Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘typography’

24 MAY, 2013

Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Typographic Confabulation with Finnegans Wake

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“First we feel. Then we fall.”

Long before the Tumblr era of visual quotes, long before the ubiquity of typographic treatments of famous words, long before the age of art and design projects inspired by literary classics, in 1978, to be precise, Brooklyn-born artist and poet Jacob Drachler (1909-1998) released Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Confabulation With Finnegans Wake (public library) – a visually gripping suite of 44 graphics that captures in a beautifully abstract, ethereal yet tangibly coherent way the essence of the dense Joyce classic.

Drachler writes in the foreword:

I have mined the immense “Unterwealth” of Finnegans Wake, not with the aim of illustrating Joyce’s mythic narrative, but rather to tap into the energies of his truly protean language, and thus to bring about new contexts of word and image. Having been for many years a spellbound delver in the Wake, I began, for this project, a systematic culling out of hundreds of brief texts that spoke to me with particular resonance. I would then comb back and forth through these texts somewhat the way a water-douser follows his forked branch. Texts would call forth forms and forms would find their texts. The new contexts which were thus given shape are, to be sure, merely one man’s response to Joycean insights — a confabulation with a fabled work.

Thanks to Austin’s wonderful South Congress Books, where I found Joyce’s little-known poems, I got my hands on one of the few surviving copies — here is a glimpse of the deliciousness inside:

Though this gem is sadly long out of print, used copies can still be found. Happily, my limited-edition find includes this gorgeous original screenprint, signed by Drachler:

Take the abstraction level down a significant notch, but not the visual delight, with some illustrations from Joyce’s posthumously discovered children’s book.

Thanks to my friends at the School of Visual Arts for letting me use their large scanner.

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04 JANUARY, 2013

The Lives They Lived: Artists Remember Cultural Heroes We Lost

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“Because she declared, ‘We’ve come a long way,’ and she led our way to get here.”

Last month, I had the pleasure — as much as writing about a dead personal hero can be called a “pleasure” — of contributing to The New York Times’ annual The Lives They Lived series, commemorating cultural icons whom we lost in the past year. (It’s of little surprise I chose Ray Bradbury.) Among the other entries were a number of visual remembrances — including Christoph Niemann’s soul-stirring Sendak tribute — of such luminaries as Nora Ephron, Neil Armstrong, and Sally Ride. Gathered here are some favorites.

Debbie Millman honors Sally Ride in a handmade visual essay of felt typography soft-sculpted onto felt fabric.

Conceptual artist Rachel Perry Welty recreates Meg Ryan’s soliloquy from Nora Ephron's 'When Harry Met Sally' in a collage using letters cut from Ephron’s obituary in The New York Times.

Berlin-based illustrator and graphic designer Katrin Rodegast celebrates the jazz composer Dave Brubeck by layering black and white paper.

Artist Winnie Truong recalls some of his most famous looks from the manual 'Cutting Hair the Vidal Sassoon Way,' the blueprint to the coiffure aesthetic that defined the 1950s and 1960s.

A rendering of Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 suit by artist Tom Sachs, based on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.

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04 JANUARY, 2013

A Typographic Tour of New York City at Night

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“No other city in the world stages dusk to dawn like New York City.”

“Just bring your own contents,” wrote Anaïs Nin of the poetics of New York in 1934, “and you create a sparkle of the highest power.” But this iconic city comes with a sparkle all its own, glowing with unparalleled magnetic power, especially at night.

In 2008, photographer duo James and Karla Murray took us on a breathtaking tour of New York’s disappearing face in their stunning visual archive of mom-and-pop storefront signage — a bittersweet project eight years in the making, documenting shops more than half of which are now gone. This season, they’re back with New York Nights (UK; public library) — a striking, lavish street-level tour of New York City’s typographic neon mesmerism, revealed through the illuminated storefronts of some of the city’s most revered bars, diners, speakeasies, theaters, and other epicenters of public life. The gorgeous, giant tome, weighing in at over six pounds and more than a foot wide, is divided into seven sections — Manhattan below 14th Street, 14th Street to 34th Street, 34th Street to 59th Street, above 59th Street, The Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn — each highlighting the respective neighborhood’s most iconic establishments.

C. O. Bigelow Apothecaries, at 6th Avenue near West 9th Street, was established in 1838. It is the oldest apothecary in America and was frequented by Mark Twain and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Photograph courtesy James and Karla Murray

The Murrays observe in the foreword:

No other city in the world stages dusk to dawn like New York City. Whether it’s a glimpse out of a bus window pulling into the terminal at Port Authority, or the first step out onto the sidewalk under the Times Square lights after the end of a Broadway show that started before sunset — any visitor is immediately drawn to the city’s lights. Even simply viewing the illuminated city from the George Washington Bridge on the drive into Manhattan can be undeniably exciting.

Legendary cabaret and piano bar Duplex, at Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue South, has been in business since the 1950s.

Photograph courtesy James and Karla Murray

And who more perfect to pen the introduction than the inimitable Steven Heller, as brilliantly versed in the nooks and crannies of the graphic arts as he is in the art of being a New Yorker? Heller writes:

No other city in the world is more spectacular than New York at night! From down low or up high, its neon sparkles, its L.E.D. shimmers and its incandescence radiates in ways that duller metropolises cannot begin to replicate. Night light in New York is so spectacular that an entire genre of mammoth New York electronic advertising displays is called ‘spectaculars.’ Seen together, and glowing in full candlepower, ‘spectaculars’ exemplify the illuminated majesty of the Great White Way.

From gaslight to electric light, from wick to filament wire, luminosity has long defined the essence of this decidedly commercial city.

[…]

Rather than recede into the darkness, New York’s illuminated storefronts reveal more than is possible during the daytime hours.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor, at Doyers Street near Pell Street, was founded in 1920 as a bakery and tea parlor and soon became a Chinatown staple, offering fresh Chinese pastries, steamed buns, dim sum, and tea.

Photograph courtesy James and Karla Murray

Alongside the photographs are fascinating interviews with store owners, revealing unexpected pieces of cultural history. The Financial District’s Delmonico’s, for instance, turns out to be the birthplace of such culinary classics as Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska, and Lobster Newburg. A tiny piano bar in Greenwich Village called Duplex gave both Woody Allen and Joan Rivers their first stand-up spotlight. Mark Twain and Eleanor Roosevelt filled their prescriptions at C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries at 6th Avenue and 9th Street. Rudy’s Bar & Grill in Hell’s Kitchen offered Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner a safe haven to share a drink together before their relationship was thrust into the public eye.

Joyce Theater, at Eight Avenue and 19th Street, is one of the world's greatest modern dance institutions. It has been in business since 1982.

Photograph courtesy James and Karla Murray

Pershing Square, located at Park Avenue and East 42nd Street.

Photograph courtesy James and Karla Murray

Ed Sullivan Theater, at Broadway near West 53rd Street, broadcast The Beatles' first U.S. performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, on February 9, 1964. A new era of music and media was ushered in as 73 million viewers watched the rock and roll phenomenon perform on television.

Photograph courtesy James and Karla Murray

Roxy Delicatessen, at the heart of Times Square on Broadway near West 47th Street, has been in business since 1946. Known for its huge sandwiches and famous cheesecake, its walls are filled with Ben Burgaff's unique celebrity caricatures.

Photograph courtesy James and Karla Murray

Metro Diner, at Broadway and West 100th Street, is a family-owned diner located on the ground floor of a historic three-story wooden clapboard building built in 1871. It has been in business since 1993.

Photograph courtesy James and Karla Murray

Lenox Lounge, at Lenox Avenue near East 125th Street, was founded in 1939 by the Greco family. Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis performed in the popular bar, and it was a gathering space for cultural and political luminaries such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Malcolm X..

Photograph courtesy James and Karla Murray

Images courtesy Gingko Press/ James and Karla Murray

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03 DECEMBER, 2012

Anaïs Nin on Love, Hand-Lettered by Debbie Millman

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“Anxiety is love’s greatest killer… It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you.”

Revered as one of the most dedicated diarists in literary history, Anaïs Nin has given us a wealth of poetic and poignant meditations on life and the human condition. This first installment in an ongoing collaboration with creative polymath Debbie Millman — whose own poetic and poignant meditations you might recall from recent Literary Jukebox editions — captures one of Nin’s most timeless insights on love, culled from her many volumes of diaries and her love letters with Henry Miller. Drawn in Debbie’s singular style of artful lettering, the artwork is available on Society6, with proceeds benefiting A Room of Her Own, a foundation supporting women writers and artists. Enjoy:

UPDATE: Happy news! Part 2 of the series is now available.

Previous Brain Pickings artist series have included Susan Sontag on art and on love by Wendy MacNaughton, Anaïs Nin on life by Lisa Congdon, and Salvador Dalí’s “My Struggle” by Molly Crabapple.

See more of Debbie’s beautiful visual essays and poems online and in print, and follow her on Twitter.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





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