearby. So in seeking the quiet places for inspiration and focus, Blake comes with me and crops up again, not just in written word and image (I had a big box of books to keep me going), but in the most wonderful ways.

The plan is that I’ll do some test screenings here in Cambridge in a week or so, mainly to invited critical eyes and those closely involved in the project, and then there will be the first public screening with the Blake Society in London on Wednesday 16th January. Anyone is welcome to this event, but please check with the Blake Society, of course.

Following this, we’ll take in some of the comments and feedback, think about further ideas we have in mind to film, and then take it forward. Any ideas you have for screening opportunities, please shout!

Blake's new gravestone unveiled - a key moment in our first year
Blake’s new gravestone unveiled
Photograph: Lida Cardozo Kindersley © 2018
www.kindersleyworkshop.co.uk/

So a huge shout to all who chipped in a year ago: your sterling efforts have helped get the project to this point! Thank you! Your funds have been spent on travel, paying for filming and a tiny bit of my editing time, hard drives, memory cards, the odd Blake book or four, and hosting the website.

Without your support, ‘Finding Blake’ could never have started out on this Blakean journey …

We made that start without attracting all the funds we needed, because it was important to begin the journey and to share the benefits of our exploration through our film and website. We are actively seeking further funds to complete all the activities we set out to do. If you would like to make a donation, please use the button on the site or get in touch. And if you have suggestions for other funding ideas, we’d love to have them!

Our first year — and beyond

I just want to end this post with some further thank yous for Finding Blake’s first year: two specifics and a general one. To Mark, for astonishing perseverance and clarity in progressing with this website, dealing with words, images, layout, and fielding questions and responding. To Linda, who has been a marvel: digesting, processing Blake, driving us, interviewing, providing emergency sausage rolls, liaising, and more. And to so many in my technical and feedback crew, who respond to my questions and calls for help, and give the critical feedback that keeps me semi-sane and on the creative meander in this crazy world. And finally, to Mr William Blake: poet — artist — prophet …

A happy New Year to all. May it bring us clarity, deep visioning, and the energy to live richly.

The Sun at His Eastern Gate
William Blake
Watercolor, over traces of black chalk
Source: The Morgan Library & Museum www.themorgan.org

A few extra things to look out for soon:

  • In a few weeks, we’ll start posting a regular series of extra footage and material that is additional to the film, a kind of ‘DVD extras’ bundle if you like.
  • I’ve really resonated with one or two of Blake’s images when I’ve met them in the flesh this year (see The Unfolding and Unveiling, about the exhibition at Petworth and in particular Blake’s image, The sea of time and space), and of course there have been some I haven’t connected to. This year, Finding Blake wants to start a mini-series of posts from you telling us about the images you love, or hate, and why.
  • The wonderful Tyger painting by Linda, from her residency at a Cambridgeshire school, will shortly go on sale online by auction to raise further funds for this project. More details will be announced here soon.

 


Notes

You can find a 2018 review by Jason Whittaker of Will Franken’s film Red, White and Blake at Zoamorphosis | The Blake Blog 2.0

There is more information about Blake in Sussex, the forthcoming film from Matt Wilmshurst at the Blake in Sussex site.

James will be discussing the Finding Blake project and film, and presenting material from his film at a screening after the AGM of the Blake Society at Waterstones Bookshop (82 Gower Street, London WC1E 6EQ) on 16th January (6.30pm). See the Blake Society events page for info (scroll down to January and mention of ‘Finding Blake’).

The Unveiling

Sunday 12th August 2018 saw the long-awaited gathering for the ceremony to unveil the new gravestone for William Blake. Finding Blake was there - filming, interviewing speakers and participants and taking part in the moment of communal respect for and reflection of this great artist, poet and visionary and his legacy for us. Here, Linda Richardson looks back on the day, and James Murray-White shares his short film from the day.

It is a cool August day in Bunhill Field’s cemetery, and hundreds of people have gathered to watch the unveiling of William Blake’s new gravestone on the 191st anniversary of his death. The stone, cut by Lida Cardozo of the Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge, lies beneath a white cloth, and we assemble in a deep circle — people who continue to be inspired and changed by the life and work of this astonishing man. Vaulting above us in a green dome, plane trees create a dappled shade upon the human proceedings and we listen to the sparkling speeches of men and women to whom Blake is alive and galloping around in their conscious minds, enlightening and troubling this new generation of Blakeans.

The cameras are rolling and clicking as these modern-day experts capture the unfolding ceremony in all of its diversity. Speeches are made, the cloth is gently and slowly unfolded and there, at our feet lies a large slab of Portland stone

I give you the end of a golden string …

We all feel the privilege of being part of this holy gathering, each of us having internal speeches of our own.

Blake’s new gravestone unveiled
Photograph: Lida Cardozo Kindersley © 2018
www.kindersleyworkshop.co.uk

Later I watch Lida, apart from the crowds, circling her stone; the dust of it is in her blood from the months of intimate contact, and I wonder if she is saying ‘goodbye’, ‘farewell’, or if the intensity of her feelings are too complex to comprehend, and I remember another great Blakean woman, Patti Smith. A week earlier she had led us in a surprising rendition of We Three Kings of Orient Are, at the Cambridge Folk Festival, and called from her heart to us to be at peace with one another, to bring gifts of love to our troubled and turbulent world.

An unveiling and an awakening

On the train home with Malcolm Guite, one of the speakers at the unveiling, we talked about our delight in being at the ceremony, ‘astonishing’, he said. Malcolm is a prolific modern-day poet, priest and musician, and is tireless in his work of promoting kindness and compassion, and of awakening our minds to the power of imagination as the prime agent of human perception.

Here, then, is our short film showing the edited highlights of the speakers invited by the Blake Society to address the crowd at the unveiling ceremony at Bunhill Fields, London, on Sunday 12th August 2018. The speakers featured are: Tim Heath, Chairman of the Blake Society; writer and theologian Reverend Malcolm Guite; scholar & creator of Zoamorphosis, the Blake 2.0 Blog Jason Whittaker, Reverend Lucy Winkett of St James, Piccadilly; poet Stephen Micalef; lettercutter Lida Cardozo; rock musician Bruce Dickinson; and satirist and actor Will Franken. The film also shows the unveiling itself — by Carol and Luis Garrido, who discovered the exact location of Blake’s burial spot — and features part of the performance of the hymn Jerusalem by the vocal group, Blake.

Further material from the special day will appear here on Finding Blake & later in the final film. Watch this space!

Unveiling Ceremony – speakers from James Murray-White on Vimeo.

“... I rest not from my great task! To open the eternal worlds, to open the immortal eyes of man inwards into the worlds of thought, into eternity ever expanding in the bosom of God, the Human Imagination.”

Notes

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.

You can share many of the stages by which William Blake’s new gravestone has come to share its resting place with the man it commemorates:

  • Our films show how Lida Cardozo selected the block from the Jordans Mine quarry, the work of the quarry itself, and Lida’s careful and painstaking marking and cutting of the letters into the stone’s surface.
  • Our posts mark some of the encounters the Finding Blake team have had with the stone and the people who have brought it to its final state over that time.
  • Our timeline brings the whole experience into chronological order — up to the unveiling and beyond.

And of course, the life of the stone and of William Blake continue to resonate in the story that so many Blakeans who assembled on the 12th August, or who were there in spirit, will share with us on Finding Blake.

The story of how the site of William Blake’s exact burial spot came to be lost and then rediscovered by Blake admirers Carol and Luis Garrido is told in this excellent new piece by James Tapper in The Observer: “Finding it proved a bigger challenge than they imagined. Bunhill Fields was a cemetery popular with Dissenters, and when Blake died, largely unrecognised, in 1827, his was the fifth of eight coffins to be buried in the plot. The graveyard had been arranged in a grid, and the coordinates were in the Bunhill Fields burial records, given as ’77, east and west, 32, north and south’. But after bomb damage during the second world war, the Corporation of London decided to transform part of the site into gardens, leaving only two remaining gravestones, and moving Blake’s stone next to a memorial to an obelisk commemorating Daniel Defoe.”

Going Beneath the Grains of Sand

As an accompaniment to our recent video teaser of William Blake's new stone finally in place at his grave in Bunhill Fields, we bring the story 'full circle' with this post and video from James Murray-White on his visit to the birthplace of that stone monument: Portland Head in Dorset. Here, beneath the 'grains of sand', is a place resonant with Blakean names: the Jordans Mine of Albion Stone.

One of the real highlights of my process of starting in on a project is the research time I always undertake, and then the physical journeys I get involved in to explore and create and find stories within the story. It is all about uncovering and hearing stories: following my nose and my gut into the underworld, or the meta-narrative, of the bigger story.

This has been true of many of my projects: a year spent while in my final year at Hull University on the trail of Eric Gill (which leads nicely back into this Blake Project); my undergraduate dissertation of the Dekalog films of Krzysztof Kieślowski; my five years living with and experiencing the life of the Bedouin tribes of the Negev Desert; my two films and research for a bigger project on the life and work of poet John Clare in North Cambridgeshire (my homeplace) and Epping Forest; and now, this wonderfully rich and curious journey into the life, work, and legacy of William Blake.

To Albion Stone

This has now literally taken me down into the bowels of the earth, under the “grains of sand”, down to the seam layer of Portland stone thousands of feet underground, to see the place where the new stone marking Blake’s burial place was cut from, in preparation for the careful work of Lida Kindersley to cut the letters.

Going in
Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

Hallam Kindersley — Lida’s son — and I set off on an eight hour round trip to Portland Head, to visit the mine where Portland stone is hewn from. Last year I made contact with Albion Stone in preparation, to think about the process of stone being cut, right through to it being carved and created, through to the setting ceremony on August 12th.

For various reasons, I wasn’t able to go before Christmas, and the piece of stone that is being used had already been cut and was sitting in a stoneyard in Cambridge, from where Lida chose it (see the short film showing this, under February in our The Story Continues timeline). So I’m being open that here I’m ‘cheating’ the natural timeline and filming after the event — although forget you’ve read this when it comes to the film, as I’ll play around with the sequence of events and ‘pretend’ that we’re going to choose the piece of stone direct from the quarry…

Down in Jordans Mine

We met Mark Godden, Mine Manager, in Albion Stone’s HQ on Portland Head, and after a quick cup of tea and introductions to our project and to the work of the company, we set off the mile or two to the mine. I knew we were in interesting company when Mark straightaway referred to the Blakean “grains of sand”, and shared that he’s loved Blake’s work for many a year.

Jordans Mine is under-whelming from the outside: a curving white track, a couple of shipping containers at the top, and just two large holes framed by steel — and that’s it. Not sure what I expected, but this was it, and in we went.

It’s bizarre walking into a mine — I thought we were driving in, or even going in by some lift contraption, but no, Mark parked up and in we went. There was an instant differentness to the air and the atmosphere: a chalky clarity and a subterranean ambience, maybe. During some of the time there, around the mining, there was a sulphurous smell, like a bilious release, but it didn’t linger. I smelt it again at Lida’s workshop, as she cut the thicker letters of the name — and we both recoiled at the sudden stink: all those tiny critters released, after so much time encased and crushed down as sedimentary rock.

Mark led us deep in: it’s a very spacious place, as still as you would expect, interrupted every 10-15 minutes or so by the lights and then the sound of a hulking great vehicle taking stone out, or coming back in to collect more. I hope in the footage I’ve captured the slightly sinister sense of these coming towards you and roaring past, like beasts in a dark night. They illuminate and charge past, then the dark enfolds around again, and we walk on.

The cutting blade
Photograph; James Murray-White © 2018

My preoccupation was (and always is!) getting decent footage and sound, and this space threw up lots of challenges, and alongside that, I was watching my reaction to the space, feeling for creeping claustrophobia or indeed panic! Thankfully this didn’t rise up and force me to flee. Mark steered us gently between seams, between active work going on, measuring and assessing, and a close-up look of the huge saws and bits of kit used to cut and extract the stone. This mine quarries stone, not mines it or explodes it out: it’s a complicated process of cutting, then a metal bag is forced inside the cut; this contains water, which slowly expands and then the stone cracks off, and is hoiked out by machinery. The pressure is intense as this metal bag expands, and the sense that a huge boulder would be freed — I looked up at the structural roof supports, and wondered…

The way out
Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

And so, here is our film of that strange and intriguing day spent underground, in search of Blake’s stone.

Mine Visit V2 from James Murray-White on Vimeo.

 

Notes

You can find out more about Albion Stone at their website and you can download an article by Mark Godden on the history, quarrying and geology of Portland stone: