Ghost of a Flea
Thursday, 30th October 2003, page
1 of 4
Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary
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an exhibition of prints and drawings by William Blake
(1757-1827) at the Graves Gallery, Sheffield I stand and sketch
The Ghost of a Flea (c. 1819 -20). My
brush pen drawing (above) makes the ghost look as if he
might belong in a Marvel Comic but Blake's original (left) is
in tempera highlighted with gold on mahogany. The crackled varnish
adds an air of mystery.
The painter and astrologer John
“I called on him one
evening and found Blake more than usually excited. He told me
he had seen a wonderful thing - the ghost of a flea! 'And did
you make a drawing of him?' I inquired. 'No, indeed,' said he,
'I wish I had, but I shall, if he appears again!' He looked earnestly
into the corner of the room, and said, 'there he is - reach me
my things - I shall keep my eye on him. There he comes! his eager
tongue whisking out of his mouth, a cup in his hand to hold blood
and covered with a scaly skin of gold and green:' - as he described
him so he drew him.”
Fungus and the Flea
this is a Ghost you definitely wouldn't like to meet at dead of
night there's a touch of humour about him too and he seems to be
an ancestor of Raymond Briggs' Fungus the Bogeyman.
It's difficult to know how real Blake
thought his visualisations were but I feel that the Ghost would
work well as a flesh and blood character. Blake gives a convincing
sense of muscular power but, like Fungus, this Ghost is apparently
a creature of set habits and limited intelligence.
curtains that frame both Fungus and the Flea hint at a presence
that might lurk in the darker corners of your average home but also
suggests a theatrical setting; I can imagine the Ghost strutting
across the stage on tiptoe like a pantomime villain.
enough detail for a special effects department to create exactly
the creature Blake imagines. I could picture him as a character
in one of the Lord of the Rings movies.
Those starry special effects in the background hint at intergalactic
gothic: perhaps he's also a distant cousin of Alien.
Poet and Printer
painter and pioneer of DTP, Blake printed his books of poetry and
prophecy at home using a method of relief printing he'd devised
himself, drawing on his experience as an engraver. Once the plates
were made Blake could print copies on demand, rather than run the
whole edition off at once. He varied the colour of the printing
ink and the character of the watercolour washes he added so that
each copy has a unique identity. Mrs Blake bound the books, learnt
to take impressions from the plates and occasionally hand-coloured
Using a scanner, computer and colour laser
printer I have an easy time of it compared to Blake with my own
publications which I write, illustrate and, for some of the slower
selling titles, print on demand, here at home.
Blake is an illuminating example to me of
the power and magic that it's possible to embody in a small home-made
book; I've got a long, long way to go! His work has visionary power
but, like this Ghost, there can sometimes be a sense of fun and
over-the-top enjoyment of special effects about it too.
Ghost of a Flea at Tate
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