Graphic Art/Letterpress-Storytelling: Mr Krusoe’s Garden

I feel that the typographical letterform is one of the most beautiful and succinct of all the visual graphic arts; these letters and the words they construct are to me first and foremost an image. The shape, the texture the pattern, the design all as important as the content. These attributes and the process that delivers them are present at the conception of the text. I use the word ‘word’ and the word ‘text’ to specifically indicate that they are different things. The word form and its construct of letters are different from the structure of language and its content that is ‘text’.

I am interested in the amendments and the corrections the practice of evolving the text itself. I approach the letters, words & text as a painter building up and then scraping away, always arriving at a distillation, less being more. Accumulating surfaces and then editing them looking for a certain combination an amalgamation of events that begin to uncover a symbiosis of self and the whole. Those different spaces of relative and absolute space. The need to trick oneself out of a too rational strategy, not a world of rules and dogma but of one existing on its own terms.

The process is important because we relate to certain texts in different ways according to which form we are viewing and hearing them. There are connotations of cultural meaning, if the text is in book, film, newspaper or computer print out these then bring with them an identity of their own that adds to the overall understanding of the work.

I was profoundly struck whilst on a visit to Estonia and Latvia by the use of letterpress for cheap advertising. The look and feel of it impressive there was a distinct sense of beauty and clarity of idea in that economy of form and circumstance.

I used the letterpress process for specific reasons first of course was its relevance to the idea, secondly, I viewed a particular history in this process that takes us back to the beginning of printing. I did not see the use of hot metal type as a nostalgic reference but one that offered a sense of history, of process and events, I could imagine all manner of texts and treatises, plays and broadsheets across the last 500 years of Pan-European culture.

I also had a more personal reason and this related back to my childhood when I was living at Hawkesyard Priory. Here I had been allowed to help the monks in the letterpress workshop printing there is an experience that is always with me the smell of the ink, lush sound of the rollers, the clunking machinery and a growing fascination with the shapes of words. Eric Gill had once worked there, long before I stepped through the large wooden door one spring morning when I was seven.

Another important aspect of the work is that it is made in Estonia [the former Soviet Union] and the setting of the type and reading is made in a number of languages [English, Estonian & Russian] sometimes itself bringing about new possibilities. There is a sense of European history and being European that is important to me. I was born as the song goes back in the fifties and I have lived in the era of post-war and the atomic age, great themes emerge from these upheavals and displacement. I have always been taken with ‘Dr Zhivago’ the possibility of ones life changing in an instant, events beyond our petty control, life taking over the reins and driving us wherever it wishes.

I originally wrote a short text about a catastrophic event and a friend said it reminded her of Robinson Crusoe. I remembered being given a present of the book in 1960 [for of all things my first Holy Communion]. I began thinking about Robinson Crusoe, the constant sense of  ‘I’, Crusoe’s communion with and his reflections on the nature of God, about good and evil. He attempts to bring Christian societies sense of order to his world stamping his culture in this alien environment.

I wanted to update the story and make a completely new story at the same time. I had know idea that when I was setting and printing 1. ‘I Take Breakfast at an Evil Hour’  &  2. “What has become of Me’ that that particular day would have such a bearing on history September 11th.

‘I Take Breakfast at an Evil Hour’

‘I was taking breakfast before embarking on my mundane routine of life [Oh how good that sounds now], When suddenly the earth shook violently, a sun bleached the world white and all around me I could hear the most terrifying sounds.

The light so blinding for that second was now extinguished and I feared for my life.  The ground rose up like the waves upon a great ocean swell, I was lifted and thrown about by this tragedy, the rain lashed at me and the north eastwind intensified, ” from whence it blew in such a terrible manner for twelve days.”

At first I sought sanctuary in a concrete cellar opened up by the quake but the tremors continued and the torrent began to fill my shelter at an alarming rate.  I moved into the open and I was clinging to the earth as if to the deck of a sinking ship, crying into the void for my deliverance from this horror.”

2.  What was this place and what had become of me?

‘I came around and found myself in a place I had never been before. I could not remember who I was or how I came to be in this particular location. The whole world seemed changed. I could not see the sun for the dense clouds that bore no resemblance to any I had ever seen. The sky did not seem to exist and the ground is covered with a thick layer of black ash. I must have been sleeping in a hollow just a little way from something that once must have been a shed, near to the shelter in the ground that had provided me with cover in those first moments of the Storm.’

It seemed for a moment prophetical but on reflection I realised that we are always preparing for tragedy and disaster through our culture of films, comics, games and writings.

I also wanted to reference film and the wide-screen format was crucial to the development and setting of the work. I have always been interested in the use of text in movies and particularly that other story of the film the credits, they provide another narrative to the fiction that precedes them. I have also been interested in the mini film that introduces the movie ever since I heard Saul Bass speaking at the Icograda when I was a student.

There have been many influences, the Russian artists of the early 20-century El Lisitsky seeing the book and the typographical as a valid means of artist’s expression at a time when the hierarchy of painting was in the ascendance. Of the Surrealists and their fascination with texts and books, Rene Char, Breton, Dali, Peret & Desnos. My love of books and writers of the experimenters and storytellers, Sterne {Tristan Shandy], Cervantes, Defoe, Stevenson, Burroughs and  Gysion. Swift and the other great Irish writers who broke the mould.

Pete Nevin  August 4, 2002

2 thoughts on “Graphic Art/Letterpress-Storytelling: Mr Krusoe’s Garden

  1. Stuart Evans says:

    Hi Pete

    I acquired this work (number 2 in the edition of 10) for the Simmons & Simmons art collection in 2003, the year you made it. Today I am hanging the framed portfolio in the firm’s new Milan office. It looks fabulous.

    How are you?


    1. Pete Nevin says:

      Hi Stuart been awhile but always good to catch up. I recently spent 2 years in Indonesia setting up a new university there and 3 years ago came to Spain near Granada. We are setting up a new Atelier here and I continue to work. I have a number of ongoing projects that I can now focus on, including a Don Quixote version set in Scotland (Donald Q!). Hope you are well too, many thanks for buying the work and the love. Very proud to be in Milan. Peace and Kindness Pedro


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