How would you like to collaborate with me on a new project? The castle of Hingene, near Antwerp in Belgium, is creating a time capsule in calligraphy. For a short time, all the wall hangings of the chateau will be taken down for restoration. The director of the castle, Koen De Vlieger, is taking this opportunity to ask the entire world (I’m not kidding) to send in messages that I will commit to eternity by writing them on the walls.
Large surface, large letters. This time in the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris for a magnificent exhibition of early 20th century paintings from the collection of Serguei Chtchoukine. One of the collector’s greatest paintings, La Danse by Matisse, was not allowed to travel from Moscow for the show.
I would like to introduce you to the newest pen in my wonderful arsenal. I collaborated with Handwritmic (www.handwritmic.com) to develop this beautiful and extremely versatile ruling pen. The pens are hand crafted from the finest materials by craftsmen in the Biella region of Italy. The basic idea for this innovative new pen came from the German calligrapher Friedrich Poppl, but has been redesigned and vastly improved using the most advanced technology to create a tool with true Italian elegance and beauty.
Is there a better combination? Old college friends, rowing and Venice. The old Princeton crew got together for this year’s Voga Longa, a 35km row around the Venetian lagoon with a final sprint up the Grand Canal. Some of us had not seen each other in decades.
I have never been much for flourishes, as they distract from the form of the letters and belong too solidly to the past. But in this project, flourishes serve as fanfares to some of the greatest paintings in the world. Here I developed a rather unconventional style of flourish related to the strapwork decorations of 17th century architecture.
The Rijksbook took me back to my calligraphic roots, requiring me to do formal lettering in styles I had not practiced in years! Here is an example of Roman capitals, written with quill pen on Rives BFK paper using watercolor. The client asked for something special to accompany Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid”.
Since I failed to report on this project earlier, my dear readers seem to have done it for me! The Rijksbook was THE project of 2015, keeping Massimo Pollelo and me busy for at least half the year. You have already seen the videos and complained that the calligraphers are hardly mentioned at all by our illustrious client, Marcel Wanders.
Hey Franky, thanks a million for your patience and incredible programming skills! The four plates in 2mm stainless that you lasered for me were perfect, but they were only the beginning. Nick Ervinck sliced my Photoshop rendering into sections, Thierry turned the sections into a wooden form, and Norbert and I hammered, cut and welded the steel until it fit the form; then polished it for weeks to achieve the final result.
Never say no to a commission that you are not up to. Say YES and then get up to it. This sculpture, made for Mattheeuws Transport in Veurne, Belgium, brought me to my knees several times before it was done. It was thrilling to push myself and the materials beyond anything even the engineers thought possible. But here it is, 150 kilos of hammered stainless floating off into thin air.
The top floor of the old power station is an immense space with more than 260 windows. The artists of the Zandberg and my own students filled large sheets of Kozo paper with every kind of writing, mark, calligraphy and drawing. With these we created a black and white version of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. The effect was incredible, as if you were entering into the collective brain of all the artists of the show.
Time to catch up on months of news. September 2015: exhibition in the Transfo in Zwevegem, a small town in West Flanders. I brought together calligraphy by artists from De Zandberg, a center for mentally handicapped artists, and work by other artists of my choice. The Transfo is an immense decommissioned power station from the 1930s.
Career-defining projects can be dangerous. They grab media attention and give you your famous fifteen minutes. After that you want to move on without constantly referring back to one highlight. “The Pillow Book” left its mark on my career but is now ancient film history – production began twenty years ago this month. Time for the long shadows of this wonderful film to fade away for good. So let me say a word or two here and then wish Vivian, Ewan and Peter a fond farewell.
Paris. Fashion.The A-List. Last week I saw a bit of all three.The Belgian fashion genius Dries Van Noten asked me to do some social calligraphy. Not my thing, normally, but for Dries! The brief was to write the names of the guests on their plates. One hundred plates, list ready just a few hours before the dinner.
In the first room of the exhibition “Obedience” by Saskia Boddeke in the Jewish Museum, Berlin, an immense wall is covered with the words “I am Isaac” and “I am Ishmael” in a dozen languages, as if written by children. To achieve the necessary naivety in the writing, I resorted to the old tricks: eyes closed, left hand, back to front, and so on.
The Golden Room in the exhibition “Obedience” by Saskia Boddeke in the Jewish Museum, Berlin. Texts from Judaism, Christianity and Islam describing the Sacrifice of Isaac in red calligraphy on golden walls. In the foreground, glass cases with manuscripts from the three religions, open to the relevant pages.