Ken Sprague: People’s Artist

Also see
Words Out of War
The Arrogance of Power
Ken Sprague book covers
North London art exhibitions


One of the first people to help the Journeyman Press get off the ground was Ken Sprague. He gave his time and expertise without any question of payment, and provided a distinct visual appearance to Journeyman’s first Jack London reprints.

Ken was a political activist. His involvement in the fight for justice was inseparable from his art. His avowed aim was to use his art in the struggle to build what William Blake enigmatically called ‘Jerusalem’ – a society of justice and equality.

It was a privilege to have known him and the principal reason for the existence of this page. It provides an opportunity to reproduce some of his work in his memory and for the warm support he gave Journeyman. After his death, the Ken Sprague Fund was set up in his memory.

The films below are a testament to Ken’s life and art. ‘A portrait of the artist Ken Sprague 1927-2004’ was made by his friends John Green and Gina Kalla in collaboration with Cinema Action in 1970, and digitised and re-mastered by Chris Reeves at Platform Films in 2021. ‘Poster Man’ was directed by Jeff Perks for Omnibus in 1977 and broadcast twice on BBC television. ‘Everyone A Special Kind of Artist’ was a series made by Ken for Channel 4, and this film about Melinda Perham in Clovelly, Devon, was also directed by Jeff Perks and broadcast in 1986.


The image above has been copied many times and few know that Ken was the original artist.

‘I addressed a meeting of a group of banana workers in the Canary Islands, which are Spanish-ruled. Franco was still in power at the time. They weren’t allowed to meet and discuss the formation of trade unions. Since my Spanish was bad and their English non-existent, we had to communicate via images. I made two drawings on a folded sheet and drew it out of an envelope. To begin with there is a swarm of little red fish fleeing in total disorder and confusion from a big black fish. “That’s us,” they cried “and the big black fish is Franco, eating us up.”  I then opened the sheet to reveal the little red fish now banded together and organised in the shape of a big red fish, now chasing their previous harasser, the black predator fish. They all laughed and we’d reached the basic, but common understanding we needed. A few days later, I showed the same picture to a group of Franco’s policemen. Now I wouldn’t say they didn’t understand it, but they clearly didn’t enjoy it. Images like these are bridges that you can cross in both directions. I’m trying to create those bridges.’

Quoted in Ken Sprague: People’s Artist by John Green, p. 64

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