Vicky Meets… Rachel Searle, Artistic Director, BlakeFest

Rachel
Rachel

Artist, poet, engraver and visionary, William Blake also wrote the words to Jerusalem, one of the most popular hymns of all time.

Unappreciated in his lifetime, he is now recognised as one of the greatest contributors to literature and art and, having lived in Felpham from 1800 for some four years, is the inspiration behind BlakeFest.
“I started BlakeFest with a simple desire to shout-out about Blake and reveal something of the hidden beauty he discovered here,” explained Rachel, who helped set up The Big Blake Project to introduce people to Blake and make them aware of his genius.
“This year there has been an exciting engagement with Blake’s perception and I think what we are now showcasing is actually a very important challenge to the Tate Liverpool Blake,” she told me, explaining that at grass roots level the objective was also to protect Church Field in Felpham, to beautify and enliven other green spaces and for Bognor Regis to be better connected.
“It's a very diverse line-up this year. The continuing Dandelion Visions exhibition, curated by Mikey Georgeson at Bognor Regis Library, is an absolute must-see and is free to view,” said Rachel, who also sites artists such as Michael Horovitz (“a living legend”) and events such as the guided walk In Hotham Park with psycho-geographer Niall McDevitt as highlights.
And the Sunday headliner is none other than award-winning vocalist, lyricist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Gwyneth Herbert.
“Gwyneth has a sold out tour across the country and her song Boxed-up Broken Heart sung by Jasmine Armfield as Bex Fowler in EastEnders is now being released as a single,” enthused Rachel, who has also lined up family fun that includes Dictionary for Dads, a bubbleologist, glitter ponies, vintage stalls, vintage dancing and face-painting. There will also be a Comic Workshop for over 16s by acclaimed Marvel Comic book creator Kevin Gunstone.
“We are trying to make it more inclusive and accessible, so there really is something for everyone” she said, admitting that a huge amount of work goes into BlakeFest.
“Artist/musician Mikey Georgeson and poet Stella Bahin have been absolutely inspirational, while Dr Naomi Billingsley and Jason Hedges started editing and curating the virtual tour of Blake’s cottage last year, which then became a foundation stone for this year’s festival. The festival team have also worked incredibly hard, on top of their normal jobs.
“West Sussex County Council, Louise Goldsmith, Graham Jones and the Bognor Regis Library Managers have also been invaluable in ensuring that the international group art show is a success.”
And with Blake's local heritage having been somewhat overlooked, Rachel hopes that people will attend the festival to learn about and celebrate the great man.
“His influences are so widespread and universal that we want to highlight what an important figure he is and understand how significant living here was to him in so many respects.”
BlakeFest takes place at various locations in Bognor Regis this weekend. For full information, including details of free festival events, visit: www.blakefest.co.uk or find Blakefest 17 on Facebook

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