Vista Sans Wood Type Project

A simple (or maybe complex) exhibition of typography with a violent streak

For an apparently simple exhibition, the Vista Sans Wood Type Project at the Belfast Print Workshop has its complex side. Or maybe it doesn’t. Other than the base prompt of ‘touch’, the 21 typographic prints on display are presented with limited commentary. So basically, whether they are fancy Wordle or a complex artistic expression is down to how much the audience reads into them.

And yes, that is true of most art. With something as stylistically simple-looking as the Vista Sans prints though, you do wonder if you aren’t reading too much into them. If, to be blunt, you haven’t gone and got a bit arty with it.

Tricia Treacy and Ashley John Pigford conceived of the exhibition as a 'collaborative exploration of the interplay between venerable/archaic and experimental/modern technology in the effort to produce a hybrid form of typographic design where the production process is ingrained in the product'.

They created 20 sets wooden print blocks, each consisting of five letters that spelt out 'touch', and sent it out to various print artists to see what they made of it. 

Tucson printer Karen Zimmerman created a 5-piece print, with one letter printed on each A4 page. At first it looks deceptively simple, almost like something you would print out at home, but lean in close and the little smudges and watery runs around the letters come clear.

Does they represent the ‘stains’ that every touch leaves behind – a visual representation of the impact connecting with others has on our lives? Or does Zimmerman just like making watermarks?

Kyle Van Horne and Kim Bentley from Baltimore Print Studios certainly seem to play with a darker concept in their print, where the smudged, fading grey ‘touch’ is stamped over and over again on the paper. Where Zimmerman’s conjures memories, this feels more like fingerprints at a crime scene just waiting for surreal CSI’s to collect them.

Josphine McCormick, the only Northern Ireland print artist in the exhibition, also goes with a forensic feel. Her ‘touch’ has been splintered, with the purple metal litho ink O lying in a pool of gaudy red-orange and surrounded by seemingly random letters.

Maybe I just watch too many crime shows. There are prints that don’t make me think about letter-violence, of course. ‘(un)touch(ed)’ by David Wolske is an abstract print of yellow and candy-pink. The theme is in the absence, the white space where the bars and curves of letters have been erased and the pink counterforms where the hollows of the word are.

Eric Woods, from Firecracker Press in St Louis, has created a bubbly, festival atmosphere in bright, summery colours. And Peter Kruty + Sayre Gaydos from Brooklyn offer up a bouquet of wooden mannequin hands sprouting from the plain orange word.

Others take quite a sidelong punt at the theme. David Shields (Austin, Texas) plays with the fact that he initially misread the printfrom sent to him as ‘Couth’ instead of ‘Truth’. Inspired by the antique concept of a ‘couth touch’, his creation is a bold, dynamically coloured print inspired by 19th century chromatic wood type.

Yet violence does seem a significant thread throughout the exhibition. In addition to the aforementioned prints by Baltimore Print Studios and Zimmerman, there is a quirky image from Brooklyn’s Nick Sherman pointing out that in every ‘touch’ there is an ‘ouch’. And Swiss printer Dafi Kuhne’s contribution is one of the most powerful images in the exhibition, the one that wriggles its way into the imagination.

Extracting the words ‘cut’ and ‘hot’ from the theme word, Kuhne slices into them repeatedly to create a fountain of broken words. To me it represents self-harm, blood spilling from a wound, but checking Kuhne’s blog it seems that she just thought the words sounded cool and nerdy.

So maybe the exhibition is simple (artistically, anyhow, since many of the pieces are technically complex), rather than academic? Or does the eye of the morbidly imaginative beholder outrank the intent of the creator?

Vista Sans Wood Type Project is at the Belfast Print Workshop Gallery until July 28.