Painted thrills and spills
Fred Fowle was the UK’s foremost fairground artist. His go-faster graphics and futuristic lettering live on – in museums and working steam fairs
The name Fred Fowle may not be widely known in design circles, but ask anyone with more than a passing interest in English fairground art and the following two words will no doubt pass their lips: ‘The Master.’ Fowle was the country’s foremost fairground artist. Once you become familiar with it, his exuberant, three-dimensional style is instantly recognisable.
Fowle’s other less-grandiose nickname was ‘Futuristic Fred’, given to him by the staff at his first employer, the fairground manufacturer R. J. Lakin & Co. The moniker was in reference to Fowle’s striking, futuristic looking three-dimensional lettering and images influenced by popular culture – particularly the cinema posters, adverts and American comic books which he loved. Fowle joined the Streatham-based firm in 1929 – it was here that he learned his trade and where he met the talented artist Edwin Hall, who became a huge influence on him. At the start of the Second World War, Fowle was laid off, and after a spell on the railways and serving in the army, he established the company Hall & Fowle with Edwin’s brother Billy Hall in a disused tram shed in Balham. It proved to be a winning combination, with Hall specialising in painting realistic scenes and classical imagery, and Fowle excelling in the traditional scrollwork, lettering and more abstract designs.
Detail of R. Edwards & Sons’ Super Sonic Skid, housed at the Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre, Devon.
Top: detail from R. Edwards & Sons’ Super Sonic Skid.
All photography by John Bodkin.
Read the full version in Eye no. 86 vol. 22 2013
Caroline Roberts, design writer, editor, curator, London
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. You can see what Eye 86 looks like at Eye before You Buy on Vimeo.