With the majority of the reading and writing we do these days involving a keyboard and screen, contemporary graphic designers and type artists are elevating ancient techniques into art forms. As they search for purer forms of self-expression, the resurgence of calligraphy reminds us to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the handwritten word.
Despite its etymology, calligraphy is about more than just beautiful writing. For the creator, it is a meditative experience; demanding great focus, patience and flow. For the observer, it offers an extra dimension beyond reading; to feel the text and open up to the deeper layers of meaning that lie beneath the surface.
In 2016, 25 calligraphers from around the world received blank Moleskine sketchbooks to fill with their work. The resulting 800 pages of completely unique takes on the age-old medium were then sent back to Milan, where they were exhibited for five days at Acqua su Marte. Their contributions are now immortalised in the book recently published by Moleskine, The Design of Words, in which readers are encouraged to go on a journey, just as the artists and their notebooks did.
From France to the USA, India to Russia, the book contains an atlas of contemporary calligraphy around the world today. It features a stunning variety of approaches and techniques sure to inspire anyone interested in the creative arts. Many of the artists are self-taught, having stumbled upon calligraphy after a number of years serving as graffiti artists.
For Akir Ovitch, calligraphy offered a greater variety of tools and opportunities than the spray can, with the added bonus of having a slightly cleaner image in the eyes of society at large. His output is mesmerising in its intricacy and precision. Letters interlock and flow seamlessly into one another to form a perfectly balanced whole. Indeed, Akir speaks of his process as a ‘meditative experience’, a way for him to get all his ideas out of his head and onto the page.
Spain’s Victor Kams also connects to his art on a deeper level. “Dedicating myself to this craft gives meaning to my life,” he says. His study of letterforms, gestural strokes, balance and rhythm results in elegantly elongated lines that add height to his letters, lending them a sense of extra gravitas.
From Mexico, Said Dokins creates visuals that are both typographic at their core and artistic in their abstraction. His trademark style combines Japanese calligraphy with pre-phonetic Mexican notation, and here it is layered with ink splats, a bold use of colour and a collage technique that brings the page to life in the most dynamic way. The point is not to be able to decipher the text, but to be moved by its power.
With its loose nature and free interpretation, calligraphy is ripe for experimentation, and perhaps the guy who pushes the art form to its uppermost limits is 27-year-old Pokras Lampas from Russia. Already boasting a client roster that includes Lamborghini, FENDI, Dries Van Noten, Adidas and YSL, his work regularly features on products and in commercials worldwide. Having coined the term ‘Calligrafuturism’, he is perpetually cutting and pasting references from different alphabets, cultures and eras to arrive at a new visual culture. “My goal is to show the harmony between cultures,” he says. Although he works primarily with Cyrillic and Latin script, he spends hours in front of his computer watching YouTube videos and researching other cultures, such as Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Greek and Arabic. He then blends his findings into his work, giving it a touch of both the familiar and the mysterious. This allows his lettering to defy the plains, structures and arrangements that we are used to, opening our eyes to a fusion of future possibilities.
As we grow ever more dependent on the convenience of digital and the instant gratification it offers, such enduring artforms become a luxury to savour and make time for. If this is the future of calligraphy, then we can expect its appeal to only grow stronger.
The Book Design of Words is available here.