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My William Blake
by Thanos Kalamidas
2007-11-28 09:36:52
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I think it was March 1978 the first time I stepped inside the Tate Gallery in London and for me it was a thrilling experience that I had dreamed of long before ever arriving inside the gallery’s yard. Everything was there, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, Turner and Pop Art, which is my favourite art style and the best representatives of the Pop Art were there. However, nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for what happened to me and has now lasted for nearly 30 years while I was in the William Blake room!

I don’t know what made me walk that direction, especially since I was not alone that morning, but something called to me to pass all the other rooms fast and – they have changed the place over the last few years – enter a half-dark room on my left-hand side. The paintings were all around and there were some square columns in the middle that had one painting upon each face. The first painting when you entered the room was “Newton” and for me that was it.

For the next thirty years I’ve been in London many times, too many times, and the Tate Gallery was and is always something like a sacred place for me, the place I want to be and after all this time and all the tens (perhaps hundreds) of visits I have to admit one thing: I haven’t seen the Tate Gallery! I have seen all the special exhibitions and special events for William Blake but I haven’t seen the whole Tate Gallery. It has been always the same for me, "Newton" always calls me, I sit on one of the benches and I get lost inside Blake’s world.

I’m not religious myself, on the contrary, I’m an atheist but standing once under the great dome in Agia Sofia and in front William Blake’s painting I have felt as though if there is a god then He is here. William Blake’s painting is exactly what, in my little ignorance, I consider absolute art because standing in front of any of his paintings you have the feeling that the canvas has a soul of its own and it tries to communicate with you. “Jacob’s ladder” is a poem itself, it is a chorography, and it is a novel, a story. In “God Judging Adam” you feel the guilt, the anger, the sorrow, and then it is “The Ancient of Days” and the illustrations for the “Book of Thel”.

The first time I came out of the Blake experience - I assure you it lasted till they called for closing time - I was dizzy, confused and I decided that I cannot paint again. Nothing, it was loud in my head, and nobody can paint like that. It was not the techniques I had so long and painfully studied, it was not the colours it was everything; inside these painting there was the soul and spirit of William Blake himself, less than 300 years after he was still alive in those paintings. He made me feel so small and since then when anybody ever asks me if I paint I laugh, oh yes I managed to finish an art school and yes I managed to exhibit my work a few times, but paint? You’d better visit the Tate Gallery, the William Blake room if you want to understand what 'paint' means.

Please don’t misunderstand one thing: I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe that any god gave William Blake the power to paint like that; his belief gave him inspiration definitely, but it was not the hand of God that painted, it was the hand of William Blake that made him immortal. It was William Blake as a whole, the man who could visualise things. The man who could make prophesies, the man who often walked to the limits of the religious and witchcraft, his madness, not insanity, had something mystic that exists inside his painting and his poetry. Naturally, an artist who could communicate so strongly with pictures could also communicate equally as strongly with words... his words are paintings.

William Blake’s watercolours for Dante’s “Inferno” show how far you can go with the simplest materials and the painting effects he used are pioneering even for today. I was happily surprised to find out in an interview a few years ago that a very famous comic creator was using exactly the same effects inspired by William Blake to illustrate his sci-fi stories.

William Blake died in a myth full of mysticism just like he lived, on the day of his death, Blake worked relentlessly on his Dante series; he ceased working and turned to his wife, who was in tears by his bedside. Beholding her, Blake is said to have cried, "Stay Kate! Keep just as you are – I will draw your portrait – for you have ever been an angel to me." Having completed this portrait (now lost), Blake laid down his tools and began to sing hymns and verses. At six that evening, after promising his wife that he would be with her always, Blake died.

Next time you find yourself in London, please visit William Blake’s room in the Tate Gallery!

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Emanuel Paparella2007-11-28 15:00:35
Indeed, "his words are painting" but the opposite is also true: his painting are words. Blake, to my mind, is the grandfather of hermeneutics in literature; a theory stating that unless the reader or the viewer dialogues with the work of art and enters its particular world (that of mysticism in Blake's case)with an open mind and in sheer wonder no dialogue will ensue. Obviously it is difficult not to enter into a dialogue with any of Blake's poems or paintings. Great to dedicate a whole issue of Ovi to Blake!

Eva2007-11-29 12:55:47
You made me want to learn more about this man and his work, I shall have to put it on my must-see list next time I'm in London!

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