Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Boy, the Flower, and the Typewriter

In my basement I have a small collection of vintage and antique typewriters. About half of them are portables, complete with travel cases; some of the cases are leather, others are wood boxes, still others with plastic travel cases. I have an old Underwood; a couple or Royals; portable Remingtons and Smith-Coronas.

I don't collect a lot of things—vintage typewriters, lapel pins from national and state parks I've visited, books—although I do admit some things mass more than others. I'm not a collector the way some collectors are; and I'm a recovering packrat, finally cured of that tendency by the many months it took to go through the crap in my parents' house after they passed on; so I don't really care to gather too many chattels into my possession. I'm also not a "serious collector" in that these old typewriters have often stumbled my way, without having to seek them out. I don't spend a lot of time or money on the things I do collect. My Underwood, which weighs a ton, was the only one I went out of my way to acquire; but I still paid less than twenty dollars for it.

My tastes are also rather monastic, when it comes to decorative objects. I like examples of functional, elegant design; an exquisite, simple Michael Graves teakettle is far more attractive to me than any Victorian silver tea service. I am drawn more towards simplicity and Minimalism, in architecture, than I am to the Baroque and over-decorated. Visual clutter leads to mental clutter, to being distracted and scattered. I keep my house clean, and put things away when I'm done with them, including dishes, because I'm more vulnerable than ever to being derailed from my purpose, thanks to the life-changing events of recent years, which I'm still recovering from. A clean house is one way of coping with a lack of focus elsewhere.

In going back over my design and illustration work, because I'm starting over, I have been digging through new and old artwork alike. I found this image, originally made in 2003, I think, and have pulled it out again to use in my self-marketing.

This image is iconic, for me, and speaks to lots of the reasons I get pleasure from art-making, graphic design, illustration, and photography.

I made a Photoshop collage of a male nude, photographed in the studio, and a flower, also shot in the studio, under careful lighting. I printed the finished Photoshop collage, then inserted it into one of my antique typewriters, rolling it like a page of typescript around the typewriter's platen, as though the typewriter were producing the art.

To me, this symbolizes a convergence of old and new; the old printing technology meeting the newest; the digital meeting the analog; the natural and organic meeting the mechanical; the chaotic (nude and flower) meeting the orderly (mechanical precision of engineering, in technology). The finished artwork, for me, symbolizes how the digital emerges from the old, too: the digital image scrolling up from the keyboard; I thought about this very often, in my earlier days of doing graphics and typesetting work on computers. The technologies are recursive, curving back around to support each other in new and surprising ways.

I enjoy the fact that all the different technologies, old and new together, go to produce a single finished artwork. Old and new tech are not in conflict; the one doesn't replace the other, rather it provides a new palette of artistic choices. I often go back and use older tech in my music and art-making. I've recorded flute improvisations, a bamboo or cane flute being one of the oldest musical technologies on the planet, directly onto my laptop.

I've used my typewriters in more than one photo shoot. I have some other images like the one shown here, which are similarly iconic. I also have a set of close-ups I've been thinking of marketing as a CD of royalty-free images for other designers to buy and use.

I've also used my typewriters for the design purpose which I originally intended: to illustrate my catalog of original typefaces. I run White Dragon Type Foundry, a mostly amateur business, in which I give most of my work away. I design typefaces. I design them for fun, and because I'm fascinated by the history of letterforms. But I've also designed typefaces professionally, and occasionally lucratively. My font pages contain a wide range of my type design work, and several examples of the often-whimsical artwork I've made using my old typewriters.

I've been too busy moving and sorting through other belongings—and traveling—these past few months, to really do much more with my typewriters. But I might still add to the collection, if the write instrument comes along. Most of my typewriters still work, too; I've thought off and on about doing some type design based on their built-in forms. I could type out a phrase, digitize it, and go to work. (The old and new merging together again, as in the piece I talked about above.)

I did actually do this, once already, sort of, with my typeface Smith&Wesson Corona. I took this same typewriter and photographed it, with a sheet rolled onto the platen, as above, with sheet this time being the typeface's own sample-sheet. A fun bit of recursive illustration.

And I might set up all the vintage typewriters to be photographed again. I do find that re-doing the same subject, years later, gives one a different perspective on it. I don't like to repeat myself, artistically or personally. But revisiting old friends is not the same thing at all.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Nothing to do with typewriters but I thought you might like to see the poem I wrote right after reading your last paragraph:

   Second Draft
   I first wrote this poem
   seventeen years ago.
   I thought I would revisit it
   to see if I've changed any.
   It used to be longer
   although I didn't have
   any more to say.
   In another seventeen years
   I might have it down to one
   sentence and, if I live
   long enough, a single,
   solitary word.
   It should take a lifetime
   to pick a word like that.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

That's great! The best kind of response one can get is a brand new poem!

I really like your last couple of stanzas. The last stanza in particular reminds of Borges, of St. Exupery, of Camus, all in a good way. This is a very good poem, especially in the way it moves towards its ending.

Thanks for posting it here. I'm honored.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Rachel Fox said...

I like both - your typewriter boy and Jim's elusive word.

4:40 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

All equally luscious, I totally agree. Can we share? :)

9:23 AM  

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