(Slightly corrected by using information I have since obtained from discussions with his son Nick Arkle.)
William Arkle – who was called Bill by his friends - was born in 1924, and died in 2000. As well as composing music; Arkle was a spiritual philosopher, painter, poet, teacher and visionary.
Bill Arkle was a friend of the writer Colin Wilson and attracted a small group of dedicated students. During the nineteen seventies he published two books, was the subject of a local television documentary and collaborated with the progressive rock band The Enid. However, despite this modest celebrity; Arkle was never famous and he remains an obscure figure. (The figure whom Arkle most brings to my mind is that other visionary English ‘William’ – Blake; who died in almost equal obscurity but is now recognised as one of the greatest lyric poets and also an influential illustrator).
I know about Bill Arkle mainly because I lived nearby as a child: my sister knew his wife and daughter via ‘ponies’; and his next-door neighbours were my good friends. I also met him once, briefly, when visiting his son. I had dipped into the work from nearly forty years ago; however, it was only after a series of ‘synchronicities’ and having become a Christian in late life that I eventually made the effort to engage with Arkle’s work in a serious fashion – and discovered that he was one of the most inspiring spiritual philosophers of the twentieth century.
Arkle’s life was spent mostly in-and-around the city of Bristol. He served in the Royal Navy during the 1939-45 war, and trained as an Engineer – an unusually scientific and practical background for a visionary, but one which had a lasting effect on the way he expressed his spiritual ideas, often using metaphors drawn from optics, atomic physics, computers, holograms etc.. After the war Arkle became an art student in Bristol and married Julia Rae Hubbard in 1947. This marriage was short lived, and Bill married Elizabeth (Liz) in 1954. They later had two children called Nick and Rose.
Throughout the fifties and sixties, Bill participated in spiritual and Christian discussion groups in Bristol and produced a lot of paintings on mystical themes. He typically used ordinary household acrylic paints on hardboard, deployed luminous pastel colours, and his characteristic theme was of ordinary and everyday scenes transfigured by light to show-forth their inner reality.
At first the family lived in Clifton, then Alveston, in Bristol, making money by renovating and re-selling houses - apparently Liz was the business brain and Bill put his craft skills to good use. They later moved to Backwell Hill House, about 7 miles south west of Bristol – a dilapidated ‘mansion’ that had previously been a monastery (with a large chapel) and stood in large grounds. They had horses and various other animals.
Through the 1970s and into the 1980s the household was large and included people visiting to work on spiritual matters with Bill, and also people who helped with the horses and running the household. Bill made money from selling his paintings from a shop in the Whiteladies Road in Bristol, and from picture restoration – including pictures of horses.
In 1974 Arkle published A Geography of Consciousness, which had an introduction by Colin Wilson. The Great Gift, a book of his pictures with commentary and some essays, was published in 1977. In the same year BBC West broadcast a location-filmed TV program called William Arkle in the series Life Story.
In the mid-1980s the Arkle’s moved to the Cotswolds, then after some years moved back to Somerset in a house called Pigotts in Chelvey Batch (very near to Backwell Hill House). In 2000, Liz Arkle died, and Bill followed a few months later.
Right up until his death at the age of 76, Arkle remained active, creative, optimistic and spiritually aware. His final writings are, indeed, his happiest and most positive statements concerning the human condition. If a man’s abstract philosophy is to be judged by its practical effect on his own life, then William Arkle’s ideas must be counted a success.
I will attempt briefly to summarise Bill Arkle’s ideas. He regards the universe as created by Heavenly Parents (i.e. ‘God’) and inhabited by their children (men, women and angels). The divine children are free individuals each of whom is offered the gift of developing to full divinity in their own unique fashion. Thus, our mortal lives on earth are a mixture of joy and horror, encouragement and hazard, love and fear and so on – each person’s life with its own pattern. Life is set-up to provide each of us with those experiences that we most need to achieve the fullest, all-round, knowledge – and such that eventually we can work towards fully-divine status; to become friends of God on a level footing and participate in the work of creation in a spirit of family love. (Jesus has a vital role in this work – which is why Arkle must count as a Christina; albeit of an unorthodox type.)
Arkle’s understanding can be encapsulated as based-on the fact that we each have a spark of divinity; by means of which we can all potentially (if we are able to attain the necessary, undistracted and real form of consciousness) directly-know something of God’s true nature, mind and benign intentions. For Arkle; life is Good at its root and when correctly understood, because the world was made, and continues, for our ultimate benefit. What makes Arkle a mystic in that he personally had a vivid and immediate perception of God’s reality and activity in the world.
As many of his paintings depict; Arkle perceived life (ordinary, everyday; working, married and family life) as a communication from the divine and permeated by spiritual influences. Various paintings show a teapot and cups on a table by a window, a mountain landscape or a seascape, a bowler-hatted businessman, people doing holiday things – sitting, dancing, playing a flute… these typically illuminated by inner light; or with a mysterious glow or sparkle; or with large spiritual (and smiling) faces or enfolding hands invisibly present and waiting but unacknowledged.
(If this type of painting sounds simplistic, sentimental even saccharine; then this is indeed how they strike many modern people. But they arise from a base of tough resilience and immersion in practical life – and ought to be regarded as a higher, but true and realistic, vision of actual Heaven.)
In essence; Bill Arkle’s world is one of meaning and purpose, a world of experiences and learning (he often terms Life a ‘university’); and ultimately one underpinned by that unselfish loving affection we may know from our glimpses of ideal family living in which parents nurture and sustain the individuality, growth and freedom of each of their children. Each child is encouraged to grow-up, if and when ready to do so; and despite that the process necessarily entails suffering and loneliness; because the objective is an adult, autonomous child who voluntarily chooses to becomes a friend, colleague and collaborator in the endlessly creative work of reality. This is a partial-microcosm of Arkle’s Heaven – a dynamic world of evolution of absolutely-unique individuals, cohering by pure love.
Arkle’s friends have told me that the most characteristic and complete expression of his vision was to be found in semi-improvised multi-media presentations of visual, verbal and musical material. I have been studying Arkle’s writings and pictures intensely for the past five years; and find them an inexhaustible source of insight and encouragement. But until now, I have not heard any of his music.
This reissue of The Music of William Arkle, from the era of his collaboration with The Enid, is therefore very welcome to me; as rounding-out a more complete picture of this multi-faceted and inspiring man.