William Blake (1757-1827) was an artist who worked in print media and paint, and often combined the two in his own self-published books. Within these he
elaborated a deep and complex mythology ostensibly based on the Bible, but which represented a highly original system of philosophy.
Blake studied and exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art and was friends with some of the important artists of the day, who yet he was little appreciated in his own time. This changed much throughout the twentieth century, and in the twenty-first century a group of London mosaic artists decided to reveal him to in the public.
Located next to Waterloo Station, and not far from where Blake formerly lived, Southbank Mosaics is a social enterprise whose first big effort was focused on his works. In particular, they wanted to recreate and amplify the ones he created while living in Lambeth, such as ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.
They proceeded to take some of the tiny images that Blake had printed and hand coloured and enlarged them greatly to transform them into large mosaics. The Project Blake series can be found hanging in the railway underpasses close to where William Blake lived in Lambeth for about ten years. An unfortunate decision by the local council saw Blake's house demolished... it was still standing there in the early 20th century.
Fortunately, these mosaics maintain Blake's presence in the area. Interestingly, people who live nearby have commented that the rather dark aggressive railway underpasses, which were formerly places they were afraid of passing through, have been transformed by this art into places that they now enjoy traversing, and they even take others with them to show them the mosaics.
The second grand project of the group was a large-scale work known as the Queenhithe Mosaic, their London timeline project. This extensive, outdoor mosaic tells the story of London, beginning with the arrival of the Romans two thousand years ago. It runs through all the major figures and events right up to today. From Roman Londinium, Queen Boudica and Emperor Hadrian, to the arrival of the Saxons, the Norman Conquest, as well as the plague, Shakespeare, the Great Fire and the World Wars, it makes a fascinating account of the life of London.
It is one of the largest mosaics in the city, and can be found along the riverside pathway just a bit east of the Millennium Bridge, so almost opposite the Tate Modern. You may come across its striding length on a walk along the northern embankment, and if so you can walk alongside and enjoy this thoughtful blend of art and history.
By Gregory Edwards, Tutor at OISE London