Words as Images review

16 February 2012
Reading Time
3 minute read

We were buzzing last Thursday after another evening of talks for our Words, Words Words programme at Selfridges’ Ultralounge. Examining the relationship between words and images in various contexts were designer and founder of Typography Summer School Fraser Muggeridge, illustrator Sara Fanelli and Andy Altman from award-winning design agency Why Not Associates.

Fraser Muggeridge, donning some very dapper clobber, took us on a whistle stop tour of how well-executed typography can transcend words to become powerful images. By using the space of the page inventively, he demonstrated how writers and designers can create suitably considered visual compositions. Referencing concrete poetry, Fraser cited Bob Cobbing’s acclaimed Square Poem as how to do the aforementioned with aplomb.

He showed one of his own projects exploring the possibilities of language without text. By replacing words with “readable” images, he created a new language as visual code, which he tested out on us. To finish off he discussed his recent experimental typeface project with Giorgio Sadotti, exploring the notion of transparency.

Constructed by layering letters within letters, you glimpsed both elements and their new sculptural form. They also took this further with embedding pictures within letters – a true interplay between word and image.

The wonderful Sara Fanelli offered another take on the theme. As an illustrator she often faces the challenge of encapsulating and condensing a whole book or concept into a visual, using her book Sometimes I think, Sometimes I am. It was great hearing her talk with such passion about the research and background preparation she carried out. For anyone that hasn’t flicked through it, I highly recommend having a read – it’s a rich, beautifully-crafted collection of writing and illustrations broken up into thematic chapters such as Devils and Angels, love, colour, mythology and the absurd.

Its various sections are peppered with big ideas and celebrated quotations from notable historical and philosophical figures from Descartes to Calvino, translated through Fanelli’s imaginative drawings. One of the favourites (circulating on Twitter) was Alan Fletcher’s frank but romantic statement from The Art of Looking Sideways: “The person you love is 72.8% water”.

Andy Altman from the veteran design agency Why Not Associates , charmed the room and convinced us (without trying) that we had to visit Blackpool to see the Comedy Carpet. The combination of charisma, real belief and genuine enthusiasm for the project, won us over. The sheer scale of the endeavor became clear when he admitted the five year collaboration with artist Gordon Young – at a cost of £2.6million – involved setting up their own factory, and “nearly killed them.”

The result is a 2,200 square metre public art installation on the promenade, celebrating the history of British humour and Blackpool’s position as a mecca for comedy.

Featuring over 1000 comedians and comics catchphrases, the sea of type is a feat of construction and a testimony to human patience. Each letter was dyed, cast in concrete, laid out in position by hand, then set into the granite surface in sections. Pretty mind-boggling! No wonder Andy finds it infuriating when people mistakenly think it’s printed.

Interestingly, Andy pointed out that the difference between this being considered “art” rather than graphic design was that they had complete freedom and weren’t expected to conform to client expectations/demands.

The variety and range of work across the talks was great. It felt we got a real sense of their personalities and the way this influenced their working process. All in all, another fantastic evening well-spent.

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About the Author

Maya Davies

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