Ode to Letters is a declaration of love of letterforms and a showcase of the nation’s best traditional sign painters, letterpress printers, and graffiti writers. The exhibition will feature three parts, in keeping with the traditional format of the ode, first with Strophe, Sign Painting; followed by the Antistrophe, Letterpress; and lastly the Epode: Graffiti.
Ode (from Ancient Greek: ᾠδή ōidē) is a type of lyrical stanza. A classic ode is structured in three major parts: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode. It is an elaborately structured poem praising or glorifying an event or individual, describing nature intellectually as well as emotionally.
With each discipline varying so much in style and function, Ode to Letters promises to be a diverse showcase of art works centered on letterforms.
This exhibition, co-curated by studio artist Ryan Adams and sign painter Will Sears, in collaboration with Edwige Charlot, will include live demonstrations, workshops, and a public lecture. Ode to Letters hopes to engage a wider audience through social media using the hashtag #OdetoLetters. See submissions at odetoletters.tumblr.com.
Ode to Letters will be exhibiting the works of some of the nation’s best traditional sign painters, letterpress printers, and graffiti writers. Given that each discipline varies so much in style and function, the exhibition will display a wide array of work all with the commonality of being centered on letterforms.
Strophe | Sign Painting: Traditional sign painters have a prominent and daily influence on everyone by creating aesthetically attractive signs that function to provide details, guidelines, directions and other pertinent information. The practice of hand painting signage dates back to the 1st century A.D. during the height of the ancient Roman Empire. But during the 18th century in England, the literacy rates amongst the general population rose and the trade of sign painting exploded, which led to an increase in the artistry and personal flair of the signs created. The 20th century introduced computers that were able to create quick and cheap graphic vinyl signage and traditional sign painters became a dying breed. Currently, there are a handful of dedicated sign painters that are commandeering a revival of the trade through their unique, elaborate, and decorative usage of letters to create beautiful hand-painted signs.
Antistrophe | Type Design: Throughout the majority of modern times, the printing press has been the primary method of printing text in books, magazines, and newspapers. Letterpress printers assemble individual blocks of ‘type’ (wooden or metal blocks that have letters and symbols molded onto them, creating a relief of the letter or symbol), covering the type in ink and pressing them onto paper, thus transferring the letters onto the page. Each block of type is individually created and selected by the printer, which allows for the craftsmanship and artistry of the printer to be exhibited. Like traditional sign painting, the 20th century introduced new technology that provided a more mechanized and expedient way to print texts at a high volume. This eliminated the prevalence of the printing press, but there are some letterpress craftsman that have persisted throughout the years and continue to create beautiful and ornate pieces using traditional techniques and tools.
Epode | Graffiti: Graffiti is, by far, is one of the most polarizing and debated art forms in the world. Originating in Philadelphia in the 1960’s, graffiti made its way northward to New York City in the 1970’s, where it flourished and the concept of ‘style writing’ (the individualized manipulation of letter forms) and ‘getting up’ (writing your name in as many places as possible) were introduced. The greatest achievement that a graffiti writer can attain is to develop a distinctive and personalized style, in which they have a way of altering and utilizing letters that are immediately recognized as their own. This requires years of studying letter structure and manipulating the forms in a way that is unique and innovative. Traditional graffiti is often painted illegally, thus causing controversy into the mainstream culture, but its impact on advertising, fine art and the way letters are presented and perceived is undeniable.
CURATORIAL STATEMENT: Co-Curators Will Sears and Ryan Adams, with Edwige Charlot
Each and every day, we construct, process, and utilize a set of 26 Latin symbols that allow us to communicate our ideas, provide instructions, and express our innermost feelings and thoughts. These symbols, or letters, are so vital in our lives that they are one of the first things learned and ingrained into our minds. There is hardly a day that passes where we do not employ these symbols somehow. Letters are so familiar and common in our lives that their importance and presence is often overlooked; although there are is a select group of artisans whose work is completely concentrated around our alphabet. Traditional sign painters, letterpress printers, and graffiti writers have created impactful and distinctive art forms through the laborious study and manipulation of the letters that play such an important role in our lives.
Community Engagement + Interaction: