Art Show of the Week: Peter Blake: Under Milk Wood

Words by
Lee Cassanell

13th June 2022

The Dylan Thomas classic is brought to life by the English Pop Artist

Peter blake under milkwood

An exhibition of over 170 watercolours, collages and drawings by Sir Peter Blake illustrating Dylan Thomas's landmark 1953 play ‘Under Milk Wood, is to be exhibited by Waddington Custot this summer, in a new, dedicated space opposite the main gallery at 22 Cork Street, London. 

Blake has been working on illustrations for ‘Under Milk Wood’ for over 40 years. The artist first heard the play as a student at the Royal College of Art, when it was broadcast on the radio in 1954, but his idea to create a series of illustrations based on the piece was conceived a quarter of a century later in 1979, when he was given a recording to listen to in the studio as he worked. Blake returned to, and abandoned, the project multiple times until the 1990s, before embarking on the series in earnest: "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."

Under Milk Wood tells the surreal story of the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of a mythical Welsh seaside town called Llareggub. All is ‘strangely simple and simply strange’ as dawn breaks and we are first  introduced to characters such as Captain Cat, Nogood Boyo and Polly Garter through their visceral dreams, before following them around their interwoven lives in Llareggub over the course of one day.

Under Milk Wood was first shown in 2013 at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, to celebrate the centenary of Dylan Thomas’ birth, and subsequently at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea. This will be the first time the series has been shown in almost a decade and the first time it comes to London. 

Under Milk Wood  is showing at Waddington Custot from 11th Jun-23rd Jul 2022