Sunday, 19 April 2009

A tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars

That is what eight-year-old WB said he saw on the green hill of Peckham Rye, London. I went there earlier this week and began this:


e: veryone must be:

aaaa! hgnnffffff ak:
..wnnnnnn dowww c
............lkkoutout out on:
so that’s ok, to be:
..................zzz eeee:

despite being
a stowaway: x
....khizs sizzz: x
.............wish you:

being –a!o– enough:
tooo ttoo mch:

.........being good as alive
alive as good
..hmg hmg odsssssh: being
................must be: t


Saturday, 18 April 2009

Jacob's ladder

In Jacob's dream there was a ladder right up to the gates of heaven (to continue a theme from an earlier post). In WB’s watercoloured relief etching, angels are ascending and descending a ladder which curls off the great orange circle like a peel. It also builds upwards out of Jacob's body, fleshy under the angel's feet.

In Joe Coppard’s sketch below the ladder is curled into the name of God and inscribed into a figure (which is also a female version of Urizen in chains). God is trapped by what He gives life to; in making life we make God; God is obscene. It reminds me of poet Muhammad Iqbal’s lines, addressed to Him: ‘But whose loss was the fall of Adam, that creature of earth / Was it Yours or mine?’

More of Joe’s excellent Jacob’s Ladder sketches on Flickr.


Friday, 17 April 2009

Pity a human face

Gerhard Richter paints from photographs. The paintings currently showing at the National Portrait Gallery all look a lot like photographs. The black and white pictures are generally painted through a horizontal buzz, like figures on an old TV, caught on camera. The brush strokes of the colour paintings are not evident, and the images – mainly of members of Richter’s family– are rich and perfect, like HD. Richter says that “a portrait must not express anything of the sitter’s ‘soul’, essence or character’.

A walk through Buckingham Palace away, the Royal Geographical Society is showing a collection of photographs from the 1914-17 expedition to walk across the Antarctic, led by Ernest Shackleton. The black and white photographs of expedition photographer Frank Hurley are carefully, sometimes painfully, shot and the crisp lines of The Endurance’s mast and rigging against a white sky and whiter ice are beautiful. But these images, too, are almost too perfect to be affecting: elegant and static.

In a few of the Richter pictures something is not quite right. One of the children in the Schmidt Family has a head that’s a little too small. In Mother and Daughter, the glamorous daughter’s eyes are too high or too dark, or something. It’s in these rare skewiff and sometimes unpleasant bits that something alive comes flying out.

One of Hurley’s photographs also has a blemish on it. It’s a finger-tip-sized black mark next to a small boat which is rowing towards men on a snowy shore, seen waving from behind. Cheering the Relief Boat was taken when Shackleton and a five-man crew set off on an 800 mile row across the roughest seas in the world for help; Hurley later altered it to try and make it show the boat's return months later to rescue the men left behind. Perhaps the image of departure was just too perfect for Hurley.


Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Who Present, Past, & Future sees

How does something become something else? When? Ok, smaller: how does a place become a different sort of place, or even somewhere else? At what point? Sometimes a striking new building changes a place, by accident or on purpose. How did the area and people around it change when the brand new Peckham library arrived? Or the Angel of the north? Sometimes it's more to do with the way we talk about somewhere. What happens when people start calling a place rough or trendy or regenerated/ing? What does it mean for the people living in an area for those descriptions to be true?

Many thanks to Luke Gaffney, who created the two pictures above to accompany my poem below. See the complete set of four on Flickr.

Arnold Circus

There was a bandstand built on the rubble of the Jago ghetto,
centrepiece of the new Boundary Estate.

The old bricks, soaked in Polio and soot,
stored deformity, simpleness, scrofulous behaviour,

a kind of plutonium of a time
before the outstanding visuals
of the twentieth century proper.

There was a point at which one thing ceased to be and another began.
A renaissance with a green pagoda.


Sunday, 12 April 2009

From Hyde Park spread their vegetating roots beneath Albion

I went to speakers' corner in Hyde Park yesterday. There were lots of men and women standing on short ladders shouting and fingering holy books, and lots of precocious American boys taking issue with them very politely.

I recorded voices and made a short audio track.

The video, with a stationary image, is just a vehicle for the sounds because I can't seem to post the audio file on its own. I've used a photo of a desire line also taken yesterday in Hyde Park, the first of a potential series (see comment below).


Saturday, 11 April 2009

In religious caves beneath the burning fires

This began in central Turkey, visiting caves carved out of a volcanic earth called tuff, but seemed fitting for Easter. Monastic communities have lived in the Turkish caves for thousands of years and lots of them are still brightly painted. It's a shock to go into such alien houses and see such familiar images as George and the dragon, Mary and Jesus.

My cave

The painter’s preparing woad, cochineal and madder,
I’m getting the angels done at last.

Next door they have George and the serpent at the end of the bed,
Mark, Luke and John above
and Mary over the entrance.
They wake in the middle of their prayers.

I’m the fresco in my cave,
no prayer but me, my pile of habits, socks,
it’s as tiring as mixing yellow horse shit
with yellow earth for olive trees.

As the pigeons roost and swifts come out around the chapel top,
we climb and eat supper with the last supper,
sing to doves of doves,
walk with animals last seen in Eden.

Then it’s darker outside than in
and swifts turn to bats,
which fly in your hair and your mouth
as the devil does,

those with painted caves go inside
to see themselves in prayer.


Friday, 10 April 2009

Where man is not, nature is barren

To mark the recent decision to create a South Downs National Park, I've added a series of photos of man-made lines through British natural landscapes to Flickr. Intended as a celebration both of natural environments and straight lines, they include a castle moat, a pitch and putt and a boardwalk.

It would be great to make a significant collection of such photographs from across the country.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The fancied image strays

I've asked several artists to respond to Blake with images. Joe Coppard provided a frontispiece on Tuesday; more from him later this week or next. The wonderful pictures below are Rob Gallagher's. Enjoy.

Maiden Cultural Illiteracy Surpriz'd & Avail'd of the Fruit of Presumptive, Deniable, and Unarticulated Knowledge by SE14, Allegorickally and Sinuously Incarnate

A newtonesque in various opacities

A 3/4 face

Rob commented:
Thinking roughly that if his figures tend to look gravity-bound and rigidly contained then blog-era counterparts might be more to do with porous borders, interimplication, weightlessness, atrophy, overlays, prostheses, whether Blake'd be happier about the existence of all these publishing tools than he would vexed by their immateriality and the question of who's supplying them, how and why...
More Rob here.

All these images and more at Flickr.


Wednesday, 8 April 2009

'I by force suddenly caught him in my arms

& flew westerly thro’ the night, till we were elevated above the earth’s shadow; then I flung him directly into the body of the sun: here I clothed myself in white’.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf is breaking away from Antarctica. New to the Wilkins Ice Shelf I looked for it on Google earth. The satellite image is from ten years ago, so it’s like looking at a star – you go back in time. Back then, it's difficult to see what's what, just white on white.

You can imagine apprentice mapmakers being given Antarctica to train on, as an easy way in: The white one down the bottom: tell us if it changes shape. The man thrown into the sun might have been a bad apprentice; his retribution climate-inspired.

The mapmaker's excuse

There are too many shades of white here.

White ice turns white-blue
and blue-white sea-ice turns white-grey-black with shadow as blocks crack away.

I’ve got to keep up with the whites of Wilkins, Bach, Larsen, George VI
and Wordie, which disappeared the other day,

each stuck to mainland ice with a white seam.
Which, in truth, would all be bearable if I didn’t hope for disaster

to show the clear lines of rock and sea.


The marriage of heaven and hell

A while ago I saw this picture in an exhibition in London. It's from Sinai and shows little black devils lassoing monks off the heavenly ladder, with God waiting to receive those that make it to the top.

The monks are closely bunched together and rigid, which makes them look a lot like plastic penguins on a helter skelter toy. I remember looking through shop windows at the penguins crank up the hill, then skim around long blue slides back to the start. The movement was infinite.

What if heaven turns out to be a monotonous freefall of plastic slides? It's time to enjoy ourselves...


Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A memorable fancy

This from Joe Coppard, a worthy frontispiece for online Blake.


Monday, 6 April 2009

Life delights in life

I have recently returned from Austin, Texas, where there are lots of bats and grackles.

The common grackle is a slim, blue-purple Icterid, with a fanned tail and yellow eyes. At dusk, certain trees in car parks (there are more of them than parks) sound like electricity, as if made from light-bulbs or an electric fence. The low buzz comes from a group of grackles, always difficult to see in the branches. So the sound is bodiless.

In mid-summer, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats sleep under the sheer, pale Congress Bridge across the Colorado River, which locals call Town Lake. When I was there, just a few bats had yet come back from Mexico, where they winter. Black spots against grey, solitary bats are tricks of dusk: a part of the failing light rather than an animal. You never get a good look at them. They made the city feel expectant.

The grackle-tree and first few bats are delightful and unnerving. Noisy and alive and always to some degree hidden, out of shot. Right on the edge of what you can know by looking and listening.