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Putting Blake back on Lambeth's streets


Lambeth residents read extracts from two famous Blake poems

A long-running project to install mosaics inspired by the works of William Blake is finally coming to fruition on the streets of Lambeth, where the visionary writer and artist used to live over two hundred years ago.

The 24 mosaics along Centaur Street, underneath a railway tunnel, are each accompanied by sound boxes of Blake's poems read by local residents, including one contribution from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

David Tootill is the artistic director of Southbank Mosaics, the community enterprise group, which has overseen the two-year project.

"William Blake wanted his work enlarged and put into the public because he thought it should get a wider audience," says David. "We have picked up on that and fulfilled his wish."

Project Blake

The scheme has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and adds to an existing collection of William Blake works created by Southbank Mosaics over the years. There will be 36 in total on Centaur Street and in nearby Carlisle Lane.

David Tootill
David says Blake wanted his work displayed in public

"We've worked a lot with young people in schools, letting them know that this major artist lived in their neighbourhood. Local residents have come in and helped us. The whole thing has been a community effort."

About 120 people have been directly involved in making the mosaics, and a further 100 took part in the readings for the sound boxes. It is hoped that up to 30,000 people per year will see the permanent exhibition.

"Mosaic is such a tough medium that it can go on the street without risk of being damaged, it's 24/7 and it's free; everybody can see it, touch it, and interact with it," says David.

Blake's legacy

William Blake lived in Hercules Road, north Lambeth, from 1790 to 1800, which was arguably the most important and productive period of his life.

William Blake Mosaics
Work on the final Blake mosaic

David Tootill on Blake's legacy:

"He united the visual and literary traditions. He was an etcher, illustrator, an innovator and an inventor - he invented a new way of printing - he was a painter, an artist, a visionary and of course a poet."

"Although his work has gone up and down in terms of popularity he is very widely recognised as a major artist."

"He is hugely influential, particularly with songwriters, people like Jim Morrison from the Doors, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith."

Southbank Mosaics

Southbank Mosaics was set up in February 2004 to 'make London more beautiful and to work with groups who are at risk of marginalisation.'

As well as local artists, volunteers and school groups, David works with young and ex-offenders to help them develop their creative talents.

Southbank Mosaics
Southbank Mosaics was set up in 2004

"Mosaic is this wonderful variety of colours, images and patterns that can be put together," says David.

"It's very durable and it does seem like London in many respects: So many people and so many cultures coming together and making something very special."

10 things to know about William Blake
09 Jun 09 |  Arts & Culture


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