Is that a chisel in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

October 17, 2009

I’m definitely going to this. I’ve long been a fan of Gaudier-Brzeska, initially coming to him through Pound and Wyndham Lewis. Likewise Epstein.

But most of all I’m looking forward to seeing Eric Gill’s designs and sculptures. There’s an article on him here. Whenever I walk past Broadcasting House, with Gill’s sculpture of Prospero and Ariel (see the photo accompanying the article) I’m reminded of the story, related by Simon Loxley in his Type: The Secret History of Letters:

The governors of the BBC, viewing the work from behind the tarpaulin, were startled by what they considered the extravagant dimensions of Ariel’s penis, and Gill was ordered to make a reduction.

I hadn’t realised, until I read the book, that Gill had been a pupil of Edward Johnston, the man who designed the London Underground typeface. Perhaps I should have done, the famous Gill Sans typeface closely resembles Johnston’s iconic creation.

Hey, it’s not all sans serif round here though – we are nothing if not bookish after all. David Kindersley was an apprentice to Eric Gill (to continue the genealogy) and in 1959, infuriated by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation’s decision to go for a mixed case sans serif face for the signs on Britain’s expanding road system, produced his own MoT typeface.

[won’t let me link to the example of his road sign, sadly – you can see it on the link below]

The one on the right will be the familiar one, as it is the one that the Ministry of Transport eventually went with. There’s an article on the kerfuffle here, part of an excellent general history of road signs.

No, come back, seriously, I’m a wow at parties.

I would question the statement in that piece that it was Kindersley’s evidence that was found to be suspect though. According to Loxley it was the Ministry that had cited the (apparently non-existant) German evidence, and the dubious Californian evidence (the dodgy dossier of the late ’50s – Suez had nothing on it).  Kindersley’s typeface was more legible on smaller signs, and to my eye anyway, much more attractive. Difficult to see from the picture above, but it had been carefully designed for maximum utility –

Few of the letters are consistent with each other in the places where you would expect them to be. The top crossbar on the F ends with an upper serif and a slightly flared lower edge, whereas the corresponding section of the E has a double serif; on the E it is flared. the crossbar of the T is slightly flared, but has no serifs. The angled strokes of the Y are fatter, then taper, whereas the strokes of the V are of consistent width. The top of angle of the N has a small serif; those of the M have none. The bottom of the vertical stroke of the R has one small serif on the left edge, nothing on the right, whereas on the P there is a small serif on the left edge and a large on the on the right.
Kindersley had designed the alphabet this way to create maximum distinctiveness between the characters; he wanted there to be no confusion between them when view from a distance.

Few of the letters are consistent with each other in the places where you would expect them to be. The top crossbar on the F ends with an upper serif and a slightly flared lower edge, whereas the corresponding section of the E has a double serif; on the E it is flared. the crossbar of the T is slightly flared, but has no serifs. The angled strokes of the Y are fatter, then taper, whereas the strokes of the V are of consistent width. The top of angle of the N has a small serif; those of the M have none. The bottom of the vertical stroke of the R has one small serif on the left edge, nothing on the right, whereas on the P there is a small serif on the left edge and a large on the on the right.

Kindersley had designed the alphabet this way to create maximum distinctiveness between the characters; he wanted there to be no confusion between them when view from a distance.

It has a strongly British feel to it, weighty like old money, idiosyncratic and effective both in appearance and design, and would have reduced the size of the vast hoardings of directions that punctuate our roads. I wish they’d taken it up.

Kindersley married a very young wife late in his life, who survives him and carries on his work at the Cardozo-Kindersley workshop. They designed and executed the distinctive main gates at the British Library. Which, I think, brings us safely back to books, thankfully cocooned again from the world of fast cars and big willies.

Advertisements

Dear Person Who Found His or Her Way Here Using the Search Terms ‘Guicciardini’ and ‘Cheese’

October 7, 2009

I assume you were looking for a suitable cheese to have with a wine from the Guicciardini-Strozzi estate. If so, might I suggest a table pecorino? (NB: Not the hard, grating version, pecorino romano, which in its packaged supermarket form is disgusting.)

If, however, you were looking for mentions of cheese in the works of Lodovico Guicciardini, as I initially thought, then might I direct you to page 37 of the English translation (1593) of his Descrittione di […] Paese Bassi?

England

Thence come Cloathes and carsayes [kerseys] of all sorts, and of them great aboundance, both fine and course [sic], Frises, fine wooll, excellent Saffron, but no great quantitie, Tinne, Lead, Sheep skins, Cony skins, and divers sorts of fine furres, lether, Beere, Cheese and other victuals, and Malmesie (malmsey) brought out of Candia into England.

Read the rest of this entry »


Blind man, have mercy on me!

June 30, 2008

When I was about five or six, nothing produced a greater feeling of dread than a Mervyn Peake illustration of Blind Pew from a copy of Treasure Island given me when I was young. Peake’s Treasure Island illustrations use no outlines, but are composed of the finest etchings of pen, so that nothing is distinct but emerges as it were from a sea mist. The bullying, terrifying Pew himself seems woven from the very darkness around him, his blindness part of the fabric of the world in which he exists and seems a thing more powerful than sight.

The picture shows him moments before he gets trampled to death by a horse. He has taken a wrong turn, and the caption has him piteously pleading and wheedling –

‘Johnny, Black Dog, Dirk,’ and other names, ‘you won’t leave old Pew, mates – not old Pew?’

I still find it utterly hypnotic – no illustration or work of art has a more immediate hold over me.

Mervyn Peake\'s illustration to Treasure Island

This then was my introduction to Robert Louis Stevenson. Later I found out that those early compelling and precipitous chapters of Treasure Island were written almost as quickly as they are read; even to this day if I pick up the book I will find myself halfway through almost without realising it.

Since then I have read Kidnapped, its sequel Catriona, some of his essays and The New Arabian Nights. He is strangely impenetrable for one whose style is so open. He is like a window in a lit room on a darkened exterior, perfectly clear, yet impossible to see through. Was it just that his works were so simple that they invited no more than the most perfunctory analysis? The more I read, the less I felt this to be the case; The New Arabian Nights specifically present such a structure of mirrors and nesting boxes, and such a non-morbid preoccupation with violent death and a non-pious preoccupation with morality, while all rattling along in Stevenson’s typically brisk way, as to feel unique among things I have read.

This curiosity about his unmysterious but enigmatic writing has prompted me to go through his collected works from beginning to end – the Swanston edition.  I’ll draw my impressions as I go, and then after I’ve read it all, I’ll go into a biography and maybe some critical stuff to see how they match up. With writers who have this rather external, many-faceted gem-like appearance, opinions tend to differ quite a lot; as with Shakespeare, I can imagine people finding their own appearance in the lineaments of his writing.

It’s as well to set out what I know of him – a vaguely coherent congeries of facts, and half certainties –

  • Scottish, Edinburgh (the midden out back and the clean rational streets in front, being a sort of psychological ‘explanation’ of Jekyll and Hyde I came across once)
  • Father, a lighthouse designer?
  • Suffered health problems (tuberculosis?), causing him to eventually go to Samoa (and die there?)
  • First half of Treasure Island written very quickly (map of island came to him first? did he lose it as well?)
  • Wyndham Lewis’s not at all hostile description of him in Time and Western Man as ‘the sedulous ape’, and an observation about his cartoon like characters. [edit: as Martin Walker points out in the comments, this is in fact RLS’s comment upon himself, rather than Lewis’]
  • known as a fine essayist.
  • Got wife to help him with second selection of New Arabian Nights, known as the Dynamiter – an attractive image, like Elizabeth Jane Howard and Kingsley Amis writing bits of each other’s books.

That I think is pretty much that,

Oh, did he live in Sussex for a bit? Or have I made that up?

Next: What I Discovered Behind the Doors of Volume 1…


The Great Vortex

February 9, 2008

In theory lectures put on for the public are a great idea, in practice normal people like you and I are given cause to wonder what sort of person voluntarily attends a lecture that they don’t have to go to, or even in some cases pays to go to such an event, especially if the pubs are open. That’s not to say we should spend all our time catching the dew from the barmaid’s apron, it’s just by way of saying that you get a certain type at these things. (A type that would probably benefit from a drop of what does you good from time to time, truth be told.)

Still, as I went to one a week or so ago, the last laugh is on me. I did take the precaution of going to the pub first, feeling it was unwise to embark on such an undertaking without a Beatific Cushion of Alcohol to protect against any potential boredom. I also plead the excuse that the lecture was on Blast, that remarkable and explosive Vorticist periodical of two issues, whose creator Wyndham Lewis I have long been a fan of, while accepting that he is a ‘funny old stick’ as Mark E Smith once, with a considerable amount of cheek, called him. 

Some art critic called Richard Cork gave the lecture, held in a disconcertingly space age lecture theatre at the British Library (the windows seemed to reverse their polarity at one point, which had me briefly listening for the sound of bolts thudding shut across the doors and the hiss of escaping gas as an accompaniment).

As with most lectures on matters in which you’ve some sort of interest, this one seemed to consist of things I already knew, and things I didn’t really care about. CW Nevinson, for instance, produces nothing but indifference in me. His Vorticism and abstract stuff seems imaginatively lenten; conventional mutton dressed with radical mustard, the art end of what would become 20th century design. I see however that he’s credited with holding the first cocktail party in Britain, so props for that Charlie boy.

Corky also evidently has a bit of a pash for Bomberg, so he went on about him a bit, not entirely relevantly I felt.

Anything interesting?

Read the rest of this entry »


A couple of things to read before returning to fantasies of Tommy gunning down your colleagues

January 25, 2008

Being at work isn’t really compatible with posting trenchant entries on literature; no brilliant 10,000 word close analysis of Wyndham Lewis’s Childermass today, you’ll be disappointed to learn. 

Just a quick nod, then, at a couple of things that should help distract from the agonising quotidian boredom and inutile hatred engendered by spreadsheets, and emails marked urgent.

Look! Journal to Stella on the internet! OK, so it’s a bit of a mess at the moment, but I’m sure it will all be cleaned up soon and, with the Diary of Samuel Pepys, should form an essential part of anyone’s morning reading. I usually find that entering their daily grind is a welcome distraction from mine.

Surely it can’t be just me that warms to Swift’s servant Patrick rather more than the Dean at times? All that whingeing.

And fuck M&S’s Christmas campaign; I’m shopping here from now on –

 Harris’s Handbill