Blackletter: A Visual History

Finally, my show illustrating the history of blackletter using multimedia went up in the Thomas Anderson Roe art gallery at Furman University on the 4th of April, the reception being held that Monday.  I usually don't put personal projects on my blog, but since this has been such an under-researched area I believe this subject merits discussion.

Representing countless hours of work and research over the course of my senior year, the sole purpose of this show is to bring the history of the category of fonts we call blackletter to the public.  Throughout the course of my research I was able to break down this history into four major periods, and for each of these periods I created a piece using materials that reflect the aesthetic ideals of the people who lived in that time and country.

In addition to using media appropriate for the time period I incorporated a 3-D element into each of the pieces, lighting to accentuate this dimensionality, and crafted many of the forms using letter forms.

Below is my piece titled "Renaissance" along with a close-up, and is the first of my four pieces.

Blackletter was first used in illuminated manuscripts and strongly associated with Germany for hundreds of years, so it makes since that it was the font used by Gutenberg for his Bible (the book in the center of the composition).

As you can see, the forms of the rabbit, fish, goblet, pipe, tobacco, book, and ground plane are all made of letters.  This piece is an oil painting on linen which has been given a thick layer of varnish, then placed in a period-appropriate frame along with wall sconces which make the glossy surface shimmer in the light of their "flames."

The next piece is titled "Nazi Germany," and was crafted out of carved and painted wood mounted on masonite panel.

The reputation of blackletter was forever tarnished when the Nazis actively adopted it as their official typeface, and used it on everything from posters, letterhead, newspapers, and proclamations.  However, it was ironically banned from usage in 1941 when people living on the outskirts of their claimed territories found it difficult to read the proclamations that the Nazis posted.  The Nazis said that the reason they were banning its usage was because blackletter was Jewish when in fact there was hardly an ounce of truth to that statement. 

My piece incorporates small spotlights at the bottom which accentuate the carved wooden forms that comprise the eagle's wings, with gold and copper paint to emphasize.

The third piece, titled "Mexico," deals with an area of the world in which the taint of the Nazis has not corrupted blackletter's usage.

Blackletter came into Mexico during its conquest along with the conquistadors and their background of catholicism, and has been remained far removed from its controversial connotations in Europe.  It's currently used on restaurant signs, religious texts, body tattoos, clothing, and graffiti.

Here I crafted an image of the Lady of Guadalupe out of painted metal on distressed wood, along with a shelf supporting votive "candles" to give it an alter-like appearance.

My last piece deals with blackletter's current use in "Pop Culture," thus the reason for the title.  Below are both full views and a close-up.

Blackletter has recently been used in pop culture, dealing with everything from heavy metal rock bands, motorcycle gangs, rap artists, and high fashion clothing and labels.  Even in this context it has not shaken its negative connotations, as it carries with it this air of rebelliousness and edginess.  Sadly, blackletter will never be able to fully regain its sacredness.

This piece was constructed in Photoshop using digital photography and elements made in Adobe Illustrator.  It was printed on thick foam core, and edged in gold foil and red under-the-car lights.

Lastly, in order for the viewer to better understand what each of the works stands for I made a collection of four "story books" for the viewer to read while observing the pieces.

Please look at my portfolio page for more indepth visual coverage of the show.

It is my hope that I've demonstated the Creative Use of Type.