Stephen Chambers | Two Black Angels (after Blake), 2007


Stephen Chambers is best known for his portrayal of strange, fictitious scenarios. The artist’s compositions habitually invite enquiry as to the circumstances of the uncanny narratives which they explore; most defy logic, using dreamlike interiors and alien topographies to bewilder the viewer. As such, the artist’s explicit reference to William Blake – the eighteenth-century poet, painter and printmaker – in Two Black Angels (after Blake) is not unexpected, as Blake was renowned for his advocacy of imagination over scientific observation. Two Black Angels can be understood as a reference to Blake’s Night, a poem from his 1789 collection Songs of Innocence.

Night parallels the onset of darkness with the onset of evil, with angels safeguarding the living from harm. In Chambers’ scene, as the sun sets in the east, one angel veers to the left while another is carried towards the viewer atop the shoulders of a mysterious figure. The scene is partially obstructed by trees, in a manner not dissimilar to Blake’s own hand-painted print of Night, made in 1826. The use of concealment adds to the liminal, dreamlike quality of the painting: balanced between day and night, the natural and the supernatural, bright hues and blackness.

Chambers has spoken of his admiration for Blake’s imagination: “Images brewed in his brain, poured down his arm, and spilt onto plate or paper. Doing what he could not help but do; that is where individuality lies.” Depicting the uncertain boundary between the human and the divine, where the celestial and the terrestrial seem to coexist, Two Black Angels represents an observed response to Blake, “they are, so to say, a silent conversation, a one-way love letter.”

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