Nov. 20, 2007 - Issue #631: The Exposure of Michael Phair
Jeff Kulak plays to type in Alphabet Boys
Home on vacation from her doctoral studies in the UK, Hooper approached Kulak with a group of her wordplay works—it seems dismissive to call these “poems” when they have the restrained intricacy of lyrical origami—built around the loose notion of 26 men and boys she’d known, however deeply or glancingly. The pair had collaborated comfortably on several projects over the years, from short films to goofy creative games, and both felt up for something more ambitious.
“Emma asked if these poems could be a framework for something else we could do together,” Kulak says. “I’d done artist books before, but it seemed to be trouble getting them out there. You could have this tactile, beautiful experience with it, but you’d have to wear gloves and be in a gallery.”
Kulak and Hooper aimed for a more intimate feel with the book—“something you could pick up and hold in your hand”—while attaching a gallery show to the project to have it also experienced as a visual art piece. (Lining the wall of Latitude 53’s Projex Room, Alphabet Boys’ folios are “same scale; different experience” than the book.)
Hooper’s side of the project was well underway before Kulak started working through the 26 illustrations, or resolving design and printing decisions.
“I’d never done a suite of illustrations before. It was far more work than I expected,” Kulak says. Much of that work progressed over the past year while Hooper was back in the UK. The project developed over emails and marathon phone calls. “I looked at poetry books, but I was disappointed—I didn’t find anything to model it on. Then I went to an exhibition in New York on French book art. The composition was wild! The play between image and type was there.” Hooper had given him free reign in terms of representation, so Kulak, inspired by the NYC exhibition, lit on other parameters to keep the book visually cohesive as he ranged across subject matter.
“I set out to make all the marks myself. There’s some collage, but not much. I tried to think like I do when I’m silkscreening. I didn’t want to be too literal or alluding to something too concrete, but at the same time I didn’t want to be just decorative.”
Kulak took as much care setting the type as he did illustrating, further delving into nostalgia with font choice (in a nifty design-nerd touch, he included the London Underground font as a nod to Hooper’s current locale). He laboured over the spacing of text for a retro unhurried feel, and played with the architecture of the poems to heighten their theatricality.
“Sometimes a poem makes it obvious how the type should be set, or composition. Type is rhythm, especially with poetry,” he adds.
Kulak’s slavish attention and affection have made Alphabet Boys into a beautiful little fetish object, with the look, scale, and sensory feel of a beatnik children’s book. A vintage matte olive green provides the only colour, save for greys and browns in shading (another parameter). Kulak’s lines are sometimes dashing and wobbly, often exquisitely detailed. He draws impeccably expressive hands, outlandish robots, Tom Selleck moustaches, and adorable cartoonish elephants. As befits “memorials,” Kulak’s fragmented drawings conjure up the imperfect preservation of memory, complete with its tenuous linkages and dream-like associations, and a nostalgic mood that encompasses the ’50s through to the ’70s.
“There needed to be an inherent balance between language and visual content,” he concludes. “Am I overpowering the words, or underscoring them? Are we pointing to the same thing?”
Alphabet Boys certainly suggests Hooper and Kulak share a common direction. V
Until Dec 1
Words by Emma Hooper
Pictures by Jeff Kulak
Latitude 53; Book, $15
(Available at Nokomis, Latitude 53, Leva and Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair)
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