EARS AND TAILS; COUNTERS AND TERMINALS

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Earlier this year, as an exhibitor at the PAGES book and book-art weekend at the Tetley in Leeds, I attended a presentation by graphic designer Frazer Muggeridge about the implementation of retro technologies as drivers of contemporary design. He referred in passing to an obscure but striking lettering system from the inter-war period. I e-mailed him later for further information and he kindly directed me to the “Wrico Lettering Guide”; patented in 1926 and widely marketed by 1950’s by THE WOOD-REGAN INSTRUMENT CO. INC. of NEW YORK.     https://www.si.edu/object/nmah_905331

I trawled the internet, contemplating a purchase, but incomplete boxes from USA cost upward of £60 as they are now considered collectable. Besides, I wanted flexibility of scale  so that I could apply a system to my larger scale paintings. A set of rules and templates to transfer shapes on to A4 sheets would be of little use to me.

My idea was to create my own variation based on the shapes of the negative spaces to create characters by inference. The importance of ‘negative space’ -the shapes of the gaps or voids created between two or more corporeal elements, is one of the fundamental [and more interesting] principles of abstract art and design. Emphasis on these empty spaces would produce latent characters; hidden in clear sight, a notion close to any illusionist’s heart.

American Typewriter bold

I wanted to create a font using  American typewriter bold as a foundation. Why choose this? I am of an age when my educational theses, my mailed letters and later the scripts and running schedules I worked to professionally, were all typed; either by manual or electronic mechanical typewriters. It is still, to me, the most beautiful and evocative of fonts; even though in its current derivation, it is no longer a slab serif.*

anatomy of typography

Enclosed voids or closed counters provide specific identities for the following lower case letters:        a e g o

Open counters could indicate the presence of:     c h k m n s u v w y    Some of these gave a particularly striking arrowhead pointing in different directions.

However, to separate b d p and q from each other, I would need to provide further information; some element of ‘positivity’. Terminals, or finials [font nomenclature varies depending on source] are a visually satisfying characteristic of American Typewriter, those comma-like flourishes at the ends of some letters.  These I decided to incorporate. to differentiate ascenders and descenders. They also gave me r with its finial, referred to endearingly as an ‘ear’. If terminals could be applied, I could combine a dot to identify j and this could also give me i and a full stop.  An exclamation mark? Add a positive ‘cap’, fading out from the top line. This could also identify l.

If I introduced such a fade-out I could see a way of identifying t and x. Fading effects pose a difficulty on a font. They run counter to the central concept of legibility through contrast and solidity. But this is a ‘code’ designed by an artist, a painter whose trade specialises in blending, grazing across and nuancing surfaces. My application would be through means transmitted by pen, pencil and brush. My motivation is to add another element to my visual armoury. Consequently, I decided to use the negative space around the point where the t crossbar cuts across the stem. This created four right-angled triangles pointing to a central point on the mean line and fading out to the edges of a square.

x is created in the same way, but  rotated 45 degrees on the character line.

z could be created in the same way [though not having yet used this letter, I am tempted to use a simple solid diagonal stroke simply on the grounds that it is so visually powerful].

The first example was posted online on December 9th 2017, using Facebook as a sounding board.

Happy Birthday

After a day eliciting no responses, I was pleased that viewers began to engage with this visual puzzle…

Facebook

The font will be applied to a forthcoming suite of drawings and paintings with a working title: “Landscapes of Betrayal”

*a slab serif (also called mechanistic, square serif, antique or Egyptian) typeface is a type of serif typeface characterized by thick, block-like serifs                                               Typewriter slab serif typefaces are named for their use in strike-on typewriting. These faces originated in monospaced format with fixed-width, meaning that every character takes up exactly the same amount of horizontal space. This feature is necessitated by the nature of the typewriter apparatus.

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Levitating Ladies in Cardigan

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Two versions of “Levitating Lady with Hoop”

Will feature as part of ‘Gifted 4’ the Square Pegs Christmas Show

December 4th -9th: 10am -5pm daily [Friday 10am – 8pm] Guildhall, Cardigan

Showing with:

Carole King
Annie Coombs
Steve Thompson
Yvette Brown
Botanic Chocolates
Flora McLachlan
Sue Hanna
Helen Rowlands
Ag Cain
Angela Hathway
Moira Williams
Rustic Revolution
Ian and Paula Rylett

Six of the Best: a musical diversion

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6 Pefect Albums  After a week of delivering art to galleries, I had an evening free to indulge myself and listen to some music -pure and simple. With time on my hands I rifled through the collection and mused on what might constitute my six all-time perfect albums.

Only two criteria were imposed:

1] they would comprise original material from beginning to end -no covers.

2] they would have to be studio albums -no compilations allowed.

I could have gone for six albums from just one artist. Early Dylan might have had a shout, but there always seems to be a throwaway track somewhere, or, in the case of “The Times”, the title is just too familiar now [am I the only one immune to ‘standards’?]

There may be albums which have almighty tracks; Floyd’s ‘Money’, Levi Stubbs Tears” and “Between the Wars” by Bragg, Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe…”, “Forest Fire” by Lloyd Cole, “Vapour Trail” by Ride, but this is not a survey where tracks carry the day. Indeed, my four all-time favourite singles do not appear on my perfect albums. In no particular order, they are:

“Tracks of my Tears”  Smokey Robinson

“Walk on By”  Dionne Warwick

“Say a Liitle Prayer”  Aretha Franklin

“You’ve lost that Loving Feeling”  The Righteous Brothers

Some albums came so close; “Green”, “Troutmask Replica” , “Who’s Next”, “Meat is Murder”, “Tour de France”, “Loveless” -but you get nothing for being seventh…[Though already, I am beginning to regret excluding Magazine’s “Correct use of Soap” from my list… ‘Seven of the Best’, perhaps?]

I have most of the recorded material from the artists whose albums I have chosen, and in several cases, there was a severe pull between two or more albums. This is where the ‘original material only’ clause helped. It meant that between “More Songs about Buildings and Food” and “Fear of Music” I had to plump for the latter. “Take me to the River” is wonderful and far better than the Reverend Al’s original, but is nevertheless a cover. [“I Zimbra “, which opens FOM was adapted from lyrics by Hugo Ball, but the music is Byrne/Eno; not a cover in the true sense of the term.]

So here are my six of the Best. These are presented neither as countdown or order of preference. They are:

a] Kate Bush: “The Hounds of Love” A towering achievement; not only are we offered  a side of memorable and varied tracks -most of which eventually saw release into the singles chart, but Bush uses side two to present a multi-layered narrative in seven parts. The‘Rock Concept album’ is a notoriously dodgy genre; in the hands of a majestic talent, it is a high risk strategy which repays in full here.

b] Joy Division: “Unknown Pleasures” Sadly, only two albums to choose from. Both could have made the cut;. Today this one came out on top. Next week I might just as easily choose “Closer”. Lyrics by Ian Curtis; no more need be said. A nihilist manifesto for the eighties, which sadly, few other bands signed up for.

c] The Wedding Present: “Bizarro” is probably the choice made for personal reasons. David Gedge provided a soundtrack to a most pleasurable part of my life, both on the deck and in concert. In 1989, Leeds’ finest provided me with three of the best gigs I have EVER attended. One of these presented their foray into Ukrainian music; an unforgettable gig complete with ukranian tumblers and dancers. Punters who arrived late would have missed the support act -The Wedding Present playing a “Full English” set!  Listen to “Kennedy” and “Granadaland” several times and I defy you to navigate the same aural passageway through their complex guitar mesh twice. And if there is a better song about the heartbreak of clearing one’s possessions from a shared flat at the end of a love affair than “Why Didn’t you just say No?”, I have yet to hear it. High energy heartbreak and longing. What could be better?

d] The The: “Soul Mining”  I am disregarding the CD version in favour of the original vinyl release, because the bonus track tacked insensitively on to the end of the laser format, “Perfect”, pleasant though it may be, severely undercuts the mood created by “Giant”, which must be one of the best tracks ever laid down to end an album. SM squeezes in because, quite simply, there is not a single note out of place up to the end of this mesmeric, percussive chant [unless your copy is, like mine, scratched with overplaying].

e] Talking Heads: “Fear of Music”. My copy of the “Rough Guide to Rock” describes the Head’s third studio product as strong contender for ‘Album of the Decade’. There will be no arguments from me. Opening with a DaDa poem set to African beats, this is going to open you up to the idea of cultural crossover [and clash-into] like nothing in rock before. A soundscape where an electric guitar is tried before a court of law and is found guilty of crimes against the state. Where animals are feared for being hairy and for being able to see in the dark and are castigated for “laughing at us”. Where air can hurt you too and break your heart. Evocative locations abound; “..some gravesites, out by the highway, a place where nobody knows..” ” A dry ice factory -good place to get some thinking done.” “Hard to imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting, could be this much fun.” Indeed.

f] The Divine Comedy: “Promenade”  Neil Hannon is in my humble opinion, and let’s face it, mine is the only one which counts here -the finest songwriter we have today, -quite possibly the finest ever produced within the British Isles. Witty and erudite, his work can have me laughing out loud one second, tugging at my heart the next. In the 40’s and fifties, recording stars like Day, Sinatra, Martin, Darin et al, would have killed their agents and Grandmothers for this kind of material. Why “Promenade”? I could have just as easily selected another great album from TDC and as I hold that thought, three friends, one ‘absent’, one ‘mutual’ and the other ’imaginary’, are calling to me,”why not us?”. This album’s predecessor, “Liberation”, also shouts loudly for consideration. I find it difficult to resist a record where a cheeky Irishman imposes a musical collaboration on Wordsworth. [Incidentally, Liberation was not Hannon’s debut offering. Received wisdom holds that the rare ‘Fanfare for the Comic Muse” is not worth the search, but if it didn’t have to withstand comparison with the superiority of subsequent material, it would reward thirty minutes of anybody’s listening time and is well worth tracking down, Hannon’s own disavowals notwithstanding].

Perhaps it is something in their shared nationality, but “Promenade” reminds me of Joyce’s “Ulysses”. The events take place over a day in which the protagonists negotiate a series of fairly humdrum events.  Ablutions and a bicycle journey [with literary musings hovering overhead like a thought bubble] precede a rendezvous. After a seafood lunch the couple are soaked by a sudden downpour. They dry out and take in a vertigo-inducing and God-encountering Ferris wheel ride, followed by a french movie. Thoughts leading  back to a shared childhood precede a boozy gathering where the tipsy girl is rescued from drowning and brought back to the heart of the revelries. [“Neptune’s Daughter was initially the slowest of burners, but its haunting musical, kelp-like swayings,  now provides me with the highlight of the entire record.] A reverie countdown to finding love precedes the final rush of joyous, youthful energy in flight;  a reading of the first half of Dryden’s “Happy the Man” [this doesn’t count as a ‘cover’] provides a coda exhorting carpe diem; for we are here but once, and for too short a short time.

I envy anyone who has never heard this album before;  if that is you, you have an unforgettable treat in store. The world does divide between B.P. and A.P. As I would say to my honorary grandson, “What an album, Nathan; what an album…”

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Inktober 2017: 31 self-portrait sketches

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Inktober 2017: 31 Days 31 Drawings

Every October, artists all over the world take on the Inktober drawing challenge by doing one ink drawing a day the entire month.

 

Jake Parker is an illustrator.  For the last 15 years he has worked on everything from animated films to comics to picture books. He’s lived in six states, working at several studios with” the most amazing and talented people in the country”. He now freelances from his home studio base in Utah.

link to his official site:  http://mrjakeparker.com/inktober/

He instigated the Inktober project and posted a worldwide invitation to artists on Facebook.

“I created Inktober in 2009 as a challenge to improve my inking skills and develop positive drawing habits. It has since grown into a worldwide endeavor with thousands of artists taking on the challenge every year. Anyone can do Inktober, just pick up a pen and start drawing.”

1) Make a drawing in ink (you can do a pencil under-drawing if you want).

2) Post it online

3) Hashtag it with #inktober and #inktober2017

4) Repeat

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Jake had provided a prompt list of daily themes. Fine artists tend not to like prompts of any kind [most I know see commissions as an economic  necessity, but a hindrance and diversion from primary pursuits]. Accordingly, I ignored the list because I wished to use the month long period as an opportunity to spend 20 minutes or so per day in examination of my face; attempting to be as dispassionate as possible, but with the opportunity to exaggerate facial contortion and lateral head movement. Position and lighting varied; the drawings were united by medium. All were drawn with biro [either blue or black ink] on cartridge sketchbook paper; A4 portrait format.

The results are shown in sequence below, from October 1 / 31, 2017

day31day30day29day28day27day26day25day24day23day22day21day20day19day18day17day16day15day14day13day12day11day10day9day8day7day6day5day4day3day2day1

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Room 103: a Visual Tribute to George Orwell

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unnamed-3Collected works 1

Consignment batch31 unit4Orwell Wigan Pier 3George Orwell; a visual tribute 
Call for Submissions:

Submissions are invited from artists operating a variety of visual disciplines to contribute their visual interpretation of Orwell’s relevance to contemporary creative thought. A suitable venue is currently being sought for exhibition, but all submissions will be presented in an online gallery. Full details will be sent upon receipt of an expression of interest to the e-mail below.
smokingbrush@btinternet.com

“The enemies of intellectual liberty always try to present their case as a plea for discipline versus individualism.”
― George Orwell, All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays

Although he was not a visual artist and art criticism does not figure prominently in his work, George Orwell is one of the most visually descriptive of writers this or any country has produced. The freedom of the individual to think independently of state permissions was always his first principle. Perhaps this is why so many visual artists identify with his work. Certainly, over the last several months, I have been engaged in more and more discussions about Orwell and the prescience of his ideas.
The increasing frequency of these conversations has encouraged me to propose an exhibition as tribute to Orwell. As artists and citizens, we need his intellectual honesty as much now as we ever did; more so, in these times in which activities in the visual arts are seen as a ‘soft option’, and honest political analysis is denigrated as ‘fake news’ .

I hesitate to argue the interests Orwell would have pursued in 2017, but I am sure he would have followed the exploration [and exploitation] of cyberspace with keen interest. Its potential both as an empowering, democratising, creative tool and also its potential for mass control and individual coercion by state and multinational would surely have attracted his attentions.

Preliminary discussions with fellow artists have identified several areas of our contemporary world which carry with them what may be termed ‘Orwellian’ overtones.
1] Systems of surveillance in both public and private spaces
2] Character profiling through the process of information gathering [often surrendered unknowingly and/or voluntarily by the subject]
3] The insidiousness of the advertising and marketing industries [the background for personal revolt in “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”]
4] The provision of cyber ‘Prole food’; online pornography, gambling and sports coverage with which to blunt or deflect any appetite for constructive social change.
5] The continued desecration of the environment [The central thrust of ‘Coming up for Air’]
6] ‘Brexit’ What it means to be Nationalistic in the 21st Century [The Lion and the Unicorn]

 

New Light Art Prize 2017

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Two paintings accepted for the New Light Art Prize

BOWES MUSEUM: 18th November 2017 – 18th February 2018
HUDDERSFIELD ART GALLERY: 10th March 2018 – 2nd June 2018
BANKSIDE GALLERY: June 2018
TULLIE HOUSE CARLISLE: 13th October 2018 – 27th January 2019

Nasty Women

Rosie showing that political art need not be solemn or portentous. Like!

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Kathe Hillary

I have entered this little collage into a group show in London called ‘Nasty Women UK‘. I am hugely inspired by Käthe Kollwitz, the German feminist, socialist, anti-war artist who died in 1945, after a lifetime of using her art as political protest, being banned by both the First Reich and the Third Reich, a truly ‘nasty woman’ in the eyes of the corrupt establishment. Some time ago I produced a suite of screenprints, derived from original drawings of my artistic heroines. I converted the image of Kollwitz into a rubber stamp and have been experimenting by stamping her image onto Shiohara Japanese paper. In this collage, I have combined a stamped image of Kollwitz with a newspaper photo of Hillary Clinton getting ‘selfied’, two ‘nasty women’ together (Trump labelled Clinton a nasty woman).

The exhibition is this weekend, 22, 23, 24 October at…

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Royal Birmingham Society of Artists: profile piece on blog

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Click link below to Royal Birmingham Society of Artists’ blogsite and read the online interview. Influences, motivations, oh, and the sedentary behaviour of critics holed up in their London habitat….

Carole King & Glenn Ibbitson @Cric Studio Gallery

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Carole King and Glenn Ibbitson @ Crickhowell Studio Gallery

Mon. 11th – Sat. 16th Sept. 10am -5pm daily
free admission

carole and Glenn Cric1

 

This show represents a shared mini-retrospective comprising paintings, hand-bound books, artists prints and collages from 2000 to the present.

cabinet

Both Carole’s parents were accomplished model makers and engineers, so it is no surprise that Carole uses a range of craft skills to produce paintings, prints, and hand-bound books.

book display

splayed books

caroles cupboard

A self-taught printmaker, she now designs and screen-prints the covers of her books which are bound by hand in various styles to produce sketchbooks, visitors books, photo and albums. Though she uses modern technologies to prepare her artworks, her executive skill set is resolutely pre-digital and is employed to follow threads of nostalgia leading back to a childhood delight in details.

seaweeds

This can be seen in her paintings, the produce of an artist inexorably drawn to the rock pool and the debris of the tideline.

matchbox theatres

Her recent tableaux, non-sequiturs located in storybook gardens and structurally dubious interiors, are housed in veteran film cameras, puncture repair tins and matchboxes. Anything that doesn’t move is likely to be incorporated into her artwork…  Ridiculously prolific, Carole has driven her partner Glenn to issue the following plea;  “please buy some of Carole’s work; we are running out of living space at home…”

case lev lady

Though on initial viewing, Glenn’s work may emphasise technical dexterity allied to rigorous observation, they are rich in subtext. Issues of political spin, people trafficking, terrorism, personality profiling, surveillance and incarceration are encapsulated in compositions confining nudes  within crates and carnival performers.

ventriloquist

The centrepiece of his contribution are the “Little Histories of Fragile Creatures”;  A series of drypoint prints depicting characters who in their own time were famous, but are now almost lost to historical view. They exist in hidden niches of specialist subject knowledge, usually clinging on as footnotes to other people’s larger life stories. They have been collected into a volume. Each character’s image is accompanied by a short biography. There one will find an ectrodactyl who once duetted with Sinatra, a ventriloquist who defied gender stereotyping,  a 20th Century Queen of Thebes and conjoined twins who fell fatally foul of theology.

However, as fellow artist Yvette Brown has observed, “believe Glenn’s stories at your own risk. His strong sense of narrative and concept might lead you down the garden path, or it might get you kidnapped by the circus. Glenn’s work as a scenic artist for the BBC (a shady organisation if ever there was one) allowed him to practice trompe-l’oeil and visual trickery on an industrial scale. He has since honed his skills so that he can now cackle maniacally whilst blurring the line between reality and illusion.”

Timelines and context may have been re-calibrated, but any factual modifications have been implemented in order to reveal some deeper truth…

zigzap kimono

His art has been compared to a self-assembly furniture kit – don’t expect to find all the components or an instruction manual in the box…  “I am not interest in the ‘fast’ image where everything a piece has to offer can be absorbed immediately.  I want to produce works which reward repeat viewings; revealing something new across time; the viewer offered  incidental details to stumble over which may invite further connections. Not all the dots are joined. The work is only completed by the viewer adding his or her experience and sensibility to the accumulation of marks I have presented for study.”

target portala

carole and Glenn Cric2