OTHERWORDLY BRITISH ART

William Blake - Ancient of Days

William Blake – Ancient of Days (1794)

If someone told you they were a ‘visionary’ or ‘psychic’ artist by trade, chances very well are that your mind would flash with sudden images of that individual holed up all summer in a wooden Renaissance faire booth, mumbling and sketching in mescaline-sparked trances, and swinging amethyst crystal pendulums over blank canvasses while garbed in a batik sarong and a t-shirt so worn-in that its graphic of a fierce wizard battle is beginning to fade.

Okay, so perhaps those are the figments that would flood my imagination if an artist told me they moonlighted as a spiritual medium. Before things become too hippie-dippy over here, I’ll clarify what psychic or visionary art is truly considered to be.

This ethereal artistic genre has concrete links to the religious history of Spiritualism, Spiritism, and Higher Spiritualism—three faiths which share associated beliefs which regard the phenomenon of nature, in all its physical and spiritual manifestations, as the expression of Infinite Intelligence. It is held that an individual’s personality and existence continues to develop after the change, not finite end, which we so cheerily call death.  Each of these three religions depend on the aid of mediums and psychics apparently attuned to other realms who act a bit like spiritual bike-messengers between the living and allegedly dead.  Through traditional artistic techniques like painting and drawing, mediums are believed to be able to channel irrefutable visual imagery of spirit guides and departed ancestors directly from their perceptive ‘organs of imagination’ to sketchpads and canvasses.

Imagery associated with visionary or spiritual art cannot be very neatly categorised, but common iconography is generally interpretive, and includes scenes and symbols drawn from pagan myth, Arthurian legend, futuristic utopias, unearthly dystopias, incarnations of divine light, and auras and energy fields only perceptible to those who entertain a special degree of clairvoyance(1).

Read on to learn about some of Britain’s finest fore-seeing artistic souls, beginning with one very Romantic oldie-but-goodie.

William Blake

William Blake (1757 – 1827)

“You know, dear, the first time you saw God was when you were four years old, and He put His head to the window and set you screaming,” William Blake’s wife reminded him in old age, in the presence of one Mr. Crabb Robinson.

This charmingly crude anecdotal snippet, as told by Mrs. Blake, bears weighty testimony to the fact visionary capabilities supposedly developed extremely early on in Blake’s youth.  Folklore states one mild morning, having rambled far afield into the flora of the Dulwich countryside, as was his habit, Blake glimpsed a tree rooted in a meadow amongst whose branches glistening angels clustered and sang harmoniously chilling hymns.

William Blake - Milton's Mysterious Dream (1820)

William Blake – Milton’s Mysterious Dream (1820)

Perhaps, as one of Blake’s critics suggests, Nature herself was the basis of the mystical splendour he saw, though he was all unwitting of it. Standing beneath a tree rich with silken pink blossoms, and gazing up into the rosy gloom, Blake could have taken this pulsating beauty for a miracle.

To the world of his own time Blake appeared unhinged, a man whose now-lauded poetry attracted a few of the rarer minds of the age, but whose metaphysical paintings and drawings were rather unknown. His genius, atmosphere, and modes of thought were antipathetic to his age, and his aims and achievement proved so difficult to understand from the point of view of that day, that he was summarily set down as mad.

William Blake - The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (1805)

William Blake – The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (1805)

William Blake - Jacob's Ladder (1806)

William Blake – Jacob’s Ladder (1806)

Blake lived very near the veil which shrouds the great unexplored and often suspected spiritual forces. Death seemed to him but the “passing from one room to another.” From beyond the ungraspable partition instantaneous and intensely-hued visions were projected into Blake’s consciousness, and he claimed such sights seldom morphed or dulled until he had transferred them impeccably from mind’s eye to paper(2).

 

 

Madge Gill

Madge Gill (1882-1961)

If you’ve never heard of Madge before, be very glad you stumbled across Saatchi Gallery’s Art Blog at this juncture in time and space.

Without a speck of proper training or conceited hopes for distinction, Madge Gill produced thousands of secretive and stowed-away ink drawings during her lifetime. Her work, scratched furiously across everything from scraps of cardstock to scrolls measuring metres in length, pools across the vision in thin coloured threads of ink.

Madge Gill

Madge was known for entering frenetic trancelike states which terrified her young boys, popping in her glass eye, and drawing incessantly throughout the day and night in her modest flat in London’s East End. Her sons recalled that she would also carry on in frightful binges of other inspired creative activity, including knitting and piano playing. Coming to their senses as young adults, and embracing their mother’s unquestionably bizarre aptitudes, Madge’s sons custom-built her a remarkably elongated wooden drawing table, upon which she could doodle tenaciously along extensive scrolls of paper—some of which reached nine metres in length– without having to pause so often to unravel more workable surface area.  Even the Blitzkrieg and its hailstorms of fire and shrapnel that ravaged her cobbled street didn’t deter Madge from churning out sheets of intricate, geometric, and quite gorgeous pen scribbles.

One of the most striking qualities of her work is its haunted-ness by a mostly unvarying outlined female face, a countenance anchored by wide, vacuous eyes, accented with tiny puckering lips, and framed by clods of pale chopped hair.

Madge Gill

Madge Gill

Madge Gill

Who is she?

Some claim that this is the visage of Madge’s beloved spirit guide and incorporeal artistic advisor, Myrninerest, who the artist believed was the force driving her fruitful output, and therefore its true maker and owner. Interestingly, it is Myrninerest’s signature, not Madge’s, scrawled across many completed illustrations– which were never sold within her lifetime, but later excavated from crammed disarray under an aged mattress.

 - guest blogger, Emily A. Seaman

 

1 “Brief History of Spiritual Psychic Art”, History, Spiritual Psychic Art.com: http://spiritualpsychicart.com/history.html#VArtists

2 Irene Langridge, William Blake, e-book by Project Gutenberg, 2011: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/37407/37407-h/37407-h.htm

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