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ART : Men and Women of Letters : Calligraphers show traditional and abstract styles of 'the art of beautiful writing.'

October 30, 1992|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly for The Times.

Sometimes it may seem as if the art of calligraphy is limited to the luxurious script found on official proclamations and invita tions. But the 30 artists gathered for "The Written Word" exhibition at the Artspace Gallery hope to demonstrate the form's broader ambitions.

Little of the work on display at the Woodland Hills gallery beginning Tuesday is in black and white. Instead, the artists here have utilized a wide variety of colors, papers, wood, granite and other unexpected ingredients to create what some have called "the art of beautiful writing."

"Some of it is so abstract that you have to really look for letter forms," said Scott Canty, curator of the Artspace. "It's like letter form overlapping letter form, and it's just a repetitive thing where the letters get blown out of proportion and abstracted, and all you see is shape and color and texture."

There are some traditional illuminations, in which the calligrapher has embellished a letter or word at the beginning of a manuscript. But these works share gallery space with experimental books that utilize torn paper, a sculpture with carved letters spiraling around a tree trunk, and several pieces that otherwise present elegant characters within unlikely settings.

Several of the artists cut their own quills, mix their own inks and experiment with new writing techniques and materials. One artist even fashioned a pen out of a carved Popsicle stick.

"It can be experimental," said Eva-Lynn Ratoff, who helped curate the show and is one of its featured artists. "It's a way of expressing the words, the feelings, the emotions of a poem you might be writing out, thinking about the colors expressed in the poem. Emotion expresses color, too. And we have developed alphabets to express those emotions."

Most of the artists displayed in "The Written Word" have been students of San Francisco calligrapher Thomas Ingmire, who was among the first Americans admitted into England's Society of Scribes and Illuminators. Some of Ingmire's work is included in the show.

The fine art possibilities of calligraphy have long been acknowledged in Asia, where the delicate brushwork remains a common form of expression, Ratoff said. But in the West, computer typesetting tends to crowd out the form, and contemporary calligraphy is rarely seen in mainstream art venues.

"I'm a calligrapher, and I think it's a lost art," Canty said. "It's an art that not too many people see, and they don't think about it. . . . But I think the more we get technologically advanced, the more people refer to the simple things. And calligraphy has always been real popular with a lot of graphic designers.

"They want that human touch to the work. Computer work has a coldness to it that calligraphy can give a human touch to. And it's being used a lot in advertising. We just have to really look for it."

A former president of the 1,000-member Society for Calligraphy in Los Angeles, Ratoff said she hopes the Artspace show will broaden awareness of calligraphy's possibilities.

"People think of traditional things: illuminated manuscripts. And they think of calligraphers just doing envelopes for invitations. There is a debate over whether calligraphy is a craft. We want to enlighten people that it really can be an art."

Where and When

Exhibit: "The Written Word."

Location: Artspace Gallery, 21800 Oxnard St., Woodland Hills.

Hours: Opens Tuesday and continues through Dec. 12. Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Price: Free.

Call: (818) 716-2786.

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