What are ghost signs and ghost works?

Ghost signs are old advertising signs painted on the exterior of buildings that have faded into the brickwork or timber. Many are glimpsed only when a building is demolished revealing a hidden facade.

Ghost sign from the Ephemera Society of America.

Ghost works are collages created by overpainting magazine pages with thin glazes of acrylic paint so text and images ghost through the paint. This collage technique, invented by artist Ray Monde, gives depth and texture to the final artwork.

Ghost work collage by Ray Monde of blue rippled water
Ghost work detail of artwork by Ray Monde

What’s special about ghost signs?

Ghost signs are like time travelling. You get a glimpse of the world as it was hundreds of years ago, sometimes thousands of years.

There’s a 2,000 year old ghost sign advertising wine in Herculaneum. We can see the facade of the shop as if we were walking the streets in 79AD.

There’s also something intriguing and playful about the products that were sold, the style of typography, the hand-painted illustrations and even the words used to advertise a product.

What’s special about ghost works?

People search ghost works for hidden meaning. They look for images and words to discover added meaning in the artwork, subconsciously concealed by the artist.

Ghost works are an evolution of the surrealist collage technique known as automatism. Invented by Max Ernst, who put together images clipped from magazines and product catalogs.

Examples of a ghost work by Ray Monde showing a man sitting in a river. You can see text ghosting through the water.
After a Long Day, ghost work collage on canvas, Ray Monde 2022

Where to find out more about ghost signs and ghost works.

The Ephemera Society of America is a great reference for ghost signs. There’s also great books documenting ghost signs including Ghost Signs of London and Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past.

Ghost works are available through Michael Reid Southern Highlands, Watson Kennedy, and Purple Noon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s