Monday, June 3, 2013

Why William Blake?

We'll be celebrating William Blake in our next show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. opening  Friday June 28, 2013.  It's called “INNCE/EXPCE: New William-Blake-Inspired Works by Emily Brandehoff and Robert McFate,” and I came up with concept for many reasons, but mainly because I've always been in awe of Blake, both his visual and literary work, as well as his biography.  Back in 1988, when I was a sophomore at Indiana University/Purdue University in Indianapolis, I wrote a paper about Blake in an English class taught by Professor Phyllis Scherle.  She was one of those people that save your life, even though at the time you don't really recognize or understand that significance.  Soft spoken and very kind, she was my advisor.  I was a really shy, backwards kind of person, and she totally helped me understand that I could fit in at college.  I had dropped out of art school in 1984 to go to live with my mom and sister in Tennessee after my parents got divorced, and then I moved back to Indiana in 1985, did a lot of drugs and washed a lot of dishes until 1987, when I realized I had to do something or would just disappear into nothingness, maybe even die if I wasn't careful. Anyway Professor Scherle took me seriously.   Some schlep from nowhere, working full-time at Ponderosa Steakhouse and going to school full-time and feeling completely out of it.  She told me which classes to take and what books to buy, and then my sophomore year I took her English lit class, and she introduced me to William Blake.  She loved him, and this paper I wrote (see below) is sort of a love-letter both to Blake and to her.  Once she graded it, she took me aside and said she was sending it into a contest at Purdue University, and a few months later she told me it won First Prize.   There was a banquet and everything.  

This paper kind of made me realize I could win, thanks to Professor Scherle.  And reading Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience set me free.  They were poems that seem crazy-simple, beautifully and uniquely and disquietingly naive, but also wordly and complex at the same time.  Nursery rhymes that get stuck in your head, but also somehow lead you to the palace of wisdom.  Reading about Blake's life inspired me to no end as well.  He was a sort of literary/artworld curiosity when he was alive, taken seriously only to a point and often shut out of opportunities.  Or as Kathleen Raine writes in her bio of Blake:   "Considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, Blake is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work."  Here was an artist and a writer who truly created his own path, and who by remaining stubborn and dedicated to his vision outlasted most of his contemporaries.  

Professor Scherle gave me a reason to stay in school, and to keep writing, and to know that I could fit in, even if I didn't.  

She gave me Blake.

And so when we thought about Thunder-Sky, Inc.'s exhibition season for 2013,  Blake came to my mind as a sort of precursor to the kind of art and artists we want to champion and celebrate.  Then I thought of two great artists who seem to fit the bill:  Robert McFate and Emily Brandehoff.  Both  have idiosyncrasy and creativity to spare.  I also wanted to add an ancillary gig featuring works by children and older folks, who also seem dedicated to finding out what art can do and can mean, outside of buying and selling...

I'm not sure Professor Scherle is still around.  But I'm dedicating this show to her, and to anyone who champions people who seem a little "idiosyncratic."   

Here's that paper I wrote, with Professor Scherle's comments...