Experimental Letterpress & Relief Printing in the 21st Century
Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago through December 10, 2011
A little slow off the mark with this but what do you expect from an old fart like me. Curated by April Sheridan and Nick Sherman, Wood Type Evolved opened a couple of weeks ago and runs into December. It explores new art being made with traditional printer's materials and is a fantastic show that I throughly enjoyed and recommend.
The minute you step into the gallery you see these kids are up to things they really ought not to be. Mr. Sherman, along with some of the students at the college, fabricated and printed some unfeasibly large type. It may not be the fattest face ever but it could well be the tallest!
The main exhibition room features a group of artists, designers and letterpress printers taking wood type to places it's never been before. Brad Vetter is one of these explorers. Brad spends his days working for the grandaddies of old wood, Hatch Show Print, and obviously lets himself go a bit when he's off the clock. His beautiful colorful pieces (shown above) incorporate experimental techniques and materials such as pressure printing from cut paper templates to polka-dot patterns made from peg board mounted type-high.
Swiss designer and printer Dafi Kühne also cut his teeth at Hatch and now applies all sorts of unusual materials to his relief printing work. As you can see above, Dafi uses everything from traditional wood and metal type, photopolymer plates, laser and hand cut wood, linoleum, Plexiglas, cardboard, string, foil and it seems whatever he can get his inky hands on to achieve a certain look and style. The work often begins on a computer and incorporates digital images into distinctly analog finished pieces.
The work of Ashley John Pigford & Tricia Treacy is titled the Vista Sans Wood Type Project. Hybrids of old and new are at the core of the project's concept. The contemporary Emigre typeface, Vista Sans, is reproduced using a Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) router which the duo built from plans found on instructables.com. The process begins with the digital precision of software such as Adobe Illustrator and then the CNC router starts off a chain of degradation in the cut letterforms. Routing wood is precise but not perfect, and more unique character is introduced by the use of raw materials such as plywood and scrap wood recovered from trash bins instead of finely milled and sanded end grain wood as is traditional. This approach creates quirks and imperfections (what modern folks like about old wood type) in a new type production. Multiple sets of the type are being made to be used in collaborative projects with other print designers.
Robin McDowell is a graphic designer with a fondness for the old, broken and distressed type (sounds a bit like me). She salvages, collects and incorporates vintage pieces in her work but also has become a micro-manufacturer of sorts with her Everyman project. Traditional milling methods and laser cutters were used to create original letterform designs in relief. The blocks made of end-grain hard maple wood, were sanded, sealed and printed on a Vandercook letterpress at the University of Pennsylvania's Common Press. Robin also took the less traditional route and produced permutations of the type using Plexiglas mounted on plywood from which the poster above was made.
Nick Sherman, one of the show's curators, is a Brooklyn-based type and graphic designer who works for Font Bureau and Webtype. His Intercut System shown above, is an exploration of the abstract and modular characteristics of typographic letterforms. Nick began by designing and producing a set of proper type but then cropped, broke down and reinterpreted the forms further to create sorts and shapes that can be used more for their visual expressiveness rather than just spelling out words. It is a contemporary concept structured for experimental hand-set letterpress printing. Nick is very active in today's wood type movement. He serves on the advisory board of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum and is the editor of Woodtyper.
Wood Type Evolved is a delightful and in-depth look at the contemporary creative movement inspired by centuries-old printing and communications. It covers the history, processes and traditions of woodblock type and showcases the tactile beauty that inspires the artist's work today. The title of the project shown above top by Sara Mererid Williams sums it up quite nicely: Physical Attraction.
Running alongside the show's central gallery is a selection of wood type and letterpress work by many other artists and designers two of which are shown above. These intricately detailed initials are by The Wood Engravers Network. I apologize for not having the name of the artist who did the lovely insect creation shown. More of my photos from the show can be seen in the Cranky Pressman flickr photostream and on Printeresting.
~ You must see Wood Type Evolved ~