Typography in Art

If you search for ‘typography and art’ on google you’ll find mostly images that don’t qualify as Art. Mostly the search returns faces and love hearts made of song lyrics. Not the most creative stuff, but for the most part they look good. Don’t worry I’m not going to try and define Art (capital ‘A’) in a short blog post and rag on art (lower case ‘a’), rather I’m going to share with you what I would like to find when I do this search and why.

Ascii art

My first experience with letters and symbols being used to make art was with ascii on bulletin board systems, newsgroups and IRC. I tried it out myself and created a few little drawings. Most ascii-art tends to be silly and fun, but sometimes you’ll come across something more along the lines of fine art. It’s possible to use any medium to express yourself, ascii is no exception. The example shown here is the type of image one might produce in a drawing class in art college or at art classes with a local artist. The same principles of drawing light and shade, use of perspective and negative space and be easily applied. The medium also have it’s own nuances and syntax that can contribute to an artwork. I’d expect to see a few example of this art form on the results because it’s a digital medium, native to the internet, even if it’s not common to a gallery or available to study in an art college.

Graphic Design experiments

I’m okay with experiments with typography, we should all do it and not be afraid to try new things. Even if what we’re trying is not very useful we can treat it like a concept that can be used to influence other work. One google result which I’ve found to be in a few blogs is a gun image created from type. It’s well executed. Albeit not the sort of thing I’d expect to see curated for exhibition but a very effective use of type in graphic design.

Installations using Type

Down the road from where I went to art college a text-based artwork is installed in the environment. The work is by Sebastian Moody, an Australian artist. This work was commission by the South bank corporation (a region in Northern Australia) under a scheme called “Art Built-in South bank“. It is a great example of a strong use of environmental text.

  • The colour is bold
  • The chosen paint has withstood many years of harsh sun
  • The typeface is strong and visible from a distance
  • Limited number of words
  • The word choice is literal of itself and metaphorical of it environment

Throughout the seasons vines and weeds grow and decay in the gaps on the wall and beneath the text adding another layer of meaning to the work.

Around the time that the old Institute of Modern art in Brisbane closed this piece from Moody appeared on the facade of the old building.

This more recent work of Moody’s continues to show how his works play off their environment. Their placement, context, form, typeface, colour and connotation all work together to turn typography into art.

I would most certainly expect to have found Scott Redford in my search results. His works often incorporate text, the example below is an installation from the IMA in a exhibition called Bricks Are Heavy. The work uses text, a photo and found objects. Finding an image like this is very likely to influence me when working on a website or other such products that uses images and text. To look for reference material directly from the pool in which your product will be swimming won’t get a cutting edge result. This should be hit #1 on google when you search Art and Typography.

Street Art

Text is a common component of street art. Seen here is these two examples from Graffiti artist Banksy, the use of type communicates either with the viewer or as the viewer. It’s common these days for shop fitters to be influenced by street art. Many retail outlets have mission statements on their walls. This uses of text is obvious and not very creative, it would however transform an empty space into a complete and interesting one. If a shop fitter/interior designer or graphic designer was influenced by artists like Banksy we might see more pithy content and interesting placement. Consider the viewer, you can put words in their mouth or give them something to read; which is more effective?

Barbara Kruger

The fact that Barbara Kruger didn’t show up on my first page of google results is just wrong. Kruger to many people is the most recognised artist to use typography in their work. Mostly she has used black and white photos with red and white text. Kruger’s work comments on consumerism and society, it’s often set in the environment and always has a strong impact. Her captions utilise Futura Bold Oblique or Helvetica Ultra Condensed. These works are a strong influence due to their dense meaning and effect visual communication; this is precisely the sort of influence needed for environment projects.

Artist Books

I studied at Queensland College of Art and was lucky enough to be introduced to the Artist book collection at the State library of Queensland. I love the medium of Artist books and constantly find myself influenced by the wide variety of ‘books’ that have been created. If you’ve not been introduced to this medium I recommend finding an artist talk at your local gallery about it or taking a workshop. When travelling europe I visited Bookie Wookie in Amsterdam, it’s a artist run shop dedicated to the medium. I live down the road from Graham Gallery in Rosalie, Brisbane, where they have an exciting selection of Artist books in their collection.

The Artist book as a medium isn’t restrictive to a traditional definition of a book, you could create for example a cover made of concrete and pages of broken glass with etched text. Viewing this type of art work as a reference for a design project could provide an unparalleled direction for your print work.

This example by Ed Ruscha shows a traditional book form that has been treated as a sculpture.

Madonna Staunton often works with found objects from her environment; word, street signs, nails, metal and text. This book form is less literal however it still conforms to having pages and text.

Plastic Surgery by Guan Wei is a concertina folded book form rather than using folios and leaves. These various forms of binding can help influence how you may decide to produce a print work for a client.

Album covers

Many album covers use text and images, less often do they use only text. This example from The Designers Republic for Autechure‘s 9th album is a good example of creative use of typographic elements.


There are many fantastic and influential uses of typographic in design and art and they aren’t found on google with such broad search terms like ‘art’ and ‘typography’. Visit your state library, your local galleries, and search out contemporary artists using mediums like artist books, printmaking, collage and text. Keep an eye on your local environment and seek out street art, even a toilet door like this one found on deviant art‘s forums posits an interesting argument. Maybe I’m wrong and google did show me Art, what do you think?

Written by CrazyLeaf Editorial

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