U5 #3 – Blast/Bless in 1914

A look into the first publication of Blast/Bless in 1914 by Wyndham Lewis

(re-print by Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa 1981/1992
with a foreword by Bradford Morrow)


note in the preface:

“This first number of BLAST was crudely typeset and letterpressed at minimum expense by a London job printer. However the bold rough-hewn type, broken letters and uneven inking only add to the powerful typographical effect. The present publisher has chosen not to clean up or refine the original version in any way.”


extract out of the foreword Blueprint to the Vortex by Bradford Morrow:

“… indeed, it is the anti-romantic, eclectic public stance which Lewis struck for an entire career. And as Lewis’ own quirky “history book,” BLAST functioned as a multi-faced instrument of change, an intellectual demarcation point between the extreme dying gasps of Victorian England and an explosive if short-lived battlecry for a new British artistic renaissance.”

“The first of two published issues of BLAST was announced for April 1914 publication in full-page advertisements in The Egoist on April 1st and 15th. The Ads heralded this forthcoming “Illustrated Quarterly” as the official journal of the fledgling movement, English Vorticism… . It was to be printed and distributed by the respected publisher John Lane of The Bodley Head, and sent to the capitals of Europe and America. Its intentions were quite simple: to revive English art and literature, casting an electrifying light into murky corners of Georgian passivity. Lewis continued to send additional contributions to the printers during the spring, and the remarkable first issue of BLAST wasn’t finally published until the end of June 1914. It caused an immediate sensation.”

“Issued in a folio format nearly a foot high, with the texts set in various point sizes of bold sans-serif type, and bound in startling bright puce wrappers with the single word “BLAST” printed in an enormous typeface [Stephenson and Blake Grotesk] diagonally across the front and back covers, the first issue engaged every possible typographical trick to draw attention to itself.

For the brief, we are only going to focus on the Blasts and Blesses, the Manifesto, and their design and use of type.


“Blast 1 was edited and largely written by Wyndham Lewis with contributions from Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, Epstein, Spencer Gore, Wadsworth, and Rebecca West and included an extract from Ford Madox Hueffer’s novel The Saddest Story, better known by its later title The Good Soldier (published under his subsequent pseudonym, Ford Madox Ford). The first edition was printed in folio format, with the oblique title Blast splashed across its bright pink soft cover. Inside, Lewis used a range of bold typographic innovations and tricks to engage the reader, that are reminiscent of Marinetti’s contemporaryconcrete poetry such as Zang Tumb Tumb.

The opening twenty pages of Blast 1 contain the Vorticist manifesto, written by Lewis with assistance from Pound and signed by Lewis, Wadsworth, Pound, William RobertsHelen SaundersLawrence AtkinsonJessica Dismorr, and Gaudier-Brzeska. Epstein chose not to sign the manifesto, although his work was featured. There is also a (positive) critique of Kandinsky‘s Concerning the Spiritual In Art, a faintly patronising exhortation to suffragettes not to destroy works of art, a review of a London exhibition of Expressionist woodcuts, and a last dig at Marinetti by Wyndham Lewis:

“Futurism, as preached by Marinetti, is largely Impressionism up-to-date. To this is added his Automobilism and Nietzsche stunt, With a lot of good sense and vitality at his disposal, he hammers away in the blatant mechanism of his Manifestos, at his idee fixe of Modernity.” “


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