Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Somehow I got picked to be on the team of Percy Wyndham Lewis, trailblazing artist and editor of BLAST. I learned very quickly that Percy didn’t like to be called Percy. He wanted to be known as Wyndham, so we all called him that.
Wyndham was a Vorticist. He was a little annoyed that Ezra Pound came up with the name, even though the whole thing was Wyndham’s idea. Why did Pound have to go and horn in on his project? It wasn’t fair.
Of course, I wasn’t there, in 1915, for the brief glory that was Vorticism. I was just assigned a paper on it in college, so I jumped right in and I went to the Royal Academy of Art Library, and the National Art Library at the V&A Museum, and the Slade School of Fine Art, and I borrowed slides and books and read facsimiles of BLAST, until I felt like I really knew Wyndham and I understood why he didn’t want to be called Percy. I wouldn’t have wanted to be called Percy.
Among the things I learned was that Vorticism was short-lived. It never took off as a movement, overshadowed by Cubism and Futurism and probably a number of other isms that we have long since forgotten. Vorticism was into movement and machines. You can see by the cover of BLAST that there’s a lot of angled beams and stuff, and soldiers that look like robots, because it was WWI after all and I guess it felt to Wyndham like technology had become deadly, all those Germans and their machine guns. He really tried to be relevant, yet, according to Wikipedia, Vorticism had only one exhibition, and “after this, the movement broke up, largely due to the onset of World War I and public apathy toward the work.”
I walked by his house in Kensington and thought it didn’t look like the house of a dynamic abstract artist. More like the house of an abstract artist whose movement had been met with public apathy, and I could see him walking with his hands plunged into his coat pockets and his shoulders slouched as he headed for a bar, but it couldn’t be a bar, where, even if it was only in fun, they shouted out “Percy!” when he came through the door.
BLAST cover by Wyndham Lewis (Modern American Poetry: from Blast (1914-1915)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.