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Lee Krasner’s “Living Colour” at the Barbican

Hello, internet.

So, I’m thinking about starting a series where I talk a bit about artists and their work, particularly women. Partly because I’ve been wanting to expand my knowledge on the subject, so to speak, but also because it has been another “thing I’ve been meaning to do” — that is, write more thoughtfully about art — and just never really did. (Aside from uni essays, which, if we’re honest, head towards a more philosophical, at times navel-gaze-y, and at other times a Charlie Kelly web of mystery slant, than anything.)

First up is the inimitable Lee Krasner. When her expansive retrospective opened a couple of months ago at the Barbican, it did so to expected wide-ish coverage. However, the coverage of course involved, expectedly, He Who Must Not Be Named, Krasner’s husband and poster boy of abstract expressionism. You know who. Predictably, I mention him too now, in the beginning, but I would like to offer the “just to get him out of the way” card by way of explanation. Hopefully you’ll have it, and then we can move on.

The show has closed for about a week now, which is what often happens because I sit with my thoughts for too long a time and just miss the windows. But perhaps it does no good to rush through things one needs to process, so here we are. The more forgiving aspect of writing about art, maybe, is that it doesn’t seem to expire. The urgency doesn’t die with the passage of time, or I certainly don’t think so. I can write about the oldest things and never feel like I am running out of time to think about the things I want to say.

But back to Krasner.

Although her husband has gained very, very wide artistic acclaim — in my mind, for his absurd brazenness, more than anything — the fact that Krasner perhaps lived, in a way, in his shadow came as a surprise to. Krasner, as painted by the show’s biographical notes, was headstrong and had a mind of her own. Certainly not someone who took crap from anybody. Maybe that was my impression, and the front she put on (or was put on her). Maybe I ought to look at people in a way that allows for complexity. In any case, it was an experience seeing the very logical (seamless?) progression of her work, to see the seeds and the roots and the eventual fruit, which is to say, the practice she arrived at by the end of her life.

Krasner’s work is emotional and visceral. She is unapologetic, by which I mean, she isn’t precious about her work or how she feels about it. She does what she feels must be done. I think that might be a large part of her genius: the unsentimental abandonment of one mode of expression in pursuit of another that is more authentic and true.

I didn’t know a lot about Krasner and her work, and although I’d been introduced to more of it through the Barbican’s Living Colour, there are certainly more layers to peel back, revealing a more accurate picture of a woman whose work received belated attention, possibly owing to her marriage to such a large creative force. Possibly owing to the state of things in general, where women who are wives take a backseat, almost by default.

When people are as entwined as Krasner and Pollock seemed to be, it’s also quite easy to leach into the others’ work, and while I do see traces of one in the other, it is very evident, too, that their work diverge in very important ways. Krasner’s expressions appear to come from a very deep place of longing and self-effacement. Of a loudness and boldness that does not feel like they come from a quiet wife waiting in the wings.

There never appears to be any animosity with Krasner, though. She believes in the importance of her husband’s work, and based on their correspondences, values his opinion. Perhaps I am projecting too many thoughts here, and to be honest, I don’t have a lot of base knowledge on Krasner (as I’ve mentioned early on), or Pollock for that matter. What I do know is that I am and can be deeply moved by art and the artists that make them. And I know that Krasner’s are powerful expressions of movement and individuality, of a singular convergence of her own experiences and the life she forges as someone very close to someone very important and celebrated.

There has not been a major show of Krasner’s work in the U.K. since 1965. This feels, at times, an oversight, but given the state of women and their work throughout history — that is, the almost intentional overlooking, the diminishing importance, the pointed erasure — it is predictable. But what a joy it is to witness Krasner’s own celebration, in her own right, no matter how overdue it is.

Dispatches from Typography Summer School 2019

So, I know I said I was going to be more vigilant in terms of updating, since I have all the material anyway, and although this feels like how I start everything I post on here now, I’ll soldier on. Ahem. I figured that rather than going chronologically, I might as well write according to what comes easiest. And this, my friends, is The One.

Typography Summer School is a somewhat intensive week-long course set up by Fraser Muggeridge Studio (who, of course, made the hotly-debated Hot Chip album cover — yes, this one — and who I first learned about, I think, through the Visual Editions run of Don Quixote — which is lovely, and fucking massive, and still available for purchase here) on typography. As in letters, and the space between letters, and how these things converge on a page or a screen or somewhere else.

I applied last year and didn’t get in¹, so even though this year’s dates coincided with my graduation — an activity I am told that no one really goes to, lol — I was determined to go to. Partly because I got in this time, and mostly because I wasn’t sure I’d get to do this anytime soon, since my leave to remain in London remains undecided (potentially more on that later, since I have a lot of feelings on it, but also talking about it feels like jinxing it).

So, 30 or so of us, from literally all over the world², converged at Old Manor Park Library, which is incidentally where I’ve gone to a couple of times for riso-related activities c/o Rabbits Road Press. TSS was back in July. It was scorching, and I am heat-averse, but even so, I had the most fun.

A tiny background: I started “properly” playing with graphic design when I was in high school, having learned of Photoshop, but not really sure how to use it when I worked for the school paper in the seventh grade. (I knew how to use Pagemaker, though, lol.) After that, I was steeped in a weird internet culture that I love(d) and cherish(ed) and also am distantly terrified by. I made weird banners and 100 pixel-by-100 pixel images for people to use on LiveJournal and ship manips and a bit of web design, beginning with a website that was, of course, inspired by The Princess Diaries’ Michael Moscovitz’. Michael’s site was called Crackhead, so that’s obviously what I thought to call mine, a name that I can say did not age very well. I printed zines and little books off of our home printer. I had a DeviantArt account.

Funnily enough, a career bloomed out of that, and I am still astounded sometimes when I think about how this little hobby led to a future working with some of the best people I’ve come to know. Even funnier still is that it’s still what I like to do.

Before all of that good career stuff though, I went to school for graphic design, although technically, it was called Information Design (and housed under the Fine Arts department?). Since 2006, which was my freshman year, I’ve expressed the dissatisfaction of having pursued that program. I felt it lacking, and although typography is meant to make up a large, large part of the design that I do, we only had one class on it. And it was, if I’m completely honest, on the whole, awful. Word on the street is that it’s way better now, so that is a good bit of news I am volunteering here, because I didn’t mean to whine again.

So, anyway, here we are now. I graduated from my BFA in 2010. I got my masters in something completely unrelated in 2019³. The same year, at 30, I decided to take a bunch of classes that, in theory, because of my background and experience, I shouldn’t have had to. And yet, it has been quite fulfilling and rewarding and rekindled my love for design and letters in a way that has only been tapped at as of late.

Perhaps it’s to do with the fact that many of the people that Fraser had invited to do talks and workshops with us were people and studios whose work I had been following for a long while. Perhaps it’s because, for a little bit, I was reminded of how fun it is to just play and figure things out. For a funny little warm week in East London, a space was made for that possibility.

Anyway, a rambling mess, I know. But if you’re ever free (financially or in terms of scheduling or whatever) for a week to do this or something like it, I’d urge you to do so. Apart from all the insight, it was amazing to be surrounded by people who felt very strongly and positively about letters in vaguely the same way that I did. In other words, complete dorks.

And because I am in a sharing mood, here’s a rundown of what happened. Mostly for me, but also for you, in case you were thinking of doing something similar.

Day 1 — Fraser Muggeridge + Mia Frostner and Robert Sollis of Europa + assignment

Fraser started the first day off with a talk — VERY INVOLVED WITH FOOTNOTES, WHICH I OBVIOUSLY WAS ALL FOR — and we started on an assignment to make design systems for… Wikipedia! It was really fucking fun. I was deep in my obsession with BTS, so obviously I picked them, and also Jacques Derrida’s Différance, because of course I did.

We did a few other exercises, which were all quite useful in thinking about letters. (Prior to the week, also, we were given a reading assignment and some homework, which was exciting for me, because I’d been missing academic shit like that… like a dork.)

Europa was perhaps the first studio whose work I was introduced to through this programme. I think it’s probably because a lot of their work is situational, as in environmental, as in applied to spaces. It was great to see these applications away from my favoured mediums of print and screen. I particularly liked the pictured project, which was clever and modular and helpful at actually delivering information—rather apt for the Wikipedia project, in terms of developing a system that would work across the board.

Day 2 — Kirsty Carter of A Practice for Everyday Life + David Pearson

Day two started with a talk by Kirsty Carter of A Practice for Everyday Life, and reader, I died. Again, initial introduction to their work was from Visual Editions: they made their first book: the Tristram Shandy one. Truly starstruck. I loved this talk so much. This is the kind of work I want to do, and their approach is exactly the sort of considered thinking that I’d like to be, at some point, capable of. I was able to ask for tips~ on my design system, lol, and Kirsty was very quick and straightforward in the comments, which was incredibly helpful. (I got to speak with Kirsty Carter, can you imagine my brain trying not to explode.)

In the afternoon, we had David Pearson! Which again, I tried to keep myself together… See, when I was a wee design student, I first came across Pearson’s amazing Penguin series, Great Ideas, and because of this series, I thought, “Hey, maybe I’d like to design books?” It was a moment. Such a treat to see the process of these amazing designers, and how they work through visual puzzles and kind of tiptoe that weird threshold between commercial needs and beautiful fucking work.

Got a sneak peek of the new John Le Carré series David worked on, too. And they are sublime:

And then we had a showcase of Wikipedia work, which was so fun so see such a big variety? I certainly had some favourites. Then, there was also a cute little session to kind of consolidate what we had learned so far, in the last two days, and there were a lot! But we stopped at 10. :)

Day 3 — Catherine Dixon

Catherine Dixon is amazing and so is her love for letters; when she gets particularly excited, she carries on talking, marking each end of phrase with her standing on her tip-toes, the gained height matching her enthusiasm for letterforms.

This day was interesting in that we more or less ended up thinking about letters and type as though they were people, as though a certain kind of life resides within a tail or a curve or how much each letter stood apart from the other. We talked about what we liked or didn’t like about particular typefaces. We picked one letterform and had to draw it in three different ways, large-scale with charcoal, as an exercise in learning how to look and see. Catherine would come over and tell us where the weight should fall more or where the thickest and thinnest parts of the letter should be. Because a letter isn’t just one drawn line; it’s an occupation of a space. It signifies what is there, instead of what isn’t.

Then, we each got a letter “M” in different typefaces, mounted on foamboard and cut out. We had to travel with these letters and see how being around them made us feel. Mine was innocuous enough — a monotype that turned out to be the one I used for both my portfolio and my dissertation website: Nitti. As such, it felt quite at home in my shirt pocket.

Day 4 — Paul Barnes / Commercial Type + Ben Prescott of Studio Frith

I missed basically all of Paul Barnes’ talk in the morning, which was a shame, but also, I graduated! So, that’s okay. Haha. I rushed straight to fucken Newham from Southbank, but did OK on time, I think. They’d began working on some fonts based on some type specimens that Fraser found, and as I was late, I ended up joining a group of two (the rest already had three). I worked with Alicia and Moa and we got a reaaaaallly fun one that had a VARIETY of possible variations, to be gleaned from only four letterforms: F I L M.

In the afternoon, Ben Prescott of Studio Frith gave us a little talk — and some of their work is gorgeous; again, I was introduced to this studio through Visual Editions, as they worked on a really, really clever book by Adam Thirlwell called Kapow! More recently, they worked on the Hayward Gallery’s branding for that show, Kiss My Genders.

Honestly, it made me want to play with making crazy letter systems. Is that another unreachable dream? Possibly. Although, it could just be another thing to do for fun.

Day 5 — Rory McGrath of OK-RM

Much of the last day was spent working on our letter systems, which… I’m not very good at. I think I’m good at ideas and art direction, but this was really revealing of how much of Illustrator I actually don’t know how to use, lol. Thankfully, Moa and Alicia were much better at that than I was.

At some point, Rory McGrath of OK-RM gave a talk, which was, obviously, inspiring. I love their work; it’s so unapologetic, but still holds an internal logic, which makes some of the (apparent) bonkers decisions make sense. They did the Virgil Abloh book, but really, I was enamoured by everything they made.

We had graduation. And drinks. And it was a lot of good fun. I have a little bit of separation anxiety, since a lot of the people I really got to speak with don’t live close to me. It’s a lovely thing to be able to keep in touch with their lives and their work on Instagram, though.

Sometimes I second guess myself because I do end up spending a bit of money on these classes and workshops, but when it works out as well as TSS did, there is absolutely no question that I’d do it again.

P.S. I have a shit ton of other pictures and maybe if I’m in the mood, I’ll actually post the lot of them (a lot…), but here we it is for now. Amazing time, the start of a lovely summer for me.

¹ Looking back at the portfolio I submitted then, it was no wonder I was offered only a place on the waitlist.

² If I remember correctly, aside from the U.K., places that people were from include Thailand, Sweden, Australia, the U.S. (Portland, New York), India, Russia, Korea, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, and Berlin… and perhaps another place I missed. I’m pretty sure I’m the first one from the Philippines!

³ In case you were wondering, I took an MRes in Art: Theory & Philosophy… so, yanno, a thing that feels a bit like a wild card, sometimes.

Three Things No. 5

What was meant to be a celebration of things consumed and enjoyed has turned into a rather vague collection of things that make me feel good. So, bear with me, please.

(Although if you are looking for Good Things, I have enjoyed Euphoria and Mindhunter in terms of television, and poetry collections — particularly Frank O’Hara’s and Ocean Vuong’s, both of which I read through rather quickly, which can be seen as both a good thing and a bad thing, and some shows I’ve seen and will post photos of, I promise.)

01 — Being around people who love you

My mum and my brother are around (and for quite a while, too) because they flew in for my graduation (which, dear reader, is quite a funny thing to think. I was at the Southbank Centre, and we were taking photos with my cap and gown, and I just kept repeating “How did this happen?” because it seems like an absurd thing for me, as I’d always wanted to a) do further studies, b) live elsewhere for a while).

Anyway, I always have big plans of going to exhibits and shows and missing them because I take too long dawdling about, so it was quite nice that them being around meant that I actually made my way to a lot of them. Not that all of them were nice, but you know.

LOL when you go to see a Serra in the wild, but it’s been enclosed inside a construction site.

I have to say that I am running out of things to entertain them with, because I only ever really got to know London in terms of the places I enjoyed kind of chilling out in and living around, and it seems like holidays are or should be peppered with excitement and not, you know, drinks at the pub or whatever. But hey, it’s nice to speak in your own language after not being able to do so in person in a long while.

02 — Other people’s generosity, which always astounds me with how often it comes in spades

Right, so I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but! I gave a (tiny, wee, baby) talk recently at the London Centre for Book Arts, which might as well be my second home here. It was for an event that Zaxx put up called Seen Zeen: Preventive Cultural Ghosting, which was a pop-up for Filipino zines and independent presses. daikon* zine, which is an amazing publication also helped us out in enormous ways, for no reason other than support.

There is also a lady who lives one stop away from me who I haven’t officially met, as she’s back home for a holiday, who has helped me with some important things; a friend who dropped off a fan in the middle of the summer heat; my housemate Laura who is a literal angel, people in Manila like my sister and my dad and Tara and Don and Richard, and others like Raymond and Paulina who live elsewhere who make me feel like I’m doing something right by being here and are always there when I bug them. (LOL this is getting sappy, but yanno, I’m thankful is all.)

Additionally — and I hope this doesn’t jinx anything — everyone I’d asked to serve as my letters of support for my visa application have been so kind to say yes, and it’s like, what kind of blessed time is this for me? I truly can’t believe it. It may be too early to celebrate, because I don’t know if I’ll get the visa, but that these people believe in me and want to help me out is something I’ll carry with me going forward.

03 — A rekindling of my love flames for typography and design

Where, although I never really stopped loving either, there was just a brief pause, a little bit. Most of my life was spent doing design work by myself (which, if you haven’t worked in a studio or with other people first, I don’t really recommend outright jumping into, but that’s a whole other can of worms…) but I’d kind of put that on hold when I got depressed and turned a bit reclusive. If you’ve known me for a while, you probably didn’t notice that happening — mostly because I hadn’t quite pieced it together until recently, lol — but yes. I set my design hat aside because I was sad and couldn’t locate myself within the whole industry back home.

So, while I haven’t been doing design professionally (aside from art direction in a few places, a few years before leaving, which I don’t really count as particular learning-from-others experiences, because I’d mostly was entrusted to spearhead them, which again, lol), I ended up doing something called Typography Summer School, and it was the most refreshing thing you could ever give me. Like, a glass of cold water to the face.

Anyway, I’m going to write a whole entire post about that, because it was such an amazing week, but to tide you over, above are some photos from the week, and a couple of pictures from the Ed Ruscha Artist Room at Tate Modern now, because he made a font with no curves and called it “Boy Scout Utility Modern” because he’s a fucking cool guy and he just wanted to, below:

Bonus 04 — Reading poetry on the train

It’s just good when it’s good, because the train may be suffocating in the heat and with the lack of oxygen, but you read a line that feels like cool rain or a waft of slow air, and you forget for a while that you forgot to put deodorant on, on the warmest day in London.

So, yeah, this is a Three Things post that looks a lot like a Life Lately one. I’m not terribly sorry for it, because sometimes it’s nice when the good you feel bursting from inside you comes from people you know and get to know, and I hope you find the same kind of feeling, too.

Dispatches from All Points East 2019

As of tomorrow, it will have been one month since this day, if that’s any indication of how quickly I work and process things. (It is.)

I have no excuse for going, really; I just went to see Julien Baker. And Snail Mail, maybe. And Bon Iver is always really good live, anyway. Even if I had to stand on my tiptoes and angle my head just right to see “him.” When you close your eyes, it almost seems just as nice.

Laura and Tiffany found cheap ticket resales on GumTree, and what was meant to be a rather sad solitary festival day for me turned out to be quite a nice one that ended in a leisurely walk home from the park and some frozen pizza that annoyingly kept setting off the fire alarm in the middle of a weeknight. (Sorry, neighbours.)

I’ve often thought about these sorts of things as harbingers of a weird kind of solitude. I am often marooned in a sea of people, but I am, at the end of it, alone. And, truthfully, I haven’t been to go to a festival (or gigs, really) with other people, in a while. You lose them at some point during the day, and that first time that I found myself to be by myself, it took a while for me to stop craning my neck to see just where my friends had gone off to.

It’s easier to just focus on what I’m watching now. Maybe it’s a sign of a letting go of a specific sort of anxiety. Maybe it’s just a decline in the level of caring. In any case, I’ve learned now how to think past and beyond the things that worry me and try to focus on what makes a perfect day a perfect day.

Life Lately No. 7

I think I sometimes underestimate just how much people are ready to show up for me when I need them to. When you’ve uprooted yourself and you think that you haven’t really established a constant community in the unfamiliar place that you’ve ended up in, it feels a little weird to bother people who obviously already have their own lives. I don’t know how I would’ve fared if I didn’t have uni or other friends from the Philippines who ended up here, too, at the same time as me.

But yeah, I have a really great support system here. It’s small, but it’s warm, and generous, and will show up. I’m not the best at doing that, so it has also been a different kind of lesson for me. Hopefully, it’s apparent that I’ve been trying my best and trying to do better.

Anyway, I’ve handed in my dissertation. Officially, I did it two Mondays ago. It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve broken my seal and plunged into freedom. It’s a little scary. And now, I actually do have to confront the answers to the question I most hated hearing: What are you going to do after school?

I am currently in the process of looking for work and sorting out visa issues… It’s… kind of a nightmare, for the lack of a better term. Everyone I’ve spoken to is either someone who really, really gets it (because they’ve been in the same situation) or someone who is really, really frustrated because of all the hoops we have to jump through that they don’t necessarily have to. It sucks, but it is what it is.

It’s easy to kind of give up and give in, and I guess I ought to condition myself to be at peace with the very high possibility that my time here is up, and I need to go back, etc. etc. I love my family and friends back home, and in terms of career flexibility and financial stability, my life there is much better. I do think that a large part of why I want to stay here, at least for a little while longer, is that there are so many things I want to prove to myself, if that makes sense. And I know that that I can even think about “proving myself” is already a luxury, but here we are. And again, I’m just trying my best.

There are just a lot of versions of my life that I’d like to see play out here (like, strangely enough, I really want to teach), and sometimes, it feels too hard to try, but I think, no matter what happens, it’s worth it to do so.

(Just sucks because I am always on the brink of an anxious meltdown, but let’s face it: that’s likely to happen with or without visa issues.)

On a lighter note—

I’m very grateful for a lot of things. I always take photographs when I feel particularly thankful, and maybe I’ll share them in trickles over here, at some point. There’s no point other than to keep a record, and lately I’ve been realising how important it is to me that I do.

Funnily enough, I saw Julien Baker twice in a span of a week: once at All Points East, and then on Saturday, for a last minute show at The Lexington. (Thank God for post notifications.) It was such a small venue, a bit like when I first saw her in Sydney, so that was super nice. I know I pass this off as a weird and funny devotion thing, but her music and her ethos really did change my life.

She spoke a bit about the horrifying bus attack in Camden, and how grateful she was that we had chosen to spend our night going there to see her, and that we were all together and made these spaces safe for all of us to exist. I really appreciated that she takes the time to speak about these things when she plays, because while it can be a little frightening and awkward to be so earnest about such serious things, I think it may be worth it to endure those initial cloying feelings, just because they really do help people who need to hear those words of support and community.

I was glad to have been able to bring Richard along, too, for the brief time that he was around. I realised that having him close by for my first year here was really comforting and added a lot to my feelings of stability, so it was really, really nice to see him that day.

Sometimes the necessity of confrontation is really scary. Well, for myself, it’s super scary because I am so very averse to confrontation. Plus, self-reflection invites a lot of denial from my end. But, again, sometimes it’s necessary. When I feel the grip of pressure to be some particular thing that doesn’t feel like me, I have to kind of step back and look from a distance, and evaluate the work or the choices I’ve made, and really ask myself whether or not I’ve done or said what I meant to or if I’m happy or proud. Barring anyone else’s opinion.

It’s hard, because a lot rests on other people’s thoughts — and by this, I mean, whether or not I’m worthy of specific things — but I think there’s value in appreciating your own growth and expression, even though that’s an easy thing to forget. I put a lot of stock in what other people think, partly because forging connections through a shared understanding of meaning is an important aspect of why I make things, but sometimes that can really affect how I view my work or what I’ve done in my life. I think it takes a lot of energy and honesty to recognise that you are not a failure, just because you don’t necessarily always fit into a specific set of markers set arbitrarily by others.

I don’t know why I care, but I do. I think these types of validation will undoubtedly help you get to places you want to go. It’s frustrating that there are so many barriers that box you out of these spaces in the first place. It’s frustrating that, sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you’re still kept out of them.

So, yes, on one hand, particular opinions matter. On the other hand, I’m trying not to let these things diminish my personal valuation of my work. It’s tricky, and it’s discouraging, and when I dwell on these things, it gets so hard to get out of bed to move. But, move I must. If no one else is going to vouch for me, I should learn how to do that for myself.