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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Peter Blake on Dylan Thomas

Young Digital Reporter Dan J. Broadley reviews our event with artist Peter Blake discussing his new illustrated edition of Dylan Thomas’  Under Milk Wood

Before I read about this event, I wasn’t sure who Peter Blake was. It rang a bell, but I didn’t know for sure. So when I found out he was the artist behind the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band record sleeve, I was pretty excited, but it didn’t prepare me for how impressed I was with the work he put on display for the event at Manchester Literature Festival.

The MLF and Dylan Thomas 100 were proud to present Peter Blake in the eye-catching Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama (University of Manchester). The event was started by Peter talking about his admiration of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, whose radio play in verse Under Milk Wood was the source text for Peter’s latest illustrations. He then went on to discuss some of the earliest illustrations for the text, which ranged from the first images appearing in Mademoiselle magazine in America to the illustrations of John Minton in the UK papers. The first part of the conversation came to end with discussion of the illustrations by Paula Rego in 1954 and Kerry Richards, whose work Peter greatly admired, along with the film adaptation of Under Milk Wood.

The second part of the conversation moved to the broadcasting of Under Milk Wood, and how it was not at first broadcast in Wales, despite it being the home country of its writer, for being too raunchy. Peter said his favourite version was that broadcasted by George Martin, before moving on to the presentation of his own illustrations. The first of Peter’s illustrations was the front cover, a beautiful watercolour of Dylan Thomas himself, with a cigarette lazily dangling from his lips. In the first section of the presentation he talked us through the portraits of the poem’s characters, and how each one was inspired by something he’d seen. For example, one character was inspired by an old photograph of a police officer holding a giant vegetable.

Peter then talked about how every time he read Under Milk Wood ( at least a couple of hundred times, he says) he discovered something new, and then went on to show us the second part of the presentation with his collages. One of the examples of this which was discussed was the ‘layers’ of sexuality which are revealed in the poem. He went on to explain how his illustrations were very literal, by taking something which is usually only in text form and making it visual. For example, one part of the poem says “angels be careful with your knives and forks”, to which Peter made a collage of angels holding knives and forks.

After the discussion ended, we were treated to a promo of a new film adaptation of Under Milk Wood, which will be hitting our screen early next year. The audience were then given the chance to ask Peter questions. Generally then, I was pretty impressed. You’ll rarely find me in an art gallery, but Peter’s work on Dylan Thomas is impressive, and I’d recommend anyone to go out and take a look at it and try decipher some of this incredible art work, and the poem behind it.