Two years after inventing relief etching, the printing method best suited to recording late 18th century revolutionary free improv visions, William Blake & his wife Catherine moved to 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, London. For the next ten years at the Hercules, according to James Joyce, “Elemental beings and spirits of dead great men often came to the poet’s room at night to speak with him about art and the imagination. Then Blake would leap out of bed, and, seizing his pencil, remain long hours in the cold London night drawing the limbs and lineaments of the visions, while his wife, curled up beside his easy chair, held his hand lovingly and kept quiet so as not to disturb the visionary ecstasy of the seer. When the vision had gone, about daybreak his wife would get back into bed, and Blake, radiant with joy and benevolence, would quickly begin to light the fire and get breakfast for the both of them. We are amazed that the symbolic beings Los and Urizen and Vala and Tiriel and Enitharmon and the shades of Milton and Homer came from their ideal world to a poor London room, and no other incense greeted their coming than the smell of East Indian tea and eggs fried in lard.”
Andy Wilson, who also smells decidedly unlike incense alongside an also exceedingly patient wife, now revisits Blake’s visionary work through the bloodshot eyescapes of 21st century London. Armed with techniques for revolutionary free improv visions developed since Blake’s time (Marxism, psychoanalysis, LSD, Photoshop), Wilson rereads Blake’s esotericism as a practical programme for liberation, uniting otherwise trivial fragments of society’s detritus into animated, throbbing life as only someone kicked out of both the SWP & the British military can. Wilson’s collages coagulate into a renewed mythopoeia, transcribing Blake’s visions onto the death throes of late capitalism, where radical subjectivity rendezvous with objective chance & explodes in kaleidoscopic class warfare. Full colour.
“The most admirable thing about the fantastic is that the fantastic doesn’t exist, everything is real.”
In this full-colour hardback, Marxist publisher Andy Wilson presents well-loved 19th century poet, artist and alleged madman William Blake in a way you’ve never seen him before. Wilson’s method here is to take extracts from Blake’s artwork and poetry, including the epic poem ‘Milton’ as well as more popular rhymes like ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘The Tyger’, and juxtapose them with modern images and texts to reveal the hidden meanings in Blake’s originals and their relevance to the modern world. As such we’re treated to passages from the likes of Freud, Reich and various leftist political thinkers, and Wilson’s own striking and colourful collage art. There is no indication int he book of where the visual material has been sourced, but much of it appears to be from popular magazines and it includes cartoon character Andy Capp as well as some of Wilson’s friends, the style consisting of a hybrid of computer generation and cut-and-paste. Blake’s texts seem to be chosen and contextualised to celebrate his radicalism, including his instinctive use of the dialectical method of observation and analysis independently of Hegel who not long before had theorised it. Andy Wilson is a bibliophile interested in books as objects of veneration for their own sake and not just for the words, and ‘The Brilliant New Hercules’ is his attempt to create a material thing of beauty. It also works very well as an introduction to the sometimes dense and difficult world of William Blake, making it more accessibel by putting it in illustrational situations which are often very funny as well as pleasant to look at. With over 200 oversized pages, this book is an authentic work of art.
Rob Dellar, for Southwark Mental Health News, 2015-v