Stereotypes of Liverpool are both wide-ranging and, variously, archaic or vacuous. The city is bookended by two famous football clubs but in between lies a matrix of shopping and culture. Football definitely, art maybe, but design and Liverpool might not jump to mind when the city comes up in conversation.
But this is changing. Art is well established in the city with the Tate and the past glories of its European Capital of Culture status still tangible throughout the North West. The roots of a Liverpool design culture can be spied in local shops and museums. At the Bluecoat for example, you will find Arabic calligraphy as part of the current Arabicity exhibition and, on a smaller, more intimate scale, The Golden Age of Lettering.
The Bluecoat is an important anchor to art and design for the city. The Bluecoat Display Centre, situated off the central courtyard and opposite the main gallery space, allows small exhibitions to act as a conduit for visitors to the larger displays in the main galleries. At its best, it acts as a breeding ground for curatorial ideas in craft and design.
The main space is often a chaotic mix of international craft work leading to a quieter more curatorial space. Here the Golden Age of Lettering introduces you into the everyday of craft and typography. The work is imperfect or intimate, precise or loud and takes typography as a malleable mouthpiece for expression rather than a science.
Jessica Turrell’s work is a mix of jewellery and still life. The Lost and Found series captures the movement of writing and the eeriness of a Kyle Cooper film title – the lettering drips, smudged like the opening titles ofSeven.The work uses shadows cast by the ambient light like drop shadows – it adds to the texture of the type.
Deborah Hopson Wolpe comes from a more traditional understanding of typography. Her functional ceramics are hand-thrown and use Albertus to engrave the surface, a typeface designed by her father. She plays with the formal grid structure and loops the viewer’s eye to follow the curves of her work as the type traces the outline of the hand thrown form.
The books produced by Hand & Eye Letterpress are a collective endeavor: Phil Abel who started Hand & Eye in 1985, Rosa De Carlo has a graphic design background and acts as a colour expert, and Nick Gill, a writer and musician. The work materialises the slowness of process and is in marked contrast to our digitised world. The books are craft based, but the work is Modernist and confident rather than Arts and Crafts cute.
One of the curators of the show, Eleanor Suggett, graduated in graphics from London’s Central St Martins College of Art and Design has since grown to love typography alone as a tool of expression. Her work ranges from editorial to personal interpretations of typographic form. In this exhibition her work draws on the influence of the artistIan Hamilton Finlay (no mean typographer himself), and her work reflects his rigor and precision.
Slate posts are hand-engraved with simple phrases using typefaces, including Trajan and Gill Sans, which reference past masters in the art of lettering. Suggett’s work reflects the modernity of typography (the work is large and stands in the space like an installation) but equally harks back to its traditional ancestors and craftsman like Eric Gill; like Gill’s, her work captures the sensuous nature of letterforms.
The exhibition succeeds in bringing to the attention of the public the role of typographic expression in our lives, beyond the corporate logo, or urban tag. It allows visitors to learn some of the poetics – if not the techniques – of typography today.
Golden Age of Lettering continues until continues to 7 August at Bluecoat Display Centre, 50-51 Bluecoat Chambers, Liverpool L1 3BX.