Nowadays, if we want to see a freak show we just turn on the internet, but back in the good old days we had to wait for the circus to come to town. Exotic, mysterious, and perhaps just the right amount of creepy to excite a child’s interest, travelling circuses were big news in the pre-television era, and remain a source of fascination for Pop Art legend Peter Blake. The artist never grew out of his youthful love for the circus, and in fact he still visits them when he can, listing the experience alongside rock’n’roll concerts and fairgrounds as his favourite pastimes.
Blake’s interest in the circus spilled over into his art as he unconsciously chose an autobiographical route during his early career. Side-Show is an exhibition of the artist’s brilliant wood engravings on the subject; he studied the skill briefly in college but is largely self-taught, making his incredibly detailed works all the more remarkable. The exhibition at Paul Stolper Gallery, London, includes five engravings – Tattooed Man, Bearded Lady, Midget, Fat Boy and Giant – made between 1974 and 1978 using a refined method of engraving, inscribing the end-grain wood blocks with a fine-pointed burin. The archive engravings are joined by two new etchings (of a wrestler and a tattooed girl) and other photos, proofs, sketches and ephemera from Blake’s curious oeuvre. The circus is in town until 10 January 2015.