The Hexafolia Letterpress (2018) is a collaboration with my brother, Peter Tradowsky, a woodworker. We created a “Letterpress” using hexagonal wooden type. Visitors are invited to create broadsides by arranging the wooden tiles on the board and rubbing the pattern onto newsprint. Visitors are encouraged to play with the letterpress, seeing what they can produce. They may take the broadsides home or display them in the gallery. The installation pictured is on view through October 2018 at the Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College.
Nearly forty years ago, in a famous critique of Modernism, art historian Rosalind Krauss decried “the grid’s imperviousness to language…. [The grid] will not permit the projection of language into the domain of the visual….” Krauss argued that the appeal of the grid to avant-garde artists was that it presented a form so simplistic, so elementary, that it resisted all symbolic content, including written language, narrative, and pictorial representation. One strain of my visual art has been in response to this claim, a set of attempts to demonstrate that this is not necessarily so, and that there are many ways in which the grid form might facilitate language, and symbolic meaning more generally.
The Hexafolia series emerged from experiments with the triangular grid, which forms the basis of much Islamic and Middle Eastern pattern design, as opposed to the square grid, which underlies most Western two-dimensional design. The triangular grid readily organizes into hexagonal units, forming a grid of offset hexagons, which are isomorphic and radially symmetrical. I realized that I could use a simple, radially symmetrical pattern within a hexagon to create a font.
I call the font Hexafolia, meaning “six leaves,” because its basic unit is comprised of six ellipses arranged into a floret pattern. The rule governing the design of the font was simple: letters could be produced only by filling in sections of the floret, essentially “coloring within the lines” so as to preserve the underlying symmetry of the unit. The relative legibility of the letters, and their visual elegance or awkwardness, was secondary and subject to this rule. The result, when projected across a field, is a grid structure that can be entirely permeated by language. While the letters disguise the radial symmetry of the unit by blocking out sections, the grid both constrains and refracts the letters, in a way akin to the refractions of a kaleidoscope.