I’m reading “On looking” by Alexandra Horowitz, a book recommended by pommiepal just before she left the blogosphere for a rich and fulfilling life in the non-cyberspace world. The author walks city streets, accompanied by a variety of experts: her 2-year-old son, a geologist, a scientist of movement through space, an animal expert, an author, a blind woman, a doctor who diagnoses passers using Sherlock Holmes methodology, her dog, and a man who knows fonts.
It is the last of these who inspires this post. Paul Shaw sees the world through the lens of lettering: I’m familiar with the way the landscape can deconstruct around one obsession, in my case, for a while, line. As he and Horowitz walk the streets his attention is constantly grabbed by lettering we’d mostly pass by: he not only notices, but he analyses and critiques – spacing, shape, materials. He also anthropomorphises letters and Horowitz is caught up in this game: she combs lettering chat rooms and scrutinises passers-by for inspiration, identifying letters that are squinty-eyed, short-necked, jaunty, complacent, high waisted, tipsy. Sometimes Shaw specialises: he collects “no parking”signs or ghost signs, those traces of signs left from the past.
I can’t say, as Paul Shaw does, anything technical about what I see but I can collect examples of lettering that catches my eye: because it is attractive, or because of its message, or both. The lettering I encounter serves many purposes: it labels / names, provokes thought, mystifies, amuses, gives aesthetic pleasure, gives orders, and of course advertises.
I’m interested in the letters but also in the surfaces I find letters on. I find them on pavements, on walls, stuck to trees, in underground stations, on the back of trucks, in front of cafés, on the glass of windows, on stone monuments, in signs hanging above shops, even on an old battery. Sometimes I’m interested in the inventive placement of lettering and the drawings that go with it.
Here is my collection so far. I suspect there’ll be more.
It began underground waiting for the airport train – not this train, although it was pulled into the same station. The plain walls suddenly morphed into a feast of lettering and colour. For once, I have an advantage because I don’t know the language: I can look at pure shape and design.
On the pavement, horizontal, there are stencils and chalk, and markers in stone and bronze.
Elsewhere the letting is vertical, on gateposts, pylons, an old battery, a stanchion, rusting metal. I’m a fan of the decorative too: otherwise ordinary graffiti takes on beauty in my eye because of paint dribbles.
From the tram I see this cafe window, and make a special trip back on a morning of icy wind to capture handwriting on glass. After all the mass production, this was pure delight and the quotes made me smile.
Then, as always in Warsaw, there is more formal lettering of deep sadness: memorials to people murdered in the horrors of World War 2. In this case, a group of children , 5-10 years old were shot.