Letters Like You've Never Seen Before

Northern-Southern Gallery goes graphically abecedarian

Kathie Sever stitches textual riches.
Kathie Sever stitches textual riches.

There are some things so cool you just have to tell other people about, and so please dig this.

My friend Bill Cotter, the author of the terrific novels Fever Chart and The Parallel Apartments, is also a dealer in rare books: An essay he wrote about that occupation was recently awarded a Pushcart prize. The man's professional bibliomongering is why, when I was scoping out the works on display at Northern-Southern Gallery's current "Letters" exhibition, I thought of him. Especially because, among the several glyphic wonderments complicating Northern-Southern's walls and shelves, is a book by Jiwon Park.

Park's Letter to Sartre is a thin hardcover book that's printed white on white. Or not actually printed, as in the application of ink or other pigments, but pressed. Because the text displayed therein is the contents of a letter to French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre from the author Françoise Sagan – written and sent when Sartre was near the end of his life and utterly blind. Park reproduces the entirety of the letter in Braille in the first half of the book's pristine pages. That's lovely and unusual enough, but what makes the book even more remarkable is that the remaining half of the pages contain the English translation of Sagan's letter blind-embossed into the paper in a fine cursive typeface.

And I looked at this sublime object and I thought, Whoa, Bill Cotter would go nuts for this!

And, to make matters even better, if Cotter were to visit Northern-Southern for an eyeful of Park's astonishing monochrome volume, he'd also get to witness the other items in the show.

I don't know if Jeila Gueramian's wall-hanging, a latch-hooked(?) rug depicting a classic covered-bridge scene with its bucolic mediocrity denied by the word HARDCORE in large sans-serifs that are part of the bottom half of the rug itself … I don't know if that would tickle Cotter as much as it might tickle others, but I reckon he'd at least crack a smile. And Kathie Sever's beautiful typographical patchwork-on-joined-denim, I Dreamed That My Soul Rose Unexpectedly, well, that's the kind of thing makes a person add another wall onto their art-filled house so they'll have enough space to display it. And publisher/printer Kyle Schlesinger's Bumpers collection of artists' bumper-sticker aphorisms – expertly typeset on thick paper and presented in their own box for your easy browsing pleasure. And there's more to feast your eyes on, of course – the entire wall of big red S's by the gallery's owner, graphic designer Phillip Niemeyer, most striking among the remaining (NO SPOILERS!) delights – after you enter through a front door adorned with the exhibition title so attractively designed by Colin Frazer.

Bonus: Frazer's exhibition-title beauty also serves as the cover for an excellent Niemeyer-curated zine, available for purchase at the gallery, filled with typographical improvements of quotations from the work of poets, raconteurs, and other artist-types. (Full disclosure: A bit of text by your reviewer here is given the designer treatment on one of that zine's bright pages.)

"Letters" will be on display at Northern-Southern, 1800 W. Koenig, through August 22. Email to hello@northern-southern.com to request a viewing appointment.

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