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William Blake’s Paintings Come to Life in Two Animations

William Blake’s Paintings Come to Life in Two Animations

The poet and painter William Blake toiled in obscurity, for the most part, and died in poverty.

Twenty some years after his death, his rebellious spirit gained traction with the Pre-Raphaelites.

By the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Blake was ripe to be venerated as a counter-cultural hero, for having flown in the face of convention, while championing gender and racial equality, nature, and free love.

Reclining half-naked on a “a fabulous couch in Harlem,” poet Allen Ginsburg had a hallucinatory encounter wherein Blake recited to him “in earthen measure.”

Blake’s work (and world view) continues to exert enormous influence on graphic noveliststheatermakers, and creatives of every stripe.

He’s also a dab hand at animation, collaborating from beyond the grave.

The short above, a commission for a late ‘70s Blake exhibition at The Tate, envisions a roundtrip journey from Heaven to Hell. Animator Sheila Graber parked herself in the Sculpture Hall to create it in public view, pairing Blake’s line “Energy is Eternal delight” with a personal observation:

Gainsborough and animator Renaldho Pelle worked together to bring the chosen works to life, frame by frame, against a series of London buildings and streets that were well known to Blake himself.

The film opens with Blake’s Ghost of a Flea emerging from the walls of Broadwick Street, where its creator was born, then stalking off, bowl in hand, ceding the screen to God, The Ancient of Days, whose reach spreads like ink across the gritty facade of a white brick edifice.

Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

A Robin Red breast in a Cage

Puts all Heaven in a Rage 

A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons

Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions 

A dog starvd at his Masters Gate

Predicts the ruin of the State 

A Horse misusd upon the Road

Calls to Heaven for Human blood 

Each outcry of the hunted Hare

A fibre from the Brain does tear 

A Skylark wounded in the wing 

A Cherubim does cease to sing 

The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight

Does the Rising Sun affright 

Every Wolfs & Lions howl

Raises from Hell a Human Soul 

The wild deer, wandring here & there 

Keeps the Human Soul from Care 

The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife

And yet forgives the Butchers knife 

The Bat that flits at close of Eve

Has left the Brain that wont Believe

The Owl that calls upon the Night

Speaks the Unbelievers fright

He who shall hurt the little Wren

Shall never be belovd by Men 

He who the Ox to wrath has movd

Shall never be by Woman lovd

The wanton Boy that kills the Fly

Shall feel the Spiders enmity 

He who torments the Chafers Sprite

Weaves a Bower in endless Night 

The Catterpiller on the Leaf

Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief 

Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly 

For the Last Judgment draweth nigh 

He who shall train the Horse to War

Shall never pass the Polar Bar 

The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat 

Feed them & thou wilt grow fat 

The Gnat that sings his Summers Song

Poison gets from Slanders tongue 

The poison of the Snake & Newt

Is the sweat of Envys Foot 

The poison of the Honey Bee

Is the Artists Jealousy

The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags

Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags 

A Truth thats told with bad intent

Beats all the Lies you can invent 

It is right it should be so 

Man was made for Joy & Woe 

And when this we rightly know 

Thro the World we safely go 

Joy & Woe are woven fine 

A Clothing for the soul divine 

Under every grief & pine

Runs a joy with silken twine 

The Babe is more than swadling Bands

Throughout all these Human Lands

Tools were made & Born were hands 

Every Farmer Understands

Every Tear from Every Eye

Becomes a Babe in Eternity 

This is caught by Females bright

And returnd to its own delight 

The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar 

Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore 

The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath

Writes Revenge in realms of Death 

The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air

Does to Rags the Heavens tear 

The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun 

Palsied strikes the Summers Sun

The poor Mans Farthing is worth more

Than all the Gold on Africs Shore

One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands

Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands 

Or if protected from on high 

Does that whole Nation sell & buy 

He who mocks the Infants Faith

Shall be mockd in Age & Death 

He who shall teach the Child to Doubt

The rotting Grave shall neer get out 

He who respects the Infants faith

Triumphs over Hell & Death 

The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons

Are the Fruits of the Two seasons 

The Questioner who sits so sly 

Shall never know how to Reply 

He who replies to words of Doubt

Doth put the Light of Knowledge out 

The Strongest Poison ever known

Came from Caesars Laurel Crown 

Nought can Deform the Human Race

Like to the Armours iron brace 

When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow

To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow 

A Riddle or the Crickets Cry

Is to Doubt a fit Reply 

The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile

Make Lame Philosophy to smile 

He who Doubts from what he sees

Will neer Believe do what you Please 

If the Sun & Moon should Doubt 

Theyd immediately Go out 

To be in a Passion you Good may Do 

But no Good if a Passion is in you 

The Whore & Gambler by the State

Licencd build that Nations Fate 

The Harlots cry from Street to Street 

Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet 

The Winners Shout the Losers Curse 

Dance before dead Englands Hearse 

Every Night & every Morn

Some to Misery are Born 

Every Morn and every Night

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to Endless Night 

We are led to Believe a Lie

When we see not Thro the Eye

Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night 

When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 

God Appears & God is Light

To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 

But does a Human Form Display

To those who Dwell in Realms of day

John Trumbull’s Famous 1818 Painting Declaration of Independence Virtually Defaced to Show Which Founding Fathers Owned Slaves

John Trumbull’s Famous 1818 Painting Declaration of Independence Virtually Defaced to Show Which Founding Fathers Owned Slaves

Statues of slaveholders and their defenders are falling all over the U.S., and a lot of people are distraught. What’s next? Mount Rushmore? Well… maybe no one’s likely to blow it up, but some honesty about the “extremely racist” history of Mount Rushmore might make one think twice about using it as a limit case.

On the other hand, a sandblasting of the enormous Klan monument in Stone Mountain, Georgia—created earlier by Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum—seems long overdue.

We are learning a lot about the history of these monuments and the people they represent, more than any of us Americans learned in our early education. But we still hear the usual defense that slaveholders were only men of their time—many were good, pious, and gentle and knew no better (or they agonized over the question but, you know, everyone was doing it….) People subjected to the violence and horror of slavery mostly tended to disagree.

Before the Haitian Revolution terrified the slaveholding South, many prominent slaveholders, Jefferson and Washington included, expressed intellectual and moral disgust with slavery. They could not consider abolition, however (though Washington freed his slaves in his will). There was too much profit in the enterprise. As Jefferson himself wrote, “It [would] never do to destroy the goose.”

What we see when we look at the Revolutionary period is the fatal irony of a republic based on ideals of liberty, founded mostly by men who kept millions of people enslaved. The point is made vividly above in a virtual defacement of Declaration of Independence, John Trumbull’s famous 1818 painting which hangs in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. All of the founders’ faces blotted out by red dots were slaveowners. Only the few in yellow in the corresponding image freed the the people they enslaved.

These images were not made in this current summer of national uprisings but in August of 2019, “a bloody month that saw 53 people die in mass shootings in the US,” notes Hyperallergic. Their creator, Arlen Parsa sought to make a different point about the Second Amendment, but wrote forcefully about the founders’ enslaving of others. “There were no gentle slaveholders,” writes Parsa. “Countless children were born into slavery and died after a relatively short lifespan never knowing freedom for even a minute.” Many of those children were fathered by their owners.

Some founding fathers paid lip service to the idea of slavery as a blight because it was obvious that kidnapping and enslaving people contradicted democratic principles. Slavery happened to be the primary metaphor used by Enlightenment philosophers and their colonial readers to characterize the tyrannical monarchism they opposed. The philosopher John Locke wrote slavery into the constitution of the Carolina colony, and profited from it through owning stock in the Royal African Company. Yet by his later, hugely influential Two Treatises, he had come to see hereditary slavery as “so vile and miserable an estate of man… that ‘tis hardly to be conceived” that anyone could uphold it.

There were, of course, slaveholding founders who resisted such talk and felt no compunction about how they made their money. But lofty principles or no, the U.S. founders were often on the defensive against non-slaveholding colleagues, who scolded and attacked them, sometimes with frank references to the rapes of enslaved women and girls. These criticisms were so common that Thomas Paine could write the case for slavery had been “sufficiently disproved” when he published a 1775 tract denouncing it and calling for its immediate end:

The managers of [the slave trade] testify that many of these African nations inhabit fertile countries, are industrious farmers, enjoy plenty and lived quietly, averse to war, before the Europeans debauched them with liquors… By such wicked and inhuman ways, the English are said to enslave towards 100,000 yearly, of which 30,000 are supposed to die by barbarous treatment in the first year…

So monstrous is the making and keeping them slaves at all… and the many evils attending the practice, [such] as selling husbands away from wives, children from parents and from each other, in violation of sacred and natural ties; and opening the way for adulteries, incests and many shocking consequences, for all of which the guilty masters must answer to the final judge…

The chief design of this paper is not to disprove [slavery], which many have sufficiently done, but to entreat Americans to consider:

With that consistency… they complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundred thousands in slavery and annually enslave many thousands more, without any pretence of authority or claim upon them.

Jefferson squared his theory of liberty with his practice of slavery by picking up the fad of scientific racism sweeping Europe at the time, in which philosophers who profited, or whose patrons and nations profited, from the slave trade began to coincidentally discover evidence that enslaving Africans was only natural. We should know by now what happens when racism guides science….

Maybe turning those who willfully perpetuated the country’s most intractable, damning crime against humanity into civic saints no longer serves the U.S., if it ever did. Maybe elevating the founders to the status of religious figures has produced a widespread historical ignorance and a very specific kind of nationalism that are no longer tenable. Younger and future generations will settle these questions their own way, as they sort through the mess their elders have left them. As Locke also argued, in a paraphrase from American History professor Holly Brewer, “people do not have to obey a government that no longer protects them, and the consent of an ancestor does not bind the descendants: each generation must consent for itself.”

via Hyperallergic

Related Content:

What the Textbooks Don’t Tell Us About The Atlantic Slave Trade: An Animated Video Fills In Historical Gaps

The Names of 1.8 Million Emancipated Slaves Are Now Searchable in the World’s Largest Genealogical Database, Helping African Americans Find Lost Ancestors

The Atlantic Slave Trade Visualized in Two Minutes: 10 Million Lives, 20,000 Voyages, Over 315 Years

The “Slave Bible” Removed Key Biblical Passages In Order to Legitimize Slavery & Discourage a Slave Rebellion (1807)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Flix in Venezuela

Flix in Venezuela

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