Arne Wolf, an Artist, teacher, and calligrapher passed away in the summer of 2013. He was a key figure in the San Francisco Bay Area calligraphy and book arts world. And for me, he was the most influential person in the development of my experimental work and my exploration of calligraphy as an expressive art form. His words from critiques and lectures constantly served to challenge and inspire my work. Quotes from my journals follow. They are excerpts from an article I wrote for the FOC Autumn 2014 Journal (Volume 40, no.1).
On reconciling issues of lettering and art….
“It is difficult to work on both sides of the issue. It is a painful process to move away from or to give up what has been drilled into us. As one moves toward art–– the logical extension is to give up lettering and move into painting.”
In his discussions on lettering and art, he couched his arguments in terms of the philosophical dichotomy between Apollonian and Dionysian which is inspired by Greek mythology. Dionysos, the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and chaos, contrasts with Apollo, the god of reason and the rational. When it came to calligraphy and art, Arne was a Dionysian man; a proponent of freedom and expression.
“Visual splendor is Dionysian, legibility is Apollonian.”
The Lindisfarne Gospels, a wonderful example of visual/verbal fusion is Dionysian while a page of capital quadrate is Apollonian. The Romans were “straight arrow”logical and controlled, not aesthetic (Apollonian), while the Greeks were the artists. Roman letters (Apollonian) are not emotional, but conservative and rational. The idea that an alphabet has to be uniform was a Roman idea. When the division between the text and image is clear, as in Renaissance manuscripts, the work is Apollonian.
“The Renaissance looked backwards and was clarifying; it was not a revolution.”
Arne viewed the Renaissance as a pragmatic period leading to typography which took the mystery out of writing. By contrast, the work of the Baroque period (Dionysian), free and exciting, was a swing against authority and pragmatism.
THE BATTLE BETWEEN DAVID AND GOLIATH 15” X 25 1/2” lino cut. This is one image of ten sheets that are presented loose in a portfolio box.
THE FIRST JOKE OF WILLINGDONE from Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce: Set in the Form of an Inventory of the Metal and Wood Typefaces in the Printing Studio of Arne Wolf Interspersed with Textual Textural Typographic Drawings
“Every good work of art has a quality of redemption.”
“I love ambiguity as a springboard for the imagination.”
“Historically the most creative work in lettering has involved capital letters. Minuscule writing has served more practical purposes.”
“The urge of the artist is to do something different––to change change. For anything to be art it has to be new.”
Arne described that the work of an artist had to grow out of passion and conviction. It is internal and involves putting one’s soul into the work. Commercial calligraphy, by contrast, is driven by external forces and this takes it out of the realm of being art.
“Work comes from an impulse (time and precision has nothing to do with this).”
LOVE SHAKES MY HEART A limited offset edition in black and grey tones by Arne. 100 images were signed, 100 without signatures. I remember seeing original paintings similar to this by Arne. The works were examples or Arne’s interest in visual/verbal fusion. He felt that lettering within a painting worked best if it was made by a mechanical means (usually stencil or rub on letters) as opposed to a calligraphic hand writing. A calligraphic hand and the expressive painting would always seem to be visually in conflict.
On the meaning of “content” Arne presented a number of thoughts:
“The transition from craft to art is equal to the movement from making letters to making content. Content equals the whole message, not just the verbal message.”
“Letters are not human, but content is human.”
“Letters don’t give meaning, but the human does.”
“Words are expressed through letters, but content is not.”
“The definition of the so-called artist’s book is of absolutely no importance to me.”