Emma Geliot's picture

Detail from Women's Welfare hoofing, bloomered, in the moon. Courtesy of Sir Peter Blake.

Have you ever wondered what Sir Peter Blake, the UK's greatest living pop artist, does when he gets home from the studio after a hard day crafting iconic visual motifs? Well now we have some idea it seems; he listens to Dylan Thomas' play for voices, Under Milk Wood before responding to the poet's vibrant prose whilst he sitting down with his wife in front of the television. The resultant body of work, consisting of 170 collages, watercolours and drawings, has been brought together by Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Cardiff; it is the opening event of the year long Dylan Thomas 100 festival. The pieces are not so much grandiose visual statements as they are intimate whispers, each with reedily scrawled lines from the play incised at the base of their jewel-like pages.

For Blake this affection for Under Milk Wood is no one night stand, it is a 28 year affair with every word that dropped from the poet's lips. Even when Blake draws straight he is seeing crooked; he is a conduit for the immediate, an appropriator of the ordinary and a channeler of the every day. Everything he comes across it seems, is press-ganged into the service of his very particular vision of Llareggub, the imaginary West Walian village and the setting for Thomas play.

Slow Clocks. Courtesy of Sir Peter Blake

Blake divides his work into three categories; the dream sequences at the beginning of Under Milk Wood are rendered in glowing watercolour. Then there are the portraits consisting of 60 pencil drawings representing each of the characters; these are carved from the paper, almost as bas-relief, by Blake's razor sharp pencil. The faces are identikit conflations drawn from public and personal recollections: Rosie Probert is a disguised Elizabeth Taylor; Humphrey Bogart, (with last minute moustache), makes an appearance as Second Voice; Terry Wogan has had a sex change, there is even, upon close inspection, a very young Billy Piper present. The blind Captain Cat sports Blake's own beard.

The portraits, taken individually, lack the lyrically expressive line of a Frank Brangwyn or the dynamic, Devil-may-care freedom of an Aneurin Jones. They do not reproduce well in the catalogue either; there is simply no sense of their biting physicality. They are 'outsider' and obsessively detailed, but that is Sir Peter Blake all over and, taken as a series, that is their strength. The stars of the show are undoubtedly the final category, the topographical ephemera; minute surreal collages that possess the strangeness of Goya's Disasters of War. So perhaps it s with scissors, rather than with pencil, that Blake truly excels. Ric Bower

Llareggub: Peter Blake illustrates Dylan Thomas s Under Milk Wood is showing at Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Cardiff until 16 March2014. www.museumwales.ac.uk


Images(top): Detail from Women's Welfare hoofing, bloomered, in the moon. Courtesy of Sir Peter Blake. ( Middle): Slow Clocks. Courtesy of Sir Peter Blake