Monday, April 14, 2014

Text As Art

My relationship with text as art has one of it's origins in science fiction and fantasy movies and literature. I was smitten by the various tongues of Middle-Earth, not enough to learn Quenya or Sindarin but enough to marvel at the fluidity of the script and to mimic it with my junior calligraphy set.
    As my interest in SF&F deepened and crossed paths with the psychedelic experiments of Rick Griffin and other sixties poster artists, I took to writing out my cosmological models using an altered Latin alphabet in an English stilted and grandiose. Think Temple Ov Psychick Youth with more hobbity hippie in it. My infatuation with medieval alchemical diagrams and Invisible College communiqu├ęs added a pinch of poignancy to the punch.
    I loved the mystery of a language that couldn't be read. I also enjoyed the act of writing devoid of any obligation towards meaning. Perhaps filling pages of meaningless script acted as a stand in for wanting to realize actual finished narrative. It would be years later when I accidentally stumbled via invitation into the international movement of Asemic Writing, a practise of scripting out gibberish, gestural mark making and pretty much anything that looked like language but wasn't.
    In hindsight there are two distinct early origin points that I must reference. One was my struggle and ultimate inability to competently use the Hellenic Alphabet. As a young hyphenated Canadian, I went to and soon after dropped out of Greek school. The ubiquitous presence of material lying around the house that I couldn't access surely informed my later love of mysterious scripts. The other origin point was a particular memory of sitting on the floor between the stacks of our small high school library, possibly in grade nine, and leafing through a book on talismans and amulets. The stark black and white graphic quality of round arcana struck me. These little drawn blobs were beautiful. They spoke everything and nothing, eggs you cannot crack but also can't help rolling in your palms never wanting them broken.
    As a young person of maybe twelve or thirteen I would draw any number of things. Heroes and monsters, Don Martin swipes from Mad Magazine, rock band logos on my pencil case and these things that I referred to as 'designs'. I still am a bit amazed that I had the presence of mind or even intelligence to answer the question of 'what is that?' with 'it's a design'. Pointe Finale, no further explanation forthcoming. Simple as that. No idea where I got the concept. These designs were abstracted forms, organic and graphic, rounded, succulent, obsessively contoured. They evolved into a sort of art that I would make that after the age of fifteen I would reserve and sign with a special pen name that resonated with meaning for me. I would never even consider signing a cartoon with this name. It was for stuff that evidently came from some other planet. Conversely, my new secret name allowed me to draw things radically different than what I usually drew.
    As I grew older I nurtured my love for logotypes and I still treasure books of these designs. It all finds it's denominator in stark black and white. I never had time for books showcasing the 'new' logotypes of the eighties and nineties, replete with drop shadows, gradations and even -gasp- full colour. Atrocity. Bad design.
    High contrast black and white, that was for me. Science Fiction & Fantasy. My mother tongue. Alchemy and sigils. Psychedelia. Logos. Asemic writing. These all coalesced in me with my discovery of the photocopy machine as art tool. Xerography changed everything for me. Photocopying my drawings for friends' band posters led me to experiment with static noise, enlarging and reducing images, rummaging through the waste paper bins, keeping and endowing scraps of graphic noise with a special status akin to poetry. The thing is that I kept this stuff to myself, I kept a collection of these eight and a half by eleven abstractions. The flyers I would design would rarely feature these photocopy effects. I was timid.
    When I found myself accidentally wading through the constant give and take of mail-art in the late eighties and early nineties I also found that I reserved that special nom de plume for my postal activities. Mail-art introduced me to the arcane seals and stamps of exotic liminal locales like Zaumland as well as the hard graphic visuals of the industrial music subculture. I also found that the poems, unreadable and arcane, that I was making via photocopy were readily shared with a greater world but kept away from my local art making. I was split in two, Billy in Montreal who drew erotic squashes, psychedelic doodles and hyper bunnies … and this other person, an entity that sent out and in turn received mysterious languages in the mail box.