Talk February 9, 2008
Today I came across a very interesting article on I LOVE TYPOGRAPHY, called FACE TO FACE, covering an interview with Jean François Porchez. This is a very worthwhile article to read as it can give you some good insights how this special breed ticks.
But mainly, this article brought back a hole bunch of memories of my own time at art school in Zurich, Switzerland. At the time I was fortunate enough to have Adrian Frutiger – the man who created the excellent FRUTIGER font – as our Typography teacher.
It was an adventurous time. For some inexplicable reason, this class was not held in the other art school buildings but a few houses away, a tight little thing squeezed between some other tight little houses, just waiting to collapse or be torn down. The same house hosted a banana transport company and there was a BANANEN sign over the entrance and for this reason we only called it the banana house.
To get to the class room one had to go up some tight, winding and dark stairs which then led into another tight room, our class room. If you think of Harry Potter and one of his classrooms at 1/10 of its size, that’s about the atmosphere we worked in.
And Mr. Frutiger – nobody in Switzerland at that time would call their teachers by their first name, this is an American thing, only now taking over more and more of Europe – he was just like the house. A small, huddled person, very much hunched over with a quiet voice and appearance, nothing flashy, nothing fashionable or avantgarde. He incorporates what I think of Swiss clock makers to have in their blood: extreme precision combined with an uncanny patience for detail. And even though only in his early 40ties, he appeared to us loud and wild teens as someone much, much older, but he took all of our loudness and restlessness well and was well liked by all.
This one year which I remember so well, was, filled with Calligraphy. Hours over hours of exercises, trying to master the flow of the ink and not to spatter it from the pen. A select few – me included – struggled with a double load due to being left handed. Even though we had bought special pens for lefty’s, pushing a feather with elegance will ALWAYS be a thing of impossibility – to have the ink flow in a steady, smooth motion one has to pull… and to write with the right hand is the only way I can see this happening.
From my past I was used to some of these problems, I have plenty of school books full of ink stains to look back and I had years of fights with my teachers who insisted I should use my right hand. By the 5th grade I was able to write with both hands, but around that time I began more and more to resist the demands of those in power and each time they turned their back on me, the pen went straight back into my left hand and only a few years later I was no longer able to write with my right hand. I had aquired a lot of tricks to keep my hand out of the wet ink when writing, but when it came to Calligraphy all those tricks did me no good.
Even though this year remains as memories of defeat after defeat in my mind in regards to my own skills, it was a wonderful time and an eye opening time to see the love, talent and compassion of a person – seemingly easy to be forgotten in passing – to influence so many people.