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Tags: Calligraphy, quote, Wise Words, Zora Neale Hurston
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In early June, I attended the 3-day weekend workshop Entering the curve: an introduction to five hundred years of cursive writing 1150-1650 at Cooper Union’s Type@Cooper in New York City. Ewan Clayton, a professor of design at the University of Sunderland, UK and co-director of the International Research Centre for Calligraphy, instructed the workshop, whose attendees were a mix of seasoned and novice calligraphers with diverse academic and occupational backgrounds. Most of the calligraphy classes and workshops I’ve taken over the years have focused on technique rather than the history of calligraphy; therefore, this seminar’s historical perspective was of real interest to me.
Clayton is a great storyteller, who fascinated the class by making history come alive with his engaging stories, many of which will likely be in his soon-to-be released book, The Golden Thread: A History of Writing. One interesting thread Clayton discussed regarding calligraphic hands throughout the centuries was the ‘re-purposing’ of fast hand versions of formal hands, which were then formalized into newer and slower variations. For instance, Roman minuscules were developed from a fast hand version of Roman capitals and later formalized into carolingian. Clayton illustrated the transformation of the Roman capital ‘H’ into the lowercase ‘h’ by lettering it quickly, where each stage revealed how the upper right corner of the letter diminished.
One of the highlights of the workshop was Clayton’s demonstration and instruction on quill cutting. The quills we used were shed naturally and each student had an opportunity to cut their own quill and later practice writing cursive hands with it. The Cutting Quills segment was recorded and edited by fellow Type@Cooper faculty member Hannes Famira and can now be viewed online.
The workshop was well balanced with plenty of time for us to practice many types of cursive hands and also discuss their historical applications. I especially enjoyed lettering Humanistic exemplars, which is a hand that has strongly influenced modern-day type design. According to Type@Cooper‘s program director and faculty member Cara Di Edwardo, who visited during the workshop, “The humanistic hand of the 15th century is the most important model for lowercase letters. Those printers who set up shop in Italy in the 15th century and the French printers of the early 16th century modeled the first Roman typefaces from the contemporary book hand, humanistic. These early designs have been revived many times in the 20th century and are prized by fine printers. In the pedagogy of typeface design, the humanistic hand is fundamental to understanding the anatomy, weight distribution, and proportion of text faces.”
Clayton’s Entering the curve workshop gave me a better understanding of the origins and development of many cursive hands. It was certainly worth the journey down to NYC from New Hampshire and I look forward to learning more about the history of writing in his upcoming book.
Ewan Clayton’s The Golden Thread: A History of Writing, published by Atlantic Books, will be available in the UK on September 5, 2013 and February 11, 2014 in the USA.
Following is the publisher’s synopsis of the publication.
The Golden Thread is an enthralling and accessible history of the cultural miracle that is the written word. It is an invention that has been used to share ideas in every field of human endeavour, and a motor of cultural, scientific and political progress.
From the simple representative shapes used to record transactions of goods and animals in ancient Egypt, to the sophisticated typographical resources available to the twenty-first-century computer user, the story of writing is the story of human civilization itself. Ewan Clayton marks each step in the historical development of writing, and explores the social and cultural impact of every stage: the invention of the alphabet; the replacement of the papyrus scroll with the codex in the late Roman period; the perfecting of printing using moveable type in the fifteenth century and the ensuing spread of literacy; the industrialization of printing during the Industrial Revolution; the impact of artistic Modernism on the written word in the early twentieth century – and of the digital switchover at the century’s close.
The Golden Thread raises issues of urgent interest for a society living in an era of unprecedented change to the tools and technologies of written communication. Chief amongst these is the fundamental question: ‘What does it mean to be literate in the world of the early twenty-first century?’ The Golden Thread belongs on the bookshelves of anyone who is inquisitive not just about the centrality of writing in the history of humanity, but also about its future.
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Tags: Calligraphy, Cara Di Edwardo, Cooper Union, Ewan Clayton, The Golden Thread, The Golden Thread: The History of Writing, Type@Cooper
In February 2013 I had the pleasure of being part of Takt Kunstprojektraum artist-in-residence (AIR) program in Berlin. The winter residency group consisted of 10 international artists including myself. The AIR participants engaged in a wide range of media and research, which included sculpture, bricolage, photography, painting, video and anthropological studio visits. We lived and worked in studios in the Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg East side neighborhoods. Our group exhibition, Colligere, was held at Kunstraum Tapir and was curated by Paola Bonino. Bonino incorporated many of the diverse styles of the resident’s work into a collective exhibition that both united and also honored individual forms of expression. A few of the artists also held additional exhibitions and readings in other Berlin spaces during their residency. The residents also received weekly critiques from Isabel Manalo, who is represented by Addison/Ripley and is also the director and founder of The Studio Visit. The program directors, Antje Görner and Bernhard Haas, were very resourceful and kind. They provided opportunities for residents to meet with others in the Berlin contemporary art community and organized social and educational events for us to attend. Antje and Bernhard were also very helpful with mundane requests (like needing a hammer for my grommets or finding Oblaten for my 90 year neighbor back home).
This silver lining needs refining (in collaboration with Hugh Rennison) * Berlin * 2013 * Handwritten quotation, gouache, wire, card * 59,4 cm x 42 cm
quote: “The only joy in the world is to begin. It is beautiful to live because living is to begin again in every moment.” – Cesare Pavese
Bewusstsein * White River Junction, Vermont, USA * 2013 * Vinyl, paper, ink, wood and metal * 147,32 cm x 59,69 cm
exhibition copy by Paola Bonino:
Bewusstsein consists of discarded handwritten notes collected by the artist for about three years. They are primarily to-do lists from places she has been to recently. As a calligrapher, Di Piazza is concerned about the practice of penmanship, which is fading in our modern digitized world. However, these thrown-out notes indicate that people are still writing, even for seemly unimportant things. After collecting them, Di Piazza bound these lost pieces together with thread. In the resulting work, the artist combines two different elements – the concept of Bewusstsein (awareness) and discarded to-do lists – in order to highlight their contrast in terms of our mental-state of time. It is hard, in fact, to be in a state of awareness during our daily lives, when we are preoccupied with thoughts of the before and worries of the thereafter. The to-do lists, often created for remembering the most mundane chores, are focused on accomplishing tasks in the near future. Perhaps they are chores we want to forget but become a nuisance when we do. Do we create these to-do lists because we hope we will later be in such a state of Bewusstsein (awareness in the present) that will we likely forget the things we must do? The piece was also created using a vinyl garment bag whose function is to be ‘suspended’, thereby serving its primary purpose of protecting a garment. The garment bag was chosen to emphasize that time is suspended too when we are in the present state of Bewusstsein.
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The following work was created at The Gardarev Center‘s artist-in-residence program held at The Meeting Point in Boston, Massachusetts in December 2012. The three sculptures are in honor of victims of intimate partner violence. Many thanks to Toni Lester and Dr. AndreA Macsis for their guidance and support.
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Main Street Museum, White River Junction, Vermont | through November 18
Review by Laura Di Piazza
Adam Blue’s current exhibition AstroExplorer – A Guide to the Heavens, at the Main Street Museum, takes us through three distinct spheres. “Constellations for the New Millennium”, which consists of 84 drawings and text pieces, provides concise and sometimes blunt discourse on current environmental, political and social issues, as well as pop culture. Its range is wide; from the garbage dump epidemic in the Pacific Ocean to easily accessible online porn. Sprinkled within the commentary of our times is what I view as the ‘consolations’ of the constellations in the form of horoscopes. I was born under the sign of the Predator Drone. When things do not go well for the Predator Drone, AstroExplorer’s horoscope wisely advises: “never you mind, you can always take refuge in the Pringles and Mountain Dew that feed your soul”. (WoW, it’s like that was written just for me.)
In this series Blue also juxtaposes contrasting features. For example Goth Fairies is a drawing of a levitating fairy in Dominatrix style attire, with crop in hand, and angelic wings.
Not all is fun and games, there’s also serious commentary on social injustice. As seen in ‘There’s Margin$ in the Marginalized”.
In this series Blue accurately depicts, in an uncensored manner, the tone of our current and common form of modern-day information consumption: “sound-bites”.
The next series in this exhibition is called “How the White Cube Hangs Once the Gallery Has Closed”, which is a photographic collection of site-specific journeys of the White Cube. If the “Constellations for the New Millennium” is like the WiFi in the home then “How the White Cube Hangs Once the Gallery Has Closed” must surely be the balcony. Here, the moment calls for reflection and space. The traveling minimalist White Cube becomes part of the landscape by being a participant within a site, however still it may appear. The White Cube makes observations that we may ourselves ponder, like when in the produce section of the supermarket: “Eating organic whenever you can is important.”
Raking leaves can be totally zen.
The final series is a collection of 12 finely executed gouache drawings that unfold like riddles. This series reminds me of the coziness of bedtime stories and the vast inner-space those words can hurl me into. In this case Blue’s paintings sends my imagination running and questioning. Will Artificial Intelligence one-day wonder, “Who am I”? Does our internal forces no longer shield itself within powerful symbols but instead hides itself within sugary snacks? Why is that monkey swinging with a cell phone in his hand? Is he too distracted by the ever-shifting monkey-mind that plagues my sleep before important meetings/events the following day? I wonder.
Adam Blue is the Education Director at AVA Gallery and Art Center, a nonprofit community art center in Lebanon, NH and is an art editor of The Whitefish Review, a semi-annual, nonprofit, literary and arts journal.
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Tags: Adam Blue, Exhibition, Main Street Museum, Vermont, White River Junction