Joy & Woe are Woven Fine

Joy, Etching 2020

Thank you to Sheila for asking for the story behind my etching joy. It’s been quite a feat to trace the original copper plate, which is the mirror of the printed details shown below.

In 2000, I was invited to contribute a work to an exhibition ‘Blake’s Heaven’ held at Scholar Fine Art, Piccadilly. This first impression of ‘Joy & Woe are Woven Fine’ was bought by the gallery owner as a leaving gift for the member of staff who had looked after the exhibition. I was delighted she had chosen it from the works on display that she’d come to know well over the weeks. As well as work by some contemporary artists there was a landscape piece by Paul Nash, Biblical engravings by David Jones and visionary imaginative drawings by Cecil Collins. The exhibition was to coincide with a retrospective of William Blake’s work at Tate Britain.

Joy and Woe are Woven Fine

The copper plate etching was carried with me on a first trip to Ireland, near Allihies on the Beara Peninsula in County Cork. On the western coast of Ireland, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean there is a rugged coastline and hilly fields. I drew outside, once propping the copper plate on a sea wall. A passer by pointed to a hill nearby explaining that the hills had copper in them. I was pleased to learn about the copper mining heritage and felt the connection of the copper plate in my hands and the copper I now knew to be underground.

Cormac and Aoife, the children of friends I was staying with, were experiencing their Summer Holidays so were freely clambering on the rocks, creating music, swimming and reading. With the family there was much poetry reading and writing, painting and drawing and time in the town. I swim under the swirling sea for the first time with a snorkel and found the experience a visual wonder.

For three weeks I worked on the plate drawing from the array of surrounding experiences, and read from the collected poems of Blake, the two thread in the work are woven. The original title ‘Joy & Woe are woven fine’, later shortened to ‘Joy’ as it was a very happy time, are Blake’s lines, the next being ‘Clothing for the soul divine’. The sentiment rings true to me, not just as a truism of emotional life, but in particular the life of the artist; creative life.

The image, simply having the two subjects of a summer visit and reading Blake is the interweaving of experience of things I saw, heard, understood and imagined within that time. I’ve listed some insights after the collect of details from the print.

Aoife played the tin whistle. The music could be seen like marks on rocks and lapping fire. Cormac looked from a rock deep under the sea, long Summer days and starry evenings, a sheep edged the grass. A world bubble, a sky bubble.