Monday, September 30, 2013

An introduction to Blake via the Southbank Mosaics

Every week I send my students out into London to see sites somehow connected to the literature we're studying (as the semester progresses and they get to know London better they have to come up with such sites themselves).  One week we were reading a selection of poetry by William Blake, and rather than make arrangements for my students to see Blake's hand-printed and hand-colored illustrated verses at the British Museum, I sent them to the Southbank Mosaics.  These are gorgeous mosaic reproductions of Blake's poetry and illustrations installed along a dank, grimy tunnel beneath a railway bridge in Lambeth, just outside Waterloo Station.  Blake's house in Lambeth is long gone and the Southbank Mosaics project was conceived as a community-building, beautifying endeavor for Lambeth residents, who may not have known about Blake's work or connection to the neighborhood.

The mosaics are stunning and perfectly capture Blake's strange, visionary art.  The juxtaposition of gorgeous art in a grimy tunnel expresses precisely Blakean poetics, the "marriage of heaven and hell," the "songs of innocence and experience," that he repeatedly explored.

N. wanted to go with me when I went to see the mosaics, so this was his introduction to Blake's poetry.  He found it strange, troubling, and beautiful.  Devoted to drawing as he is, N. was especially interested to hear about Blake's engravings and hand-coloring, and he thought the setting of the poems inside Blake's drawings was really neat.  He loved Blake's graceful lettering.  His favorite poem was "Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright."

Then a couple weeks later, we were at the Tate Britain where N saw a sign for a Blake gallery.  He was very eager to see what Blake's original works looked like.  Although the Tate collection is a bit miscellaneous and doesn't include many of the most famous pieces, N. really enjoyed seeing them and comparing them to the mosaics. 

1 comment:

CMR said...

We'll have to look for them. We'll be staying nearby.