Karmic Type Patterns

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Art of slow type

Laurie Szujewska calls her Ensatina Press the center for “The Art of Slow Type.” Szujewska (shoe yév skä) is a typographer and artist in whose work the word is the image. She makes prints using the mediums of letterforms, words, oil paints, and inks on a Vandercook printing press. In 2005 she focused on the letterpress as an artistic medium and began designing and hand-printing small editions with the Ensatina imprint. Types of Karmic Formation, an exhibition of her work, is on view in the lounge at the San Francisco Zen Center from September 2-31. The center (300 Page Street) is open Monday through Friday 9:30AM-12:30PM and 1:30-5:00PM; Saturday 8:30AM-12 noon.

Curious as to why the prints are so soothingly hypnotic, I asked Szujewska to explain this work.

What is Karmic Formation

“Karmic formation” is a Buddhist concept concerning the conditioned patterns that inform and influence a person’s thoughts and behavior in repetitive and often unconscious ways.

What makes this form of typography different from other experimental forms.

Letterforms and typography are largely unnoticed tools for creating the visual patterns of conceptual information that surround us in our daily lives. Printing itself traditionally has been a means of producing and disseminating those repetitive patterns and concepts.

In my work I attempt to upend that relationship. Working with type forms as marks and the printing press as a mark-making tool, I make images that record my playing with these marks in a non-reproducing, non-repetitive way, accepting that their traditional conceptual and visual associations still exist and are evident in the work, but no longer allowed to dominate the marks.

Szujewska ancient

So, how is this accomplished?

I make prints on a Vandercook Universal I letter press, using a small collection of vintage hot and wood type. I have chosen to use this antiquated technology in my work not for its nostalgic characteristics, but because freed now from its former utilitarian purposes, it is now available for the artistic process of play. Instead of making multiples of an intentionally-designed form as is done in traditional printing, I manipulate the type forms and put the sheet of paper though the press multiple times to see what happens. Instead of having to “ink the press up” before printing, I apply color directly to the type in the press bed using brayers and brushes, which allows me to print multiple colors at one time, and to change or add to the color palette like a painter.

Szujewska Doko

Why wood type? Can this be done in other formats?

Vintage wood types are naturally marred and worn from their former usage as reproducing tools. Their imprints also carry associations in our minds when we see them. These past imperfections and associations are welcomed in the mark-making process and integrated into the process of creating something new and fresh with these old forms. Type here is not merely relegated to being a design or decorative element divorced from its utilitarian purpose, or pointed to for purposes of stylizing a particular word or concept. In my work I incorporate both of these approaches with the additional layer of disrupting our conditioned patterns of meanings and association. This is done by introducing a provisional and contingent element to the actual typographic formation. For me, the integration of these three elements points to how this approach to typography differs from other experimental forms.

What inspired you to do this?

For the work featured in this particular show I started playing with Buddhist concepts and terms that raised a series of questions for me: How do we work with reproducing forms? How do we embrace the imperfection of the moment while thinking we need to pursue the ideal form in our mind? How do we look anew at things so familiar to us that they are almost invisible?

Szujewska Avalokitesvara

Is this the end or beginning of this kind of exploration?

I have been developing this process of working and making images with a letter press for the last six years. The work in this exhibit represents a selection from that development.

Szujewska Mirror
Szujewska Mirror


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