Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types (2009) Sharon Werner & Sharon Forss Hardcover. H300 xW mm, 56 pages. Acquired from Golden Waves of Books, 7 August 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Unlike Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich’s Bembo’s Zoo (2000), this book relies on numerous type faces with which to create its alphabeasties, posed above the book’s illustratively shaped chiron that also provides the running information about “other amazing types”. Information is also conveyed from under flaps, through cutouts, across foldouts and by background images constructed of words.
Each letter of the Spanish alphabet is printed in sans serif across a full page to create a grid-like or plaid-like pattern. All letters are printed once in black on white paper and twice in white on black paper; with sheets facing one another. For the English-speaking reader, that’s a bonus of two pages for the ñ.
Held at normal reading length, the double-page spreads do have a plaid effect, but inspected closely, the effect becomes that of wire mesh from which the letters leap out from the less tightly woven spots.
Unsurprisingly the plaids are as distinct from, and similar to, one another as letter shapes are. Sometimes, as with the letter b, an illusion of three dimensionality takes hold.
The most surprising — though they should not be — are the letters i and l. With no crossbar, bowl or curve, they cannot create a plaid pattern. Rather, their black on white, white on black patterns look like barcodes.
Gubbins One of the founding members of the Foro de Escritores (www.fde.cl) Chilean version of Bob Cobbing’s Writers Forum in London, and noted figure in the avant-garde poetry scene in Latin America. Gubbins has collaborated with the American poet and artist John M. Bennett, in whose honor
Some visual artists call this kind of work a “tapuscript“. Some throw it together under the heading of language art or concrete or visual poetry. Karl Kempton prefers the term “visual text art” over any other. Conceding the term to cover the broad genre, works like Alfabeto that cover the entire alphabet in sequence — or even play with its sequence — might deserve the sub generic term “visual alphabet art”. Kempton himself, Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, Raffaella della Olga, Sharon Werner & Sharon Forss — as well as many of the artists in Victoria Bean and Chris McCabe’s anthology and those in Philip Davenport’s — surely provide a sufficient number of examples.
Each animal is drawn using the Roman letters of the Bembo font family, based on a letter cut by Francesco Griffo (1450-1518) for the Venetian printer for Aldus Manutius (1450-1515) and named after the prolific Renaissance scholar Pietro Bembo (1470-1547). Stanley Morison (1889-1967) revived the font while at the Monotype Corporation.
For the Books On Books Collection, Bembo’s Zoo is a light-hearted reminder of the abecedaries and typographic themes of more serious works.