Blake’s Afterlife: Howard Finster, the Backwoods Blake

About one-hundred miles north of Atlanta, a colorful, otherworldly folk art environment stands in Summerville, Georgia. Self-taught artist Howard Finster (1916-2001) began work on his Paradise Garden in 1961, using materials such as glass, concrete, and discarded objects to create six sacred buildings. Today, the site remains as a monument to Finster’s prolific life, religious fervor, and distinctive artworks.

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Blake’s Afterlife: Florine Stettheimer’s Visual Poetics

New York saloniste Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944) was born nearly fifty years after William Blake’s death. Yet this wealthy American woman produced a body of artworks that bear remarkable resemblances to Blake’s illustrations. The two share many qualities: both were equal parts poet and visual artist, both produced works with highly idiosyncratic pictorial styles, and both had reputations as unconventional individuals. Continue reading

The Artist, the Poet, and the Proofreader

The relationship between vivid, poetic language and visual art has always intrigued me. As an undergrad, I majored in studio art and English, and naturally see the two creative disciplines as more alike than they are different. Coming from this interdisciplinary perspective, I’m fascinated with Blake’s unique body of work but was surprised to find that, until the late 20th century, research on Blake was generally divided between art history and literary studies (“Plan of the Archive”).

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“Streams of Gore” and the Textual Tracking of Visual Motifs

As a follow-up to my earlier post, I will continue to explore the potential functions of the textual tag system in the William Blake Archive. In my previous post, I note that the tag “streams of gore” returns 18 hits in 11 different copies of works currently available on the WBA. Although not always the case, this particular collection of images spans almost the entirety of Blake’s career, from 1791 when he began engraving images for John Gabriel Stedman’s Narrative, of a Five Years’ Expedition, against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam to his completion between 1824-1827 of illustrations for a version of Dante’s Divine Comedy. These images also form a representative cross-section of the variety in Blake’s production in terms of the types of works he made, including commercial engraving, literary illustration, and illuminated books, as well as preparatory materials related to these. Although one arrives at this suite of images by focusing on a single textual tag, the visual variety within this category not only underscores my earlier point about the greater mutability of visual motifs when compared to text but also the way in which Blake continues to engage and grapple with a single conception—here, perhaps the unlikely, “streams of gore”—throughout his oeuvre.

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Is That a Rock or a Severed Head? Creating Textual Tags for Blake’s Pen and Ink Drawings

The William Blake Archive recently published seventeen pen and ink drawings by Blake that span the majority of his artistic career. As one of the art historians on staff at the WBA, I was tasked with the responsibility of creating XML documents to accompany each of the works—files that we call Blake Archive Documents or BADs. These BADs are incredibly important as they include not only textual descriptions of the drawings but also tagged search terms, which enable the new drawings to be plugged into the existing search function of the WBA.

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Exhibit: “Changing Landscapes: The Industrial Revolution and the British Banknote”

From the Romantic Circles Blog : A fascinating exhibit at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham focuses on how the changing technologies of the Industrial Revolution altered societal values and created a new spirit of pride and nationalism in England. From their website:

The face of Britain changed beyond recognition in the nineteenth century following intense industrialization and urbanization, advances in agriculture and developments in international trade and finance. New private banks employed celebrated engravers to create intricate and beautiful banknote illustrations, portraying aspects of the changing Britain and illustrating a sense of national pride and civic identity.

This extraordinary exhibition of banknotes, tokens, medals, paintings, prints, silverware, pottery, and models of locomotives and ships, reflects those monumental changes and provides an invaluable insight into the economy and society of the time. A collaboration with the British Museum, it also features items lent by the Science Museum, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the Cadbury Collections of nineteenth-century Britain.

The exhibit offers a glimpse into a changing society that saw the effects of technological evolution more rapidly than ever before. Blake himself was invested in the technologies of his time, particularly given his belief that he invented a new printing method. The exhibit runs from March 7, 2008, until March 6, 2009.

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Blake beats

A discussion on the listserv for the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR) has turned up some fascinating musical adaptations of Blake’s work, ranging from indie rock to garage to singing Beat poets. Contributors to the discussion and the links they provided are below.

James Rovira: The discussion began with his announcement of a CD put together by William Blake and the Human Abstractions, which includes some of their work for an Blake exhibit at the Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College last June. Information about ordering the CD is available on their MySpace page. You can hear two songs from the CD, “Spring” and “The Sick Rose,” on the page. Rovira notes that the CD, according to the exhibit’s curator, will include “Spring,” “The Sick Rose,” “Night,” “The Human Abstraction,” “Chimney Sweeper,” “The Ecchoing Green,” “Ah! Sunflower,” “Little Boy Lost/Found,” “Infant Joy/Sorrow,” “Hear the Voice of the Bard!”, and an improvisational piece, “Wings of Fire” (also the title of the exhibit). Although the MySpace page gives the release date as Fall 2008, I was unable to locate any further information about whether or not it’s actually out. You can e-mail brkirchner_AT_hotmail.com for more information. Songs are also available for purchase on iTunes, although I’m having some trouble searching for it. An iTunes search for “William Blake” did, however, pull up some Patti Smith songs, including “My Blakean Year,” which is well worth a listen.

Dennis Low pointed the list to this interview with Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous from the BBC Culture Show, who has been heavily influenced by Blake’s poetry in his life and music. The interview includes a performance of “London,” as well as Linkous reading an excerpt from “A Poison Tree.”

Avery Gaskins noted that The Fugs, a folksy band with a good dose of garage rock/psychedelic sound, set “Ah! Sun-flower” and “How Sweet I Roamed” to music. I was able to find a recording of “How Sweet I Roamed” on Last.fm.

Peter Melville provided a link to Kevin Hutchings’ essay on the musicality of the Songs of Innocence and experience from Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net (RaVoN). Hutchings has also released a CD, “Songs of William Blake,” available for purchase here.

Misty Beck brought up Greg Brown’s versions of some of the Songs, as well as Allen Ginsberg’s renditions, recorded in New York December 15, 1969, and available for your listening pleasure at PennSound. Beck also reminded me of Iron Maiden’s cheesy, and oddly catchy, adaptation of Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Steve Jones points us to poet Anne Waldman singing “The Garden of Love,” for the Romantic Circles Poets on Poets series. Download the MP3 here.

Dorothy Wang and David Latane both suggest classical composer William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, available at Amazon.

Nelson Hilton mentioned the Songs hypertext site, hosted by UGA. Choosing a song pulls up the page along with a piper icon in the corner. By clicking on this icon, you can access musical adaptations of that song by musicians like Finn Coren, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ginsberg, and Gregory Forbes.

Timothy Morton brought up Jah Wobble’s album, The Inspiration of William Blake, available on Last.fm here. Tangerine Dream’s version of “The Tyger” is also available on last.fm via this YouTube video that is sure to liven up any party.

Last but not least is Joseph Viscomi’s stage adaptation of An Island in the Moon, with songs by Margaret LaFrance set to flute, piano, and voice in traditional 18th century ballad formats. The play, performed at Cornell in 1983, is available here.

Update: Melissa J. Sites and Dave Rettenmaier, the Site Manager for Romantic Circles, has consolidated all the recommendations from the NASSR post within the Scholarly Resources section of Romantic Circles, including some of the adaptations I didn’t get to for folks like Byron and Percy Shelley. The list, Pop Culture Interpretations of Romantic Literature, also includes suggestions from an earlier discussion (about 10 years ago) on the same subject.

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