Thursday, 28 November 2013

"I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Man" - William Blake


28 November 1757, the poet, painter and printer William Blake was born in London.

"I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Man's. I will not Reason & Compare; my business is to Create." (William Blake, “Jerusalem”)


William Blake: "Newton" (1797)

While emotion and reason, sensibility and sense, the antagonistic brothers, fought for dominance in the arts of the late 18th century, the ideal of "noble simplicity and quiet grandeur" of Neoclassicism asserted itself and antique imagery was at least as omnipresent as during the Renaissance. Scriptural symbolism and prophetic visions were not exactly en vogue. Pietistic movements and religiousness were certainly there and engagement with religion played a major role in the works of artists who felt obliged to the Age of Enlightenment and the revolutionary movements of the day, always good for a public scandal, as well as for the first Romantics some of whom soon developed their very own approach on religion and the divine, but prophetic visions of Old Testamentarian vehemence and off-hooked enthusiasm stood out, even among the outré romanticists. William Blake was different.






William Blake: The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun" (1805)

Visions of angels, spirits and prophets, having the second sight even, seem to have been a part of Blake’s everyday life since his childhood. His parents were dissenters, probably belonging to the Bohemian Brethren, and the imagery of the scriptures had a marked influence on him throughout his life, far more than on any artist of renown of his day. Idiosyncratic young William was judged to be unfit for formal schooling as well as learning a trade, but was enrolled in the Royal Academy of Arts, fell out with the president of the institution, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and finally became a copperplate engraver. He opened a print shop, earned his meagre living with that skill as well as an illustrator and worked obsessively on his own poetry and paintings that defy classification. He propagated gender equality, despised slavery, admired the American and French Revolution, nothing very unusual at the end of the 18th century, but Blake linked the political and philosophical thoughts of the day with a self-defining piety and spiritualism close to nature that defied the established churches as well as the emerging materialism. Blake was the prophet of his own religion.


William Blake:" The Ghost of a Flea" (c 1820)




The prophet has no honour in his own country, or, in Blake’s case, in his own time. It was the Pre-Raphaelites who rediscovered his works, both written and visual, and cherished his non-classicist, dreamy and quasi-biblical oeuvre. The trend continued into the 20th century and every artist with a predilection for symbols who had a chance to become acquainted with the works of Blake was usually enthusiastic and did not remain uninfluenced, at least not to a certain degree. The highest appreciation Blake experienced posthumously was from artists who made the expansion of consciousness their sujet from the mid20th century onwards and the baton was exchanged from Rossetti and Swinburne to Yeats, beat poetry and finally, the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison.




Blake’s frontispiece of “Europe a Prophecy” called “The Ancient of Days”, 
showing Blake’s own mythological creation Urizen, a complex embodiment 
of conventional reason and law and the representation of abstractions 
and an abstraction of the human self, as the first entity. (1794)