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eric gill Thoughts on lettering

Eric Gill: artist and abuser

I have written at some length on this blog over the years about the man known as Eric Gill. [See here and here and here for example – there are others too.] I am motivated to add to the already swollen record by an article in The Observer of London by Rachel Cook headlined Eric Gill: can we separate the artist from the abuser? I recommend you follow this link and read the (very long) essay.

To clear up one point. Cooke writes: ‘Eric Gill, long dead and widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century…’.

Who considers this statement to be true? What is the source for this assertion? Gill was and never will be considered ‘one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century’. In my opinion, Gill was a sculptor of repetitive talents; however, Gill was a fine letter-carver and useful typographer.

He was also a paedophile, as I have stated in the past. My conflict is that I was heavily influenced by his work as a stonemason, letter-carver and for a long period of time actually sourced his material and went on a sort of pilgrimage to Pigotts [see here].

I will not be able to visit the new exhibition at Ditchling – for those in the UK who can please do and please comment here on your thoughts/reactions. Many artists, perhaps the majority, do, as one observes at the end of Cooke’s essay, have a  ‘…libidinous drive…’ and this charges their work – think of Lucian Freud for instance. But this is no excuse for the man Gill.

In Gill’s singular case I argue that, no, it is not possible to separate artist from abuser, neither should we. Yes, there needs to be full transparency in the Ditchling exhibition; and yes, young adults, do need to be told of his incestuous relationships and be told his daughters, and others, were victims (please don’t dodge this by using the politically correct ‘those who experienced abuse’) of his abuse.

Your comments welcome.

Categories
eric gill Thoughts on lettering typographers

In Conversation with Eric Gill

I present a piece of fiction written two years ago. On re-reading I have concerns about the ending, but I leave it without self-censorship: that is what I wrote then, so be it. This blog has made it quite clear my view on Gill and his legacy in light of sexual abuse of children, noting that most sexual abuse happens within the confines of the family unit. Gill was a serial abuser, of that there can be no doubt. [See here for a previous blog on my view of this man.]

In conversation with Eric Gill, Catholic Englishman

It is mid afternoon, that time when you push through the hours in anticipation of the end of the working day. But when you don’t work there is no relief against the empty hours.  I sit alone in one of those concrete shelters on the promenade local councils were once so fond of erecting: a civic contribution to the general wellbeing of the community, a public sanctuary protected from the weather. Protected too from observation, where clandestine rendevous can be arranged. Spies, maybe, to exchange secrets (how thrilling); lovers to furtively enjoy one another (how erotic); older couples to sit silently starring out to sea, their minds blank to the inadequacy of their relationship even if their hands are joined (how melancholy).  A shame then that each shelter has a sharp smell of urine and is decorated, if that’s the word, with spray can graffiti. Tags, that’s the word I was searching for. Am I losing it, my wits not as sharp, my synapses – a word I can remember having heard it on the radio this morning – not firing so easily? I am as old as Dante and, I think, my best could be behind me now.

Of the shelters along the sea front I prefer this one since it’s the furthest from town. Too far for families with young children, too distant for the old and infirm for whom this part of the coast attracts with the same hidden force a magnet does metal, and beyond the range of visitors whose time limits them to those gaudy pleasures clustered about the now abandoned and derelict pier: fish and chip shops, shell fish counters, ice cream parlours, candy floss; arcades pumping out music and bedazzling the eye with flashing lights; shops selling last year’s desirables at knockdown prices; and, amid all this trash, a pub dating to the seventeenth century and still displaying its architectural heritage for anyone caring to observe, yet preferring to hide its charms behind contemporary adornments: always-on-TVs broadcasting sport, juke boxes, ‘eat as much as you can’ buffet. These places entice and capture most of those who might choose instead to walk the mile or so to my hiding place, and for the few who do make it this far (locals exercising either themselves or their dogs, in rare cases doing both simultaneously) the sight of me brooding alone is sufficient to cause them to quicken their step, to call their pet to heel, to turn quickly in case our eyes might meet. It’s as if I carry a sign of unwelcome or there is in the air a pestilence that compels strangers to flee. Or perhaps it is just the sharp smell of urine that makes them scamper.

Yet today will be unlike every other day for today I will meet Eric. We met yesterday when our paths crossed, quite literally, at the train station though the more I think about it the less I believe it was chance. For what is chance but our laziness to recognise a pattern in all that happens in our lives. He had emerged from the footplate amid steam rising from the boiler. He was laughing and clearly in high spirits, cracking a final joke with the fireman with whom he had shared the journey. He had the demeanour of a boy and seemed to skip away from the locomotive with a lightness of foot that is without care or consequence. I watched as he adjusted his glasses, removed the cloth flat cap he was wearing, slapped it against his thigh to remove any lingering soot ash, replaced it and nodded to young couple passing just then, his eyes fixed, one might say penetrating the woman’s clothing as in his mind he began to sketch her naked. He was, after all, an artist. I think she understood for she looked behind to receive his smiling invitation. Eric, I thought, you are no different from what I imagine you to have been. As the woman’s male friend dragged her away (she complaining) his attention turned to me. ‘Are you really going to say something?’ I thought. His course was set. It was inevitable we met.

Eric Gill, he said.

I know.

You know me?

I was once a fan of yours.

Fan?

I mean I was once a letter carver like you.

You made a living at it?

Not really.

Then you cannot call yourself…

I don’t.

What are you?

What am I?

Are you deaf? What is your occupation?’

I do many things.

Any of them well?

I think so.

What? What in particular do you do well?

I listen.

That’s it?

Isn’t that enough?

You are asking me that?

Who are you to judge?

Considering this he lit a cigarette.

I will see you tomorrow, he said and walked away.

I watched until he vanished amid a circle of dancing children.

*

I smell the cigarette before I see him.

You’re late, I say.

He sits close, our thighs almost touching, and crosses his legs. He wears something like a kilt and grey woollen socks come just below the knee. He adjusts them, a band behind the turndown needing to be slackened. In the burnished shine of his brown leather shoes I see clouds reflected. The cigarette smoulders at the end of a long mottled Bakelite holder. He looks out to sea then closes his eyes.

Do you believe them? he asks.

Without hesitation or reflection I answer. It is what I have waited to say.

What you did was vile. It was unconscienceable. I don’t know how you were able to live with yourself knowing you had violated your own. If then it was not a crime, today you would be sent away and, good riddance, Mr Gill.

But was it unholy? His eyes are open now.

How can you hide behind false gods?

I am off track already, my long-prepared assault on his reputation has been easily parried. It’s like he was expecting it all along, had determined to take me on at the outset without the distraction of introductions or well-mannered small talk.

My dear child, he begins. Everything we do is holy. Everything I did was promoted by that desire also to be truthful.

You fucked your own daughters, I shout.

There is no need to be vulgar. Intercourse is a beautiful partnership.

Not with your own.

Why ever not? I am surprised how orthodox you are. These taboos you speak of have been placed there by institutions keen to clamp our spirits.

I am becoming angrier. I force myself to calm down, take a moment to draw a deep breath.

Even your own fucked up religion does not tolerate incest.

Not incest, he counters, his voice rising an octave. No! It was not incest.

Then what is it?

A partnership mutually agreeable, he answers.

It sounds rehearsed as does what follows.

There was never dissent. After I had drawn and sketched her we lay together.

Then you took her every which way you liked.

I pause to allow the words find their level, attach to memories I sense are flooding his mind.

You took her and you knew she would never protest, call out, scream, tell her mother.

Mary knew, he says and his eyelids close.

Open them, I shout.

I stare at him. He focuses on mine, his glasses now reflecting the shit grey sea. Way above us a seagull cries. There is almost a thin smile of triumph moving across his face. I want to hit him but he is a shade from another place so my words must do duty.

You…you…

I hesitate. I have long thought of this moment, triumphant in my moral justification, imagining him squirming at the end of a well placed, one might say clinical demonstration of reasoned judgement. I had considered my words, prepared a mental script. I was incisive in my preparations. I’d make him seek mercy as the magnitude of his sins were revealed. But now with him here by me I cannot. My mind is blank. Everything has been deleted. This man is Eric Gill and I can’t continue for at another time I cherished him, loved him like my father even if he was dead. I feel I should apologise for my outburst. He leans forward, takes my right hand in both of his, pulls me closer.

Dear child, he says gently. Be angry. You are right. I did wrong. I was a bad man, a bad father, a bad husband to my wife. Know this though: What I did harmed no one. It was God’s gift.

 

The End – so to speak…

Categories
Elements of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering typographers typography

Adrian Frutiger remembered

Adrian Frutiger passed this life on 10 September 2015. Read here for an obituary.

I previously wrote about Frutiger here.

In his Signs and Symbols he writes of the value of ‘interior and intermediary space’. Adrian Frutiger and interior spaceDesigners take especial note. ‘The beauty of a sign,’ he writes, ‘is often the result of a struggle between the resistance of the material and its conquest by the instrument…By contrast, the Oriental way of thought and expression…puts the creative act more into the mastery of a gesture with which the brush lays the sign on paper’. [Studio Editions, London, 1989, p.101.)

I did not know of Frutiger’s personal life so as a mental health social worker I find he lost two daughters to suicide prompting him and his partner to establish a foundation

http://www.fondationfrutiger.ch

Categories
Elements of Lettering lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework printing Typographic ephemera

Something Rampant for the weekend

Looking through my collection of typography today I came across these images, included in Portfolio Three by The Rampant Lions Press, Cambridge, England, dated 1982. I have written about Will and Sebastian Carter many times throughout the life of this blog so please hit the search key to find out more, or send me an email. Enjoy your weekend. (This was a regular feature of the blog – the last entry can be found here.)

Franklin typeface
Franklin typeface
Rampant Lions Press prospectus
Rampant Lions Press prospectus

 

Categories
alphabet lettering typographers

Barnbrook

Two images leapt out at me today while browsing typography now, the next wave (North Light Books, 1994 pbk edition). BarnbrookThe first one of machine-generated stone carving (naturally, being a stone carver); the second a font called Prototype, this because the illustration stated it was an amalgam of other typefaces including Perpetua and Bembo.

At the time I did not note the connection and it was only a few moments ago when reading Brnbrook’s entry in Typography, when who how (Konemann, 1998) that I came to realise he was behind both.

Barnbrook_0001Thanks Jonathan and merry christmas /happy new year (if you celebrate that is).

For more go to http://www.virusfonts.com

Categories
Thoughts on lettering Typographic ephemera

Pictured in type

Making pictures from type goes back a long way – how long I can’t answer and I haven’t done the research but believe me it is a long time.

On the occasion of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Pictures from Type_0002Frances (as she was then) on 29 July 1981 I and a colleague put together this offering – the additional inscription The only safe fast breeder is a Royal (in Times New Roman, letterpress) added when the pregnancy was announced in 1982 (Prince William was born on 21 June 1982) and alludes to concerns over nuclear reactors – 1982 was also the year the UK went to war with Argentina over the Falklands.

Now McDonald’s have caught on.

Though Pictures from Type_0001they may show promise – and are clearly done on computer – compare and contrast (as my English teacher at secondary school used to say to us)  this 1953 effort by Dennis Collins of Queen Elizabeth II.

It comes from Typewriter Art, 1975, London Magazine Editions (another item to be added to your ever Pictures from Typelengthening Christmas wish list). This piece was done on a typewriter and Collins notes: ‘The Queen’s portrait … [was] done on an old portable on which spaces could not be finely adjusted – this accounts for the horizontal white strips across the face…’ (For an earlier post on typewriter art see here.)Pictures from Type_0003

Collins (born 1912) was a notable cartoonist who did ‘The Perishers’ comic strip for the Daily Mirror from 1958 to 1983. If you know more about Collins please let me know.

Note – the lettering on the Charles and Diana card was done with Letraset.

Categories
History of Lettering typographers

Mr Frederic W Goudy’s ‘curves are perhaps too round and soft’

It’s always a joy to pick up a book, any book, and find a colophon describing the typeface used in the publication. This most recently happened to me when I bought a copy of Geoff Dyer’s novel Out of Sheer Rage (Canongate Books, 2012). The typeface selected for the edition is Goudy Old Style, Goudy lettering_0001designed, it is noted, by ‘Frederic W Goudy, an American type designer, in 1915. It is a graceful, slightly eccentric typeface, and is prized by book designers for its elegance and readability’.

OK. Slightly eccentric took me to my bookshelves to see what others have written about Mr Goudy. What does Updike have to say? He writes of Kennerley, Goudy lettering another of the designer’s faces commissioned in 1911 by Mitchell Kennerly: ‘[it] is a freely designed letter which has been much praised in many quarters. Its capitals are excellent but the lower case roman, except perhaps in 10-point, seems to “roll” a little; and, as was said of another of Mr Goudy’s types, “when composed in a body, the curves of the letters – individually graceful – set up a circular, whirling sensation that detracts somewhat from legibility. That is to say, the curves are perhaps too round and soft, and lack a certain snap and acidity”.’ (Printing Types, vol II. 2nd ed, 2nd printing, 1937.)

My Oh My. They were savage critics back in the twentieth century.

What has Carter to add? ‘Goudy died in 1947,’ he concludes, ‘heaped with honours…His faces are not widely used for the setting of books: they do not fulfil the customary demands of reticence for such purposes. But for displayed work and advertising design they have always been deservedly popular’. (Twentieth century Type Designers, 1987.) Carter also notes how Goudy made a new fount, that is cutting the matrices by hand and giving them to Updike the same day – Updike having called for lunch (this was 1933) and complaining he couldn’t find the right size or style for a title page he was then designing. Now that’s what I call a good lunch.

Another writer, BH Newdigate, says of Goudy’s Kennerley face (this written in 1920): ‘…[it] is perhaps the most attractive letter which has been placed within the reach of British and AMerican printers in modern times.’  Times change.

Categories
lettering

All About Lettering turns 4

Thank you to all subscribers/followers over these 4 years. I will post some of my personal favourite posts in the next few days. Keep watching…[image – using discovered Rowney lion printing water colour tube, left second finger, drawn on concrete floor – actual size 170mm by 110mm. (PS – actual drawing for sale including house. Plus plenty of  books etc on lettering and calligraphic arts. Apply.)

Turning 4
Turning 4
Categories
lettering printing

Three cheers for the Don Dorrigo Gazette – three cheers for Michael and Jade

How long will commercial letterpress continue? Until it becomes too expensive to source spare parts or ink or, more likely, until the craft skills are no longer passed from generation to generation.

PART ONE: In the small township of Dorrigo (pop. 1100) high in the mountains of northern NSW commercial letterpress is, at present, alive and well. The Don Dorrigo Gazette is the last Australian newspaper (the Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate to give the full title) printed letterpress, and printed letterpress not as a hobby but as a business enterprise. DDG office outside

Now in its 104th year the newspaper is valued by the community it serves, for it acts as the heart of the community, a true community newspaper in every sense. One of the house-ads states: ‘Your Printer Is Part Of Your Community’. So much part of this community that 800 copies are printed each week, the eight-page edition hand-folded before being distributed both locally and afar and sold for a dollar; so much so that the rival newspaper of the big town of Bellingen (pop 2600) down the mountain is mostly shunned by the Dorrigo folk.

I first wrote about the Don Dorrigo Gazette two years ago (click here) and it has taken me that long to make the journey – about five hours from where we live in far north NSW, down the Pacific Highway, through the seaside town of Coffs Harbour before turning inland. So when we were serching around for a week’s break and my wife mentioned Dorrigo (there are wonderful rainforest walks and waterfalls to see) I didn’t hesitate.

DDG MichaelI didn’t know what I would find, though I think in my mind I had expectations of a much larger building, perhaps with a frontage that serves as reception and ‘newsroom’. After all, in my earlier years working as a journalist all the local newspapers I worked on in England had some sort of entrance, be it modest or grand. Not so the Don Dorrigo Gazette. (Though reading through the centenary issue of the paper, published on 20 January 2010 I find that until the late 1980s there was indeed a frontage, the ‘factory’ being built on in the late 1970s.)

We had arranged to meet Michael English (left), owner, editor, advertising manager, typesetter, printer and jack-of-all-trades, on Tuesday. He told my wife on the phone that he would be in early, around 5am, to finish off that week’s edition. The night before I scanned through the previous week’s edition: the front page ‘splash’ being Ancient History Display Comes To Dorrigo while Museum Musings on the back page (page 8, single page size 29cm x 44cm) contained the information that: ‘Our museum houses the complete set of the Don Dorrigo Gazette from 1910 to the present as well as the old Wharfedale letterpress printing press used to print the newspaper until it was replaced with the current Heidelberg cylinder press’. DDG heidelberg

TO BE CONTINUED …

 

Categories
eric gill

Gill & Gill: a film

People still remain fascinated by Gill. WordPress stats reveal the posts I have written about him are the most frequently visited. As many of you know I abhor the man Eric Gill after years spent in shameful admiration of his letter carving. Were EG alive today he would face prosecution for, among other offences, child sexual abuse and incest.

That aside, recently I had an email from Louis-Jack Horton-Stephens who is making a film about two Gills – one typographers have heard, the other a guy by the name of Jack who climbed the stones his namesake carved.

Louis-Jack writes: ‘The film is a visual essay entitled ‘Gill & Gill‘ that explores humanity’s relationship with stone by juxtaposing two masters of their craft: one of rock climbing, the other of letter cutting. The film looks at the way these two very different practices, united by a common material, share basic principles such as: creativity, problem solving, dedication, muscle memory and balance. Through this unusual comparison I believe that we can come to better understand the artistry in both crafts, and in so doing reflect on humanity’s relationship with the material world.’

Louis-Jack is seeking funds to make and complete his film. If you are interested in knowing more please follow this link