Critical Editions Produced by Students at Rider University
July 1, 1914 – Wyndham Lewis releases the first edition of Blast, a literary magazine, and it sends shock waves. The cover of the magazine is a very unorthodox bright pink. It contradicts the traditionally modest prints of the era. The word “BLAST” is written in bold print diagonally on the front cover (Warde-Aldam). It was a tiny little magazine released days before World War I, but, it defined how the era, and its contributions to Britain’s modernism, are viewed today. Although there were only 2 editions ever published, they are a key to understanding the modernists of the era (Morrison). Its contents were more alien to society in 1914 then the idea of Donald Trump running for president would have been to America in 2012.
What was it? Essentially, the first edition composed of a manifesto, and then supporting literary and artistic works. The Manifesto, or “call to action”, was essentially a literary work written by Wyndham Lewis that renounced (“blasted”) or approved (“blessed”) different movements, art works, countries, societies. For example, the Manifesto rips apart elements of French society, and the Futurism movement, such as the “sentimental Gallic gush”. Then, it goes on to say some things that Lewis liked about France by “blessing” those elements of French Society such as it “masterly pornography (great enemy of progress)”, “depths of elegance”, and “females”. This work was written mainly by Lewis as a call for the widespread acceptance and adaptation of his own art movement, Vorticism. Many other artists signed The Manifesto in an effort to appear united as a new avant – garde group. Most of the artists who signed had little to nothing to do with the inception of this manifesto (Granger).
What really helped Lewis was industrialization. Lewis was able to take his magazine to a publication company called Leveridge and Co. which helped him incorporate the bold design for the cover. From there, they were able to print copies quickly and distribute them as far as The United States thanks to the industrialized western world. The printing press, steamboats, and many other modern technologies of the era allowed for a very increasingly developing promotional culture (Rieger). He even “blesses” motorboats in the publication.
The design of the magazine was so bold, that it essentially set a benchmark for everything else to follow. Up until this point, other bold and modernist magazines and artists employed more conservative styling, as was acceptable in the Victorian Era. After the publication of this magazine, and the exposure it received, anyone else who wanted to get attention employed a bolder and more unorthodox style. However, due to World War I, not many other “attention grabbers” were seen until after Britain recovers from the lives and money lost in the war (Pfannkuchen).
What Lewis was trying to do with Blast was propel the Vorticist movement in an effort to move Britain forward. Vorticism was a British artistic movement of 1914–15 influenced by Cubism and Futurism and favoring machinelike forms” (Oxford Dictionaries). “It called for action, movement, aggression, and speed. That’s highlighted by how loud Blast’s impact on society was. It was written in a very aggressive fashion due to the manner in which it blasted and blessed things. Vorticism was basically Lewis’s refined Futurism. Lewis was employing Vorticism to highlight Britain’s industrial modernization. Britain had industrialized along with the rest of Europe. However, the society was slow to modernize. It was still stuck in its image of itself. The primp and proper society resisted ideas that come along with industrialization. There was no rush like you see walking in New York City to get from point A to point B as soon as possible. There was no rush to get things done so that you can move onto the next thing. Lewis was trying to portray a modernized British society through Vorticism. He was trying to move Britain past the influences of Roger Fry and Post – Impressionism. That was his greatest challenge. Eventually, the impact of Blast, especially the first edition, is credited to have modernized British Literature, for which Lewis does deserve some credit (Granger).
Even though Lewis renounces Futurism in Blast, Vorticism is a refined version of Futurism. Lewis had many run – ins with Cubism and Futurism throughout his life that would easily influence him and Vorticism. But to understand Vorticism, a decent understanding of its origins and inspiration are required.
One influence is an artistic movement referred to as Cubism. Cubism originated from Paris, France thanks to Frenchman Georges Braque and Spaniard Pablo Picasso. They worked together so much that Picasso referred to their work together as a “marriage”. Cubism defers from the single viewpoint perspective and ditches the decorative qualities of the renaissance and post – impressionism (Dempsey).It was “an early 20th-century style and movement in art, especially painting, in which perspective with a single viewpoint was abandoned and use was made of simple geometric shapes, interlocking planes, and, later, collage.” (oxford dictionaries). Cubist take things that we see in our normal lives and reduce them into simple shapes all on one plane. Though Picasso and Braque’s work was not publicly accessible until after WWI, their ideology quickly spread in influence due to Futurism.
Futurism was born in Milan, Italy thanks to Filippo Marinetti. In Futurism, “the unifying principle was a passion for speed, power, new machines, and technology and a desire to convey the ‘dynamism’ of the modern industrial city” (Dempsey). Futurism still employed the Cubist artistic styles, but art was based on everything related to the industrial revolution such as machines, speed, power, technology, etc. Unlike Cubism though, Marinetti wanted the world to beware. He even published his manifesto in a Paris newspaper to notify Paris that it was no longer going to be the central “site of avant – garde movements” (Dempsey). He indicated that this movement would not just be local, national, or regional. It would be global. And, it was.
In 1911, the Futurists held an exhibition in Milan, but were criticized for being too timid with their works. There was nothing radical about the art. Then, in 1911, one of Marinetti’s collaborators, Gino Severini, took a trip to Paris. He made contact there with Picasso, Braque, and others. He returned to Milan with all these new Cubist ideas, which were incorporated in the form of geometric forms, intersecting planes, and complementary colors. This led to the two movements becoming very closely related. Eventually, Futurists later tried to differentiate themselves from Cubists. Through a major exhibition in 1912, Futurism spread vastly through Europe in the form of art and theory (Dempsey). So, in a sense, Cubism inspired Futurism, and Futurism made Cubism famous.
In the 1890’s, the art seen in Britain was not very exuberant. Britain was emerging from post –impressionism as Futuristic and Cubistic thought pools began to make their way over to the island. A wave of modernism was slowly overcoming the country, but not easily. Many individuals had much to say. There was an “illiberal impatience for change” (Harrison). The man taking the front line here is Percy Wyndham Lewis. Lewis was born to an American father and an English mother. Once he graduated from Slade School of Fine Art in London, he spent seven years roaming Europe. He visited Madrid, Munich, Holland, and Paris. Even after he returned to England in 1908, he would visit Paris once a year. From these experiences, Lewis gained many Cubist and Futurist influences. He painted many paintings which had Futuristic and Cubist elements in them.
He would sell many to be hung in a nightclub called The Cave of the Golden Calf, which many younger artists (Ezra Pound, August Strindberg, Frank Wedekind, and Frederick Delius) frequented. Many of these artists, including Lewis, shared a “distaste for the art of the Renaissance” as if it were “virtually an item of faith” (Harrison). This common thinking and the common frequenting of The Cave is what allowed Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Jacob Epstein to become acquaintances. They collectively wanted to “establish freedom from the governing tradition of the past five hundred years” (Harrison). This is so because the renaissance and current culture of Britain at the time was centered around aristocracy, luxury, nobility…The younger artists were tired of “the fat man of the Renaissance” (Harrison). That’s How BLAST was born.
When BLAST came to be, it was loud. It was expressive. There had never been anything like it before. It went against every grain of tradition possible. It was Vorticism. However, it was very Futurist in nature as well. So what are the Futurism elements in the first edition of Blast’s Manifesto? One example come from Lewis blasting the climate because it doesn’t snow, but only rains in Britain. Instead of using terminology such as “create”, “make”, or “produce”, Lewis choose to say “that can manufacture no snow.” The word “manufacture” puts a very industrial, and therefore Futurist, tone on the phrase. He also uses phrases such as “Wring the neck of”. He blesses England “for its ships”. He blesses the “machines”, or motorboats, that “work the little boats across clean liquid space, In beelines.” Lewis then goes on to bless the ports of England. The ports were a huge part of the industrialization process because in the 1900’s, aviation was not what it is today. The only way to import and export goods off an island such as England would be via sea. Again, this is a very Futurist point of view. He blesses London for industrialization. Even though Lewis is focusing just on England, especially London, he is focusing on “the unifying principle was a passion for speed, power, new machines, and technology and a desire to convey the ‘dynamism’ of the modern industrial city” which is Futurism (Dempsey). He is blessing all of the industrialized aspects of Britain. He praises its modernisms. He blasts the still lingering traditionalism. That is the foundation of Futurism as well.
Also in his “call to action”, Lewis calls Vorticist “mercenaries”. He’s saying that they are the soldiers leading this movement. He uses “violent structure”, “Stir a civil war” , and “laugh like a bomb”. Again, Lewis employs a very active and violent tone that clearly portrays Futurism. The proof is in the fact that to right Blast from a Vorticist point of view, even Lewis himself could not not escape employing Futurism. That is why I see Vorticism as more of a refined Futurism rather than a completely separate movement. Or, you could call it Britain’s Futurism. Whatever you may refer to this movement as, it changed many things. The two editions of the tiny magazine, BLAST, that emerged from this movement left a huge imprint on British society forever.
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Another scanned copy of the first edition of Blast. I really liked this site because you can flip the pages, making it a more interactive experience. The images also seem clearer.
This website has a copy of a programme and menu from The Cave of the Golden Calf. Notice the art even on the menu..
This is a link to a some writings by pound. I found it really cool because it provides his perspective on not just Vorticism or Lewis, but on authors we’ve discussed from the class, The Freewoman…. and much more!
I thought this was a cool diagram to see how the movements tie into one another. Notice how Vorticism is not on here. This correlates with Vorticism being more of a refined futurism because then, it would not be necessary for it to be separately on the diagram.
Another link relating to The Cave of the Golden Calf. It has a picture of the club from the inside as well as more information regarding the cave.
This is a British Website that has some Vortist Art, Names of Vortist Artists, and Biographies of Vorticists.