The archival project Monoskop.org has posted the entirety of Alan Riddell’s Typewriter Art (1975), an out-of-print volume collecting typographical artwork made between the 1890s and the 1970s. It’s a historical collection of a marginal art form, one gathering “119 works by 65 practitioners from 18 countries,” according to the short introductory essay penned by Riddell and titled “The image in the machine.” The essay provides a helpful backdrop to the collection, linking the medium to the midcentury concrete poetry movement and offering some cheery ruminations on the relationship between technology and art.
There’s a broad range of styles and techniques included, from formally experimental artistic and architectural approaches to late-19th century whimsy and mid-20th century kitsch. The latter comes to the fore in the middle section of the book, where a series of figurative compositions depicting well-known heads of state appears alongside portraits of more aleatory subjects: “police dog,” “the artist’s wife,” “Arab.” More abstract work redeems this regrettable section, like the elegant inverted pyramid envisioned by an unnamed Bauhaus student of Josef Albers’s in the mid-1920s, titled “Construction Exercise.” Similarly compelling are the austere geometries of Emmette Williams’ “Prospectus for magazine Material” (1958) and Shohachiro Takahashi’s “Water Land” (1969).
Other works, like the lush chiaroscuro effect of Bengt Emil Johnson’s “Homage to John Cage” (1962), remind one that although the typewriter’s interface (at least through most of the period covered by this book) is mechanical and limited by typography, the work collected here brings something to bear that goes well beyond proto-ASCII art.
Typewriter Art (1975), edited by Alan Riddell, is available for free download at Monoskop.org. It was scanned from the print original by Lori Emerson, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Director of the Media Archaeology Lab.
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