"Blake was a nonconformist who associated with some of the leading radical thinkers of his day, such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. In defiance of 18th-century neoclassical conventions, he privileged imagination over reason in the creation of both his poetry and images, asserting that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. He declared in one poem, "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's." Works such as "The French Revolution" (1791), "America, a Prophecy" (1793), "Visions of the Daughters of Albion" (1793), and "Europe, a Prophecy" (1794) express his opposition to the English monarchy, and to 18th-century political and social tyranny in general. Theological tyranny is the subject of The Book of Urizen (1794). In the prose work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), he satirized oppressive authority in church and state, as well as the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher whose ideas once attracted his interest."
Blake's identity both as a consummate artist and a fringe-dweller is one of the first examples of a "self-taught/visionary/outsider" artist becoming canonized in Western culture. He wasn't appreciated during his lifetime, however, and decades after his death his work was re-discovered by artists and writers. Eventually he would be seen as a forebear to Surrealism, 1960s counter-culture, and the ascendancy of "graphic novels" as a viable art-form. People who revere him include: Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsburg, Jim Morrison, Aldous Huxley, and Van Morrison, just to name a few.
When pulling together exhibit ideas, we always try to find historical connections and echoes in order to better understand how artworks made by unconventional people are often not understood at the time of their making because of the cultural noise and drone. Blake is a prime example of an artist not understood until well after he was gone. In fact, his energy and spark seemed to come from a singular dedication to visions that contradicted the ideas and even morals of his times.
"INNCE/EXPCE: New William-Blake-Inspired Works by Emily Brandehoff and Robert McFate" uses Blake's beautifully complicated weirdness and craft as a jumping off point for two artists who are unconventional, operating outside of mainstream culture while also contributing to it. Cincinnati-based Brandehoff paints visions of ghastliness with a sidecar of gut-level black humor. McFate, from Pikeville, Tennessee, is a folk artist extraordinaire whose paintings, drawings and sculptures have an innocence backed up by backwoods wisdom. We selected these two artists to take a look at Blake’s classic bipolar poetic epic, Songs of Innocence and Experience, a cycle of gorgeously illuminated poems that sees the world both as a ghastly garden and an Edenic one. The results are contemporary paintings and drawings that use Blake’s wondrous imagination to go back to the future. Also, as both an embellishment and a sort of allegory to correspond with the main show, we've pulled together works by Opening Minds through Art, a program from Miami University that fosters art-making relationships among college students and elderly people, as well as works by kids from Suzanne Nall's art class at Parker Woods Montessori a few blocks down from Thunder-Sky, Inc. These paintings and drawings symbolize "innocence and experience" in different, surprising ways, and also pay homage to one of Blake's most quoted statements: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is: infinite."
For more infomation about Blake's life and art: Poets.org.