Window Gallery: CVIVS

Lettering on a stone

11 Apr - 26 Apr 2018

CVIVS is a testament to the materiality of language; the meaning of the Latin word is ‘testimony’ but it is also often used as ‘testament’, a direct trace to the past.


Curated by Central Saint Martins' MA Culture, Criticism and Curation students, CVIVS is an exhibition that uncovers the mystery of the Roman alphabet by going beyond its familiarity and examining the practice of lettering as an interpretation of ancient letterforms and as an aesthetic representation of language. Departing from the rarely seen lettering squeezes commissioned by Nicolete Gray (1911 - 1997), tutor at the Central School of Art, viewers will be taken on an exclusive journey to trace and discover the aesthetic qualities of Roman Lettering.

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What are Lettering Squeezes?

 

Letters are everywhere.

The Roman alphabet is core to Western cultures as the basis of communication yet its silent power is rarely acknowledged.

Inscriptions are engraved utterances. From tablets to monuments, memorials and streets, both ancient and contemporary, inscriptions are present in many (if not all) public spaces. Lettering squeezes are their reproduction on paper. They are essential to the way languages have been recorded and studied, helping identify their origins as well as evolutions over time. Lettering squeezes are unique material to study how space, form, texture and contexts interact. They account for the silent eloquence of the design of inscriptions.

The lettering squeezes commissioned by Nicolete Gray are a great example of the depth and the complexity of the art of lettering. As a scholar of art and calligraphy, Nicolete Gray participated in the construction of the Central Lettering Record, Central Saint Martins’ archive of historical letterforms and type samples. Gray’s interest in the squeezes, however, was also rooted in their power as testaments of the past. The lettering squeezes she commissioned are a significant part of a rich archive of reproductions of some of the most important inscriptions of three centuries of Italian history. They are at the same time artefacts of communication, testimonies of the origins and evolution of letterforms, and art-historical material.

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What is the Central Lettering Record (CLR)?

The Central Lettering Record (CLR) is Central Saint Martins’ collection of artefacts and photographic reproductions of Lettering. Created in the 1960s by Nicolas Biddulph and Nicolete Gray, the collection greatly expanded with the work of James Mosley and Alain Bartram and now includes about 10,000 photographs and 3,000 slides of lettering. 
 

With resolute efforts of co-curators Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon, the collection was transformed into a teaching archive, serving as a basis for the teaching of lettering and typography on the school’s Graphic Communication Design courses. The CLR is located within the studio spaces at Central Saint Martins. Along with the college’s Museum and Contemporary Collection, it provides an extensive view of the development and evolution of lettering and type design from ancient Roman lettering to the present. 


The lettering squeezes reproduced and exhibited in CVIVS were carefully chosen and arranged to display variations in details including relief, depth, form and uses of space. 

 

The exhibition provides a holistic view of ancient lettering practices and their influence on the present, featuring photographs, videos and graphic mapping made by students. The display will take the form of a constellation of images arranged to provoke evocative thoughts on contemporary lettering.

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About Nicolete Gray

 

As a scholar of art and calligraphy, Nicolete Gray participated in the construction of the Central Lettering Record, Central Saint Martins’ archive of historical letterforms and type samples. Gray’s interest in the squeezes, however, was also rooted in their power as testaments of the past. Married to Basil Gray, renowned art historian and head of the Oriental Department at the British Museum, Gray had close experience thus directly involved in the conservation and protection of antiquities and their important value or future generations. The lettering squeezes she commissioned are a significant part of a rich archive of reproductions of some of the most important inscriptions of three centuries of Italian history. They are a great example of the depth and the complexity of the art of lettering and at the same time, artefacts of communication, testimonies of the origins and evolution of letterforms, and art-historical material.

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