Global Blake
Global Blake: Jonathan Gross
Jonathan Gross explores Blake’s influence on the Mexican artist, Jose Clemente Orozco, and NYC graffiti.

My essay argues for Blake’s influence on Jose Clemente Orozco’s “The Gods of the Modern World”, panel 17 of his mural "The Epic of American Civilization” (1934). This Dartmouth college mural reflects Blakean themes of the limits of Newtonian and Urizenic knowledge by depicting a woman giving birth to a stillborn child on a pile of books, as menacing academic figures look on.  By discussing racial themes and the slave trade in such works as America: A Prophecy. William Blake anticipated Orozco’s mural.  Orozco also influenced the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock, that quintessential American artist, who traveled to Dartmouth College to view Orozco’s mural in 1936.  I close by considering graffiti trains in New York city, especially hand ball courts by Lee Quinones (Lee) and “The Death of Graffiti” (1982) by Sandra Fabara  as Blakean expressions of artistic self-determination in an increasingly homogenized world. I argue that Blake’s hand-written poems, engraved on copper, anticipate NYC experiments in fonts such as wildstyle, which turned technology into a “museum on wheels”.

Using Blake’s “London” as my guide, I argue for William Blake as a prophet, anticipating the late 20th century artist’s confrontation with the mind-forged manacles of government.  Compare Orozco’s “The Departure of Quetzalcoatl” and Blake’s ”The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins”, for example. In both works, robed figures point towards the future, recalling the Book of Daniel. “In`The Departure of Quetzalcoatl’ panel,” Mary Coffey argues, “Orozco models the Toltecan god after Christian prototypes drawn from European artists, such as Michelangelo’s depiction of God the Father on the Sistine ceiling or the less well known images of Moses and Job drawn by William Blake” (27).  Coffey ties together the themes I explore in my paper, comparing Blake’s working-class radicalism with the anarcho-syndicalism of Orozco. Alejandro Andreus’ Orozco in Gringoland: The Years in New York goes so far as to trace Orozco’s fresco “Omniciencia” (1925) to Blake, who was “much admired among theistic anarchists”.

Jonathan Gross is Professor in the Department of English at DePaul University and Joint-President of the Byron Society.  He is the author of Byron: the Erotic Liberal (Rowman, 2001) and the Life of Anne Damer (Rowman, 2012), and editor of Byron’s Corbeau Blanc: the Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne (Rice U P, 1997), Thomas Jefferson’s Scrapbooks (Steerforth, 2006), Emma, or the Unfortunate Attachment (SUNY), The Sylph (Northwestern), and Belmour (Northwestern).  His essays have appeared in Philological Quarterly, Studies in English Literature, and the Wilson Quarterly. A former Director of the Humanities Center at DePaul (2007-2012), he received a Fulbright to teach at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2014.  He has won fellowships at the American Antiquarian Society, the Lewis Walpole library at Yale, and the Virginia Foundation in the Humanities.  He has lectured on poetry in London, Gdansk, Athens, and Prague, among other cities, and has also released a CD with Brilliance Audio, entitled “The Harlem Renaissance Remembered.”  His play, “Graffiti Kings”, was performed at Stage 773 (2019) and at the Old Town School of Folk Music  (2015).