The impressive series, which Blake has passionately pursued for more than 40 years, features 170 pieces, illustrating Dylan Thomas’s seminal 1953, ‘play for voices’.
Here is everything you need to know about the exhibition, and why it’s simply unmissable for any self-respecting Peter Blake fan.
A life’s work
The first time that Peter Blake heard Under Milk Wood was back in 1954, when he was a student at the Royal College of Art, and the play was broadcast over the radio. However, it wasn’t until 1979, a full quarter of a century later, that the artist decided to create a set of illustrations based on the play.
Over the subsequent 40 years since that decision was made, Blake has taken on and abandoned the project multiple times, before finally really knuckling down with it in the 1990s. Blake explains his approach:
"As soon as I decided to illustrate Under Milk Wood, I researched it, read it and listened to it again and again. I still play it a couple of times a week and read it once a month. I've always treated it as a separate piece of work. I work on Under Milk Wood at home in the evening. It's almost like a 'separate me' doing it."
Welcome to Llareggub
For those unfamiliar with the play, Under Milk Wood tells the story of the residents of mythical Welsh seaside town, Llareggub, and how their lives interweave over the course of one day.
Through descriptions of dreams and innermost thoughts, we’re introduced to Thomas’s cast of characters, which includes the likes of Captain Cat, Nogood Boyo and Mrs Willy Nilly.
Blake has created his series in line with the sequence of the play, dividing it into distinct sections; a collection of brightly-coloured watercolours of each characters’ dreams; collages which capture specific scenes and quotes from the play, and portraits of each character, drawn with hard pencil.
The latest section is a new set of watercolour artworks, which capture new scenes and moments from the play, depicted as literally as possible. Blake explains:
“When he (Thomas) wrote those sequences, I don’t imagine he ever thought of it visually, he would have thought of it as words. So I really enjoyed making something that was never intended to be visual, visual.”
It’s all in the detail
Of all his collections, Under Milk Wood has been one that Blake has applied himself to with particular zeal.
For example, Blake’s collages are made from photographs he took during a visit to Laugharne in Carmarthenshire – the town where Thomas resided for the final four years of his life, and which is said to be the inspiration for the play. Additionally, some pieces are crafted from collaged images that Blake painstakingly sourced over many years.
Blake believes that faces cannot be invented, so his collection of 60 pencil drawings of each of the play’s characters are strangely familiar. Much like characters from his Tattooed People Series, or his Portraits and People Series, his portraits are made up of composites of different people’s faces (Interesting fact, Captain Cat has Peter Blake’s beard!) or are reminiscent of certain famous folk, including Elizabeth Taylor, Terry Wogan and Margaret Atwood.
Originally shown in 2013 in Cardiff, this is the first time that the exhibition has crossed the bridge into England. Under Milk Wood is on display at London’s Waddington Custot Gallery in Mayfair from 11th June to 23rd July 2022.