The CVPA exhibition features works by Norman Ives

A letter is a symbol, an optical representation of a vocal sound. Chain a few of these symbols together and they become a word. Words become sentences which become paragraphs and so on.

Spoken language becomes text and language takes visual form. It is a transition, which has evolved from rock drawings, hieroglyphics and ideograms to sophisticated alphabet systems, typography, calligraphy, signs, commercial illustrations and much more.

The letters themselves have become art.

Influential graphic designer and mid-century artist Norman Ives adopted letters not only as glyphs of communication, but as transcendent objects of beauty.

It is the subject of a comprehensive exhibition at the CVPA Campus Gallery, curated by author and designer John T. Hill, former student and fellow faculty member at Yale.

Born in Colon, Colombia in 1923, Ives was the son of a career naval officer. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1950 before attending the first graphic design class at Yale University, where he studied with Josef Albers.

He was drawn to graphics because it offered the opportunity to express his love of form with a function, a means of communicating with a large audience. His work involved creating corporate symbols, book covers, posters and large-scale public murals.

Ives was a painter, screen printer, collagist, sculptor, and prolific bas-relief maker and much of this work relies heavily on the presence of letters in isolation or in interaction with each other.

Sheilagh Coulter 1952 woodcut

He was a masterful choreographer of text elements. In “Centaur”, a screenprint in three colors (red, black and off-white) from 1973, letters – which in no way form the word “centaur” – engage in a frenzied dance. But in the mixture of these forms, one begins to see the limbs, the head and the tail of the mythical creature half-man, half-horse.

Ives’ inventive playfulness, so evident in “Centaur”, is also revealed in two small collages (6 “X 9”) made from match covers, one edged in fiery purple, the other in bright yellow.

Centaur 1973 serigraph

Arranged in a crazy quilt pattern, each square contains words (drops, picnic, cigarettes, blades, cola) or fragments thereof but they are stripped of their original advertising intent, and juxtaposed for no other. reason that the simple aesthetic pleasure. And it strengthens the connection between the advertising world of the Mad Men era and old-fashioned pop art.

Spring 1971 silkscreen

“Spring” is a 1971 serigraph in which vertical and horizontal trees in white intersect building blocks of fragmented letters. It reads as a celebration of the dynamic negative space inherent in the placement of all the letters placed next to each other.

Untitled collage Circa 1972 with yellow border.

Hill made some intriguing curatorial decisions, filling the gallery with a wide variety of works from different eras and media.

There are a few evocative simple works from 1952, including a woodcut portrait of Sheilagh Coulter, a college friend.

Untitled 1969 Liquitex on canvas.

There is a series of posters created for a number of gallery exhibitions in the 1960s, including for photographer Walter Evans, sculptor Tony Smith, and for the Museum of Primitive Art.

Also shown is a segment of a mural created by Ives, which evokes letter shapes without explicitly presenting a single letter in its entirety. The mural was commissioned by Brutalist architect Paul Rudolph in 1963 for the Art and Architecture Building (now known as Rudolph Hall) at Yale.

Rudolph was also the architect of the original university campus where the exhibition takes place.

The Ives exhibition is a rare opportunity to see a true master of the art linked to typography: the “type works”.

“Norman Ives: Constructions and Reconstructions” is on display at the CVPA Campus Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Campus, 285 Old Westport Road, North Dartmouth, until October 23. / Customers are advised to use car park n ° 4.

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