Michelle Hamer hand-stitches pixelated versions of photographs she’s taken of urban spaces, mainly those occupied by text found in advertising, signage, or graffiti. She stitches her images into perforated plastic, transforming flat, static images of everyday public urban life into tactile needlepoints that recall private and domestic spaces.
“I see my work as a type of socio-historic documentation. The images depicted are in between moments that we often take for granted. The obviously slow process allows viewers to become more conscious of these moments which are captured within an instant and consider the difference between the manual and the digital. The in-between spaces (on/off ramps of freeways etc.) where signage can often be found is both necessary for our infrastructure, but also generally not noticed. Similarly, much of the text, advertising signage, streetscapes are so familiar we can fail to focus/really see it, but it’s often reflective of our broader social ambitions, aspirations and edicts.”
Text phrases, words and letters abound in contemporary art, ranging widely from direct witty phrases to text that has become illegible in its adaptation. With increased crossover between different fields of art, the craft of editing text in literary arts is a skill and practice that has been incorporated into the visual arts more frequently. Jenny Holzer is an artist who comes to mind in this regard.
However, in this article I am examining the other polarity of text in art. As an artist who regularly uses text in my own art work, I am always interested in discovering the ways in which other artists step beyond the all too prevalent witty-one-liner on the wall into an artistic language that is far more expansive and uniquely cultivated. The artists included here demonstrate the beautiful grey area that emerges between abstract painting, graffiti, constructivist painting and the written word, to name a few. Here text becomes a vehicle for additional forms of communication, used as a foundation to expand upon with the artist’s particular vision or agenda.
Wendy White, Feodor Voronov, Glenn Ligon, Annie Vought, Jose Parla and Jel Martinez are all artists whose work takes text and language and pushes way outside the box. Wendy White’s use of the lines and structure of letters themselves is deconstructed and echoed in lines that emerge within her abstracted and color washed work. In the images of her work shared here, I particularly love the way in which she goes beyond the canvas in architecturally reconstructing the text-like elements along the border.
With funny fake titles that satirize the real thing, Harland Miller paints a colorful collection of paperbacks which function as a shrine for predictable literary personalities from Waugh to Hemingway . . . and he doesn’t stop there. He also gets personal, implicating his own self-titles into the mix, adding a whole other autobiographical subtext that is both playfully light and familiarly bold.
Jean Cocteau once said,”a poet doesn’t invent, he listens.”
The pieces built by self-proclaimed “melancholic post-situationist” artist Robert Montgomery, likewise, work as interesting dreamy receivers or lightning rods, absorbing bursts of humanity’s collective subconscious in relation to varying environments.
Translating frequencies and teetering between genres, Montgomery, in Interview Magazine asserts, “Obviously my own work comes from a conceptual art tradition, but I love the graffiti artists, and I feel spiritually closer to them than to most contemporary art; they make the city a free space of diverse voices and we shouldn’t get all cynical about them just because Banksy made some money.”
You may have already seen Luke Lucas’ typography work, but weren’t aware of it; he’s created designs for companies like Target, Nestlé, The New York Times, and Barnes & Noble. He’s also done work for exhibitions and creates his own fonts. Some of the more humorous and elaborate text designs are reminiscent of Wayne White’s word paintings. Of his work, Lucas writes, “I love that the same word, passage or even letter can be treated in bunch of different ways and embody entirely different meanings… That and through subtleties like a slight shift in line weight, the elongation of a tail or the arc you use, a letter can go from contemporary to traditional or happy to sad in a single stroke…”
Recent Manchester University grad Mark Robinson uses folklore narratives as a jumping-off point for his moody mixed media works. Robinson’s paintings, which contain visceral, almost spontaneous textual elements, serve as an outlet for his various frustrations and impressions. I like his flat use of color and black. And the piece directly below the jump, a silhouetted cowboy/bandit figure done in blue, suggests a good sense of texture. Definitely some interesting stuff from this young artist.
Brazilian illustrator and comics author Pedro Franz fills his work to the brim with color, characters, and textual elements. And it’s all happening at once. Before you can take in a single expression or brush stroke, you are swallowed whole. I don’t mind. But when you do recover from the original onslaught of energy, a unique style of narrative is revealed. More images of Franz’s work after the jump, and you can check out his comic, Promises of Love to Strangers While Waiting for the End of the World, right here.