Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Book Cover: Eric Gill's An essay on typography

Typographer, artist, engraver, sculptor, writer and, er, sexual deviant: Eric Gill (1882-1940) was experimental in all aspects of his life. Fiona McCarthy's explosive biography of the man, published in 1989, exposed for the first time Gill's sexual depravities. Using his diaries and daring to go where no biographer had gone before, McCarthy unearthed tales of Gill sexually abusing his children (though not Joanna, whom he named a font after, which was used as body text for An essay on typography), having a sexual relationship with his sister and doing unspeakable things with his pet dog.

I hope the revelations about his private life haven't diminished the fine work he produced (one biographer has suggested it's actually strengthened his work). Gill Sans is the font he's most famous for and can be seen on the cover of the above book, as well as on the BBC logo, early Penguin book covers and British Rail signs and communications. His sculptures and reliefs adorn public buildings (one of which, originally called Fucking, was renamed Ecstasy when the Tate bought it). He also made fine erotic etchings.

It seems true to say that Gill was a contradiction; deeply religious and spiritual on the one hand, scandalous and secular on the other.

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