Challenging artistic convention, clever word play and utilization of text in art can communicate activism, cultural commentary, subversion of advertising, and appropriation of form. By using text as a communicative vehicle in artistic expression, artists push forth letters, numbers, and words as a means to get out their message. Emphasizing tensions between the visual and linguistic power of words, the inclusion of text in art forces viewers to ponder the potential meanings in new, and often playful, ways.
Exploring the hidden nuances of the written word, Billy Schenck sources his imagery from both personal references, as well as historical sources such as newspapers and other print media. Tying his personal narratives to those that came before, frequent motifs in Schenck’s work include heroes, villains, the seductive femme fatale, and Native American imagery. Often contrasted with subversive text or a winking acquiescence through visual symbols, Schenck alludes to Spaghetti Westerns and heroic cowboys as he paints a satirical and unexpected commentary on the familiar trope.
Incorporating lettering to communicate both words and sounds, John CRASH Matos conveys the visual language of graffiti. Seen as a unifier of those of diverse backgrounds, graffiti and the culture around it shows continuing narratives and a unique approach to expression. Replete with signs and symbols that are meaningful to other graffiti artists or community members, graffiti also speaks to the freedom and expression of collaborative camaraderie. Conveying dynamism, CRASH evokes comic books and their visual sound effects through bursts of light, a strong sense of movement, and the inclusion of bubble letters. Appropriating letters as both a component of linguistics and as compositional forms, CRASH communicates a narrative and aesthetic that showcases the dualities of font.
Through nuanced pairings of image and text, Greg Miller derives the significance of classic imagery associated with America in the 50s and 60s. Traversing the boundary between collage and painting, his work always maintains a strong narrative focus that is reiterated through both imagery and the inclusion of text. Adept at wordplay, Miller examines the underlying foundations of imagery associated with American popular culture.
Parsing through the collective visual history of fashion and advertising, Jane Maxwell’s works are a dynamic narrative force that lay bare the commonalities, as well as polarities, of visual perception. In lyrical juxtapositions, Maxwell guides the viewer to new discoveries and meanings through the interplay between scale, form, palette, and texture of her female silhouettes. Placing the primary focus on her mixed print media, Maxwell intentionally includes words and phrases that are indicative of her message and practice. For example, in Maxwell’s Purple Dress, the bust of her figure contains the phrase, “we are woman” to reemphasize her focus on femininity, confidence, and positive body image.