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Under Milk Wood

  • 3 min read

The National Museum of Wales has just announced a new exhibition ‘Llareggub: Peter Blake Illustrates Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood’ which will be on display from the 23rd of November to the 16th March 2014. This major art exhibition for the Cardiff situated museum will reveal new and unseen work by our favourite Sir Peter Blake.

Peter Blake has engaged throughout his career with popular culture and especially the music industry. Now he has applied his celebrated Pop Art aesthetic to literature and the Dylan Thomas play ‘Under Milk Wood’ (1953). His illustration of Thomas’ “play of voices” is one of his longest outstanding ongoing projects. In a 2010 interview, he divulged, “I have a very comfortable desk in the sitting room and I sit with my back to the television – although if the football is on, I’ll turn round to watch the goal when they play it again - and cut things out or do illustrations for Under Milk Wood. It’s how I relax.”

Whilst Peter Blake is continuing to work on illustrating every character, dream, scene and location, preparations are being made for the exhibition which will launch a year-long festival in 2014 marking the centenary of the birth of the famous Swansea poet Dylan Thomas. The exhibition will feature over 200 watercolour illustrations, “narratives and locations” in a mix of media including collage, black and white pencil drawings and photographs that Blake took himself in Laugharne in the 1970s.

Blake is a longstanding admirer of Dylan Thomas. He remembers hearing the radio play ‘Under Milk Wood’ while at the Royal Collage and has remained fascinated by the production, “I still love it and still play a recording of it at least twice a week. I get new things all the time, even now.” Blake has been engaged with this thespian project for over two decades, “I’ve been working on this collection of illustrations for a long time, about 25 years I think, so it’s great that it’s going to be displayed at National Museum Cardiff for visitors to see.

‘Under Milk Wood’ is a wonderful mid-century radio drama by Dylan Thomas, which was later adapted as a stage play and had its first stage reading six months before the writer’s death at the age of 39 in 1953. The poetic piece interweaves the thoughts and words of upwards of 60 characters (hence Blake’s multitude of illustrative portraits) over one day in a small fictional Welsh fishing town called ‘Llareggub’. It opens with all of the inhabitants asleep and the narrator informing the audience that they are witnessing the citizen’s dreams. Now these dreams will be brought to life, not only through Thomas’ word but with the aid of Peter’s pictures.

Oliver Fairclough, the Keeper of Art at the National Museum of Wales, said, “The exhibition will be a ground-breaking, experimental, show of the highest quality that combines unique visual images with the spoken word. Blake has a fascinating history of working with museums and of inspiring audiences and I’m sure this exceptional exhibition will have a major impact on new and existing visitors to the Museum.”
The exhibition will also feature a portrait of Dylan Thomas by Augusts Edwin John (1937-1938). John met Dylan Thomas at the Fitzroy Tavern, probably in 1935, and introduced him to Caitlin MacNamara, whom he married in 1937. John recalled, “I got him to sit for me twice, the second portrait being the more successful: provided with a bottle of beer he sat very patiently.”

This celebration of Dylan Thomas’ most enduring work will bring together Blake’s Swinging Sixties credentials and contemporary Pop Art aesthetic with the mid-century poetry of Llareggub, Thomas’ sleepy Welsh wonder. The legendary artist’s illustrations of Thomas’ famous words will offer a multi- sensory story and a brilliant new body of work, 25 years in the making.

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