Friday, September 12, 2014


6'x8' Diptych, oil, charcoal on canvas, 2014

I’ve always been terrible at lettering. I’m not neat and careful to begin with plus I have a short interest span (I’d probably be medicated today.) I barely got a “C” in Drafting in college, largely because my lettering was so bad (pre- CADD).  My biggest problem, aside from a lack of “sitz-fleisch” (literally: meat on which to sit) is that I’m left handed and all the “thicks and thins” of normal lettering are reversed. This is not to say I don’t love letters and calligraphy; I’m just not good at it.

But this has never stopped me from incorporating lettering in my paintings. I’m enamored with the jazzy, jagged shapes of letters, the fragments you see as if you were just glancing at a sign. I like ambiguous meanings: “fire sale” “stop here,” the way glass store windows are both transparent and reflective. Buildings are interesting and the people in the street great to look at, but it’s the signs that give everything pizzazz.

6'x8' Diptych, oil, charcoal on canvas, 2014

When did artists first start to use lettering in their work? Signage has been with us for centuries: posters, broadsides, shop and tavern signs. Braque and Picasso seem to be the first artists to see the potential in letters both as shapes and symbols of modern life. Around 1911 they, and other early Cubists, took to incorporating words, especially newspaper print into their work. Right on their heels came the Italian Futurists who used lettering to express the whirling motion that characterized 20th century life. Chagall also liked to toss in bits of Hebrew letters into his Cubist images of Paris and Vitebsk, jumbling past and present. 

6'x4' oil and charcoal on canvas, 2014
But lettering as a subject by itself didn’t really get going until the end of World War I when the German dadaists, primarily Kurt Schwitters, used printed words as the basis for their innovative collages. Schwitters called his work “merz,” reportedly from a scrap of paper he found in the street advertising the local “Commerz” bank.”

I like to use words and letters in my work. Everything I’ve done lately seems to contain signage, whether it makes sense or not. My lettering (as lettering) is still dreadful, but as long as the shapes work in the composition, it doesn’t matter;
I’m never going to be known for my calligraphy.

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