INTRODUCTION TO KALLIGRAPHOS
-the main exhibition of the CalliBash, held at the Sanlam Gallery,
(An online version of the exhibition will be placed here in the
cover design by Heleen de Haas
exhibition forms part of the Cape Callibash -the Cape Friends
of Calligraphy's twentieth anniversary celebrations and it gives
us great pleasure sharing the beauty of letters with you.
is the Greek word for beautiful writing -hence the name calligraphy.
With the inception of the guild twenty years ago, it met the need
for calligraphers to get to know one another as well as to raise
the standard of calligraphy in the Cape. And for twenty years
these two needs have been met.
workshops, which are held at the Bellville Art Centre, are informal,
fun and educational. The emphasis is on learning as well as building
relationships. The standard of local calligraphy is high and local
exhibitors such as Linda Sealy, Bent Bjornstadt, Gerhard Schwekendiek
and Heleen de Haas' work have been featured in international publications.
There are several teachers teaching calligraphy throughout the
Peninsula and highly regarded international calligraphers are
invited to teach in South Africa on a regular basis. With the
exception of Julian Waters, all the overseas calligraphers whose
work is on exhibit here, have taught in South Africa.
more details regarding the workshops that will be presented Peninsula
wide (and on the olive farm Goedgedacht in Riebeeck Kasteel) between
16 April and 27 April, or for more details regarding the guild,
you are most welcome to contact the chairperson, Jenny Birch
on telephone number 021 976 6592 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
is our sincere hope that you will experience as much joy in viewing
the exhibition as we have had creating the pieces!
A brief history and personal impressions.
Andrew van der Merwe
was a time when calligraphy played a pivotal cultural and economic
role. All signeage, documents, letters, maps, labels, inscriptions,
grave stones, and books were written, painted, decorated, carved,
engraved or bound by hand. But Western calligraphy, for better or
for worse, carried with it the gene of its own mortality: the
Poenecian-Greek system of writing consisted of a mere 26 select
symbols which stood for speech sounds, not words, and as such
it could easily be mechanised. In fact, while the invention of
the steam engine and the Spinning Jenny can take a good deal of
the credit for the industrial revolution, it is the mechanisation
of writing which provided the energy and momentum to see it through
to the digital age. Printed books led to mass education and the typewriter led to the Personal Computer (Bill Gates would probably still be fiddling in his mother's garage
if it weren't for the typewriter!) The calligrapher's hand which
spawned all this progress was the first casualty and it seems
as if no-one except William Morris noticed its demise. The invention
of the printed book removed the heart from calligraphy and the
invention of the typewriter left it almost useless to commerce. In a wonderful
dance between formal book hand and informal document hand, calligraphy had evolved for centuries and spawned a great variety of styles. This dance came to an end without
the height of the industrial revolution, William Morris, a leading
figure of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, played
a pivotal role in the revival of many fine crafts, including calligraphy
as written directly with a broad pen. These interested him for
"their ability to express the humanity of the maker and the
truth of the materials" (The Calligrapher's Dictionary,
Rose Folsom 1990) - a reaction to the effects of manning production
lines and, no doubt, a degree of sentimental concern for the extinction
of some great old traditions. Also, the industrial revolution provided
the new middle class with the luxury of time and resources to
pursue commercially redundant crafts for less functional reasons. So, thanks partly to William Morris and, ironically, the industrial revolution, calligraphy died as a craft and rose
as an art. And I have little doubt that what gave the breath to
this resurrection was the grace and beauty injected into their
repetitive tasks by generations of scribes spending their lives
bent over little pieces of paper writing other people's words,
for the benefit of the wealthy and the powerful.
writing traditions, where a unique symbol is used for each word,
have been more difficult to mechanise and a much livelier, more
functional and artistic calligraphy tradition has survived in
these parts of the world. Master calligraphers are even revered.
The Muslim calligraphy tradition too, has longer remained more
a craft than an art and thus escaped the effects of the industrial
revolution. I believe this is partly due to the tradition of not
illustrating sacred writings. The writing itself took on much
of the burden of decoration and, free from competition with art,
carved a stronger role for itself. Also, the letter forms, in
serving to illustrate, have been used with much greater flexibility
and gesture - doubtless a strong barrier to mechanisation.
industrial revolution did leave a few commercial applications
for calligraphy - the occasional illuminated address, hand-painted
sign or wordmark (logo). In fact, the latter has never really
died. The unique identity that the hand gives a wordmark has helped
it to maintain its position in this one commercially important
place and indeed, the common availability of mass-produced typeface
which has come with the PC, has strengthened its position as designers
seek to brand new products in an "ownable" way. Also,
unfazed by the effects of mechanisation, many calligraphers are
forging ahead in the area of type-face design. (See the display
about Zapfino -a new typeface by Hermann Zapf, designer of many
of the typefaces we use every day on our PC's.) As appreciation
for hand lettering grows, calligraphers are finding more work
in other design fields and computers, scanners and the internet
are essential equipment here.
than doing some commercial design work, being a calligrapher is
pretty much like being an artist, the difference being that calligraphers
get urges to paint things people say. Drawing on thousands of
years of various traditions, the modern calligrapher uses words
as graphic metaphors employing everything from the restrained,
self-contained yet architecturally perfect letters of the Greeks
and Romans to the intense marching order of the Gothic hand and
the light, flamboyant extravagance of the Italic. Like dance,
the pleasure that calligraphy gives the eye lies in the excellence
and aptness of its rythm and gesture. The aptness is critical
because calligraphy is a shallow pursuit of lovely form if there
is no involvement with the meaning of the written words. However,
the revival of calligraphy has seen calligraphers celebrating
their art for its own sake, giving rise to pieces which proclaim
the virtues of calligraphy or consist of no more than a beautifully
modern calligrapher is moved by many things but I am sure they
are still pretty much the same as they were for the scribes of the past: sentiment for the great old
tradition, appreciation of abstract form and symbol, a passion
for the written word. This passion has to run deep; it takes at
least as much time and discipline to become an accomplished calligrapher
as it does to play the violin well. Perhaps such depth is easier
to understand if one appreciates the connection that remains between
calligraphy and the most important of all human inventions: writing
is the air supply of human culture and technology. No amount of
mechanisation will ever take this away from calligraphy and while
calligraphy is a rare art, it remains unique in its cultural importance.
The written word remains one of the most precious
things a person can receive.
calligraphy draws strongly on the Eastern and Middle-Eastern traditions.
No calligrapher's repertoire is complete without these influences
and since the calligrapher is now also an artist, he or she must
also take a leaf out of Michaelangelo's book and a splat of paint
from Jackson Pollock's can! Many of the pieces on display here
may surprise by how 'painterly' they are.
changes in calligraphy are also worth noting. While in the past,
calligraphy was almost exclusively the domain of men, the vast
majority of the people attending calligraphy classes nowadays
are middle-aged women and it is their work which comprises 90%
of the calligraphy on display at this exhibition. Apart from a
few good men, it is they who now carry the torch for calligraphy.