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.”

Dit­to poet Michael McClure, though in his case, Bob Dylan’s “Gates of Eden” served as some­thing of a medi­um:

I had the idea that I was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing, that it was William Blake’s voice com­ing out of the walls and I stood up and put my hands on the walls and they were vibrat­ing.

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:

Whether we use it to cre­ate or destroy—it’s the same ener­gy. The prac­tice of art can turn a per­son from a van­dal to a builder!

More recent­ly, the Tate gave direc­tor Sam Gains­bor­ough access to super high-res imagery of Blake’s orig­i­nal paint­ings, in order to cre­ate a pro­mo for last year’s block­buster exhi­bi­tion.

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.

Sey­mour Mil­ton’s orig­i­nal music and Jas­mine Black­borow’s nar­ra­tion of excerpts from Blake’s poem “Auguries of Inno­cence” seem to antic­i­pate the fraught cur­rent moment, as does the entire poem:

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Enter an Archive of William Blake’s Fan­tas­ti­cal “Illu­mi­nat­ed Books”: The Images Are Sub­lime, and in High Res­o­lu­tion

William Blake Illus­trates Mary Wollstonecraft’s Work of Children’s Lit­er­a­ture, Orig­i­nal Sto­ries from Real Life (1791)

William Blake’s Mas­ter­piece Illus­tra­tions of the Book of Job (1793–1827)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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