Cv/VAR Archive & Editions
In the Shadow of the Vortex
William Blake (1757-1827) Pity c.1795n Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper 425 x 539 mm Tate
In the Shadow of the Vortex
Tate Britain Tuesday 17th September 2019
The exhibition is arranged in eight rooms of the downstairs gallery spaces of Tate Britain, low lit, maroon painted walls, a very comprehensive collection of a highly original and complex visionary creator.
Blakes parents ran a successful hosiery and haberdashery shop in Broad Street Soho, in a locale inhabited by well to do middle classes; bankers, fashionistas, gentry. Born in 1757 Blake felt his calling was to art from childhood, and he was encouraged by his parents purchase of colours, paints and casts, and support for his studies at the Royal Academy.
His early studies, carefully completed works from the figure show a degree of competence and conscientious application. It is precisely at this point of learning that the original vision is inseminated: the pale grisaille ink and watercolour conceptions plant classical statuesque models into a supernatural arena of unfettered imagination. The canon of Western art, of Titian, Veronese, Michelangelo, Raphael, are absorbed by Blake but regurgitated as something quite alien and spectral, subject to a passionate and individual sensibility.
Blake and his wife Catherine Sophia (1762-1832) moved to Lambeth in 1790 when he was thirty three. He set up his practice in number 13 Hercules Buildings, now Hercules Road. Here he developed his personal techniques of mixed media print and painted productions, employing hand work in both script and image, advancing beyond the conventions of engraving and letterpress.
Three studies 1784: a grisaille with faint touches of pale blue Josephs Brethrenm Bowing Down Before Him. The figures uneasy, lumpish, but expressive. A curious back view of a woman raising a paten or ceremonial bowl.
An open volume of prints in a vitrine. Grand scale at 36 by 30 inches, vellum pages with densely worked engraving. A tiny watercolour, 1785-9, Age Teaching Youth. No bigger than 3 by 1.5 inches. In 1780 John Boydell commissioned engravings by leading artists constituting the great album on display.
Moses Receiving the Law, 1786. Graphite and watercolour tint. One can feel Blake finding his voice. He becomes immersed in a living theatre of imaginings, where he seems to create directly received visions, immaculately translated without hesitation. Religious scriptures are transformed with an internal dynamic of often spectral power and radiance. It is profoundly original .
Blake had a small circle of friends and interested parties who sustained his prolific practice. A craft trained engraver, he was employed in the manufacture of reproductions of other artists works, which provided a modest steady income through his working life. The exhibition of over three hundred examples demonstrates the ambitious tenacity of the artist and the strange and unique character of his vision. Blake animates classical statuesque figures in a peculiar form of demonic, or ecstatic theatre. In illustrations range from minute 2 x 1 inch watercolours to quarto pages, hand coloured engraved illuminations The works speak of a sincere and passionate religious conviction, but a subtext is political, being subject to the profound social tensions of the time, of the Reign of Terror in France, and subsequent schisms of the Napoleonic era.