One of the seriously fun things about having a printing press is getting to do your own signs. Even doing the most mundane things, I somehow feel connected to centuries' worth of printers setting type and taking power into their own hands, all the way back to Guttenberg and the brave Reformers daring to print Bibles in the vernacular for people to study for themselves.
Nothing so weighty tonight, but I did make signs for my Celestial Paris show at Playhouse on the Square. I've been allowing myself a bit of a soft opening since the reception isn't till Friday, Nov. 18 (5-6:30), and there is no play currently on at the theater either. I've been kind of wrung out the last few weeks, so taking my time has been almost mandatory. I'm definitely more scattered than I usually am hanging a show, but I'm proud of the work, and the last signs will be up soon.
I grouped the show in overall areas of Paris (and used the back of the gallery to also hang a handful of my Amsterdam watercolors from the spring), so I made signs to help orient people in the general areas of the city. I also made a "Je suits Charlie" sign, referring to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. That really rocked me. It was not only in a city I love, but it was an attack against artists for making the art that they do. I'm worried about the move away from tolerance and free speech across the world. That attack felt deeply personal to me.
Again, the printing press resonates. So many people have been killed over time for having the audacity to say what they think in print. Presses continue to feel dangerous (the one I have was attacked not many decades ago before being restored), and making typeset art about Charlie Hebdo felt right. I couldn't mount a Paris show at this time without trying to stand with the people there, at least in a small way.
In the spirit of printed words having power, and while I had the press set up for type and the ink out, I made myself a sign as well. Liz Gilbert often says, "Onward!" about marching forward in life, and the simplicity and force of it appeal to me. Sometimes putting things in print, even if I know I'm the one who has done the typesetting, feels authoritative. I make reminder signs and hang them up for myself when I feel stuck sometimes, and it is definitely a season for me to pick myself up and move forward. So a sign will be a good reminder hanging in my workspace somewhere.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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