Peter Blake's portaits of characters from Under Milk Wood go on show in Cardiff

Visualisations flowing from 28-year study of Dylan Thomas's play are part of celebrations to mark 100 years since the writer's birth

Beloved characters, scenes and dream sequences from Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood have been lovingly imagined by the pop artist Sir Peter Blake.

Over the past 28 years, Blake has been working on his visualisations of characters from Thomas's "play for voices" and for the first time his versions of figures such as the old blind seafarer, Captain Cat, and the draper, Mog Edwards, are being shown together.

The exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff is part of the launch of a year-long series of events to mark the 100th anniversary of Thomas's birth.

Having listened to the play or read it at least twice a week for the last 28 years, Blake has produced 170 visual interpretations of the work. "I was first aware of Under Milk Wood while studying at the Royal College of Art," said Blake. "The Welsh students at the college picked up on the play immediately.

"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."

The exhibition includes three distinct groups: portraits of the characters; a series of watercolours illustrating the dream sequences at the beginning of the play; and a third group – the largest – described as "topographical", which includes scenes and locations from the play.

The 60 detailed portraits are all pencil drawings. Blake has visualised everyone mentioned in the play's cast list. These portraits are both imaginary and real. Blake believes that a face can't be invented, and therefore that all the portraits are based on images he has found – in books or magazines.

The dreams are an integral part of Under Milk Wood as almost all the characters are introduced to the audience or reader through a moment of their dreams. There are 26 works in this sequence, each one now numbered and inscribed at the bottom with the relevant passage from the text. Using watercolour adds a dreamlike quality to the works.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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