The following is an excerpt from "In My View," edited by Simon Grant [Thames & Hudson, $40.00] in which French artist Annette Messager reflects on William Blake's impact on her work.
When I discovered the works of William Blake, which was around the end of the 1970s, a new world of sense suddenly opened up to me. I felt so close to Blake’s world and yet, at the same time, I was almost jealous of his work.
Blake is, for me, both a child and an old man. "Songs of Innocence and of Experience" — the child who marvels at everything and the man tortured throughout his life by mystical insights, death, decay and pessimism. The true artist! He said: "The imagination is not a state. It is the human existence itself."
Blake’s drawings are both joyful and melancholic, light and sad. His works — text and images — become interwoven poetically into his poems. The game that he plays between words and images also makes me think of Edward Lear’s very funny Nonsense rhymes and pictures, which I love. This complete world has always stimulated me.
I feel that Blake does not seem to relate to a particular period or a specific time — in the same way that children’s drawings or artworks made by ‘outsider’ artists seem not to. But at the same time Blake was a visionary. His work is beyond time. It is beyond past, present and future.
In my series of works from 1988 called My Trophies, I took blown-up black-and-white photographs of the human body and separated them into the constituent parts — eyes, ears, hands, neck. I made the parts look like a landscape or a geographical map. On top of these I added watercolours and coloured pencil drawings, many of which were inspired by William Blake. They featured trees, children flitting around, animals and fantasy characters. (Blake created a character that he called The Ghost of a Flea, did he not?) I like thinking of this maxim of Blake’s that I found and have made my own: "Without Contraries is no progression".
In case you've never seen William Blake's poetry accompanied by his drawings, check out the first few pages of "Songs of Innocence and Experience":