The choice of the traditional technique of wood engraving suits the folkish theme, with Blake’s sophisticated employment of this craft uncovering an alternative aspect of his output. An image of a bulky guy with elaborate tattoos matches Blake’s more recent interest in tattoo art—etchings not in wood but on the skin. There are “freaks”—a Bearded Lady, a midget, and a giant in saggy dungarees—and there are beauties: in Liberty Beauty Rose (2014), one of three new etchings, a young woman perches cheerily in a can can skirt. But Blake would not draw a line between what looks bizarre and what looks attractive; he sees wonder on the margins and among the marginalized, and finds pleasure in documenting eccentricity.
“Side-Show” is on view at Paul Stolper Gallery, London, Nov. 27, 2014–Jan. 10, 2015.