In the 19th and for the first half of the 20th century, signwriting was a common trade among artisans.
Posters on hoardings, outside theatres, cinemas, shop windows, pub and shop fronts, commercial vehicle sign writing was their everyday occupation.
But the decoration on the fairground, one of the forms of mass entertainment for the working class was not an everyday job.
It required colourful ostentatious splendour to help transport the fairgoer from a drab working life to an exotic world of fast roundabouts, side shows, boxing booths and coconut shies.
Pulsing coloured lights, glittering cut glass mirrors and polished brass all added to the spectacle of the fairground.
The lettering on roundabouts and the proscenium of show fronts required an emphasis on lining, perspective and shadow. The decoration and lettering had to fit the myriad parts that make up the construction of rides, stalls shows and games.
From huge front boards of Switchbacks made in sections, to modest sized ‘gag cards and price’ tickets’.
From the classical artistic motifs of the golden age of the steam fair, with waterfalls, marbled columns and Italianate lion’s masks came the post war symbols of motor racing speed and comic book space travel.
Fred Fowle was at the forefront of the post war generation of fairground artists. He was a partner in the celebrated firm of Hall & Fowle. Fred took his inspiration from Dan Dare comic books, advertising symbols and Hollywood film posters. He soon developed his own unique style using traditional scrolling in the most imaginative way and much brighter, vivid primary colours than the subdued hues favoured in pre way days.
Modern techniques such as the use of aluminium leaf and flamboyant paint in rich reds and golds on a background of sky blue were employed. . An exploding lightning flash a recurring theme in Fowles output during the late 50s and early 60’s. His exuberant, three-dimensional style became instantly recognisable.
During the 1960s and 70s heavier rides were being laid aside in favour of faster, lighter often American designed machines.
This led to the first wave of fairground art being sold into the antique trade. Carousel horses the principle object of desire among collectors and interior designers. The North American market had a particular thirst for fairground art and artefacts. The genre of fairground art is now widely recognised as having an intrinsic value as art work for commercial premises as well as in the home.
Chris was fascinated by the decoration on the fairground and began to paint from an early age. After leaving school he studied Fine Art at Plymouth College of Art & Design and exhibited with The Plymouth Society of Artists while still a student. He then embarked on a career as a Showmen’s Decorator and sign writer. Chris, like most other fairground artists of his generation was heavily influenced by Fred Fowle, he had an opportunity to watch the master at work while learning his craft. He also had an opportunity to watch fairground artists at work in his home city of Plymouth.
Chris has been commissioned by showmen to design suitable artwork to decorate whole ride fronts, Speedway Arks and Waltzers to Arcade and game front boards and round stalls.
In 2001 he even decorated the interior of a Plymouth Night Club with a fairground theme.
The work of Chris Thomas is widely recognised as highly individual in the genre of flamboyant fairground art and is highly sought after by collectors. Chris offers professional Fairground Art at affordable prices.
Guy Belshaw - Fairground Historian