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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

A new book presents the English alphabet as a snappy art history guide

The alphabet takes on the signature styles of famous artists from the 14th to 21st century, mainly from Europe and America

Written by Benita Fernando | Mumbai |
November 16, 2021 3:38:37 pm
Art History Typography, Art History Typography Arvind Sundar, Art History Typography 36 Days of TypeThe book is formatted like a children’s book, with the alphabet on one side, and the representative object on the other, such as A for Apple or P for Pot.

The annual internet challenge, 36 Days of Type, finds new iterations every year as a global community of designers and artists unearths innovative ways to showcase the English alphabet and numerals. Where some turn to food items, cartoon characters and paper quilling to create the alphabet, for Chennai-based Arvind Sundar, 28, it is art history.

In early 2020, Sundar created a mash-up of art history and typography for 36 Days of Type. The alphabet takes on the signature styles of famous artists from the 14th to 21st century, mainly from Europe and America. The letter A is shaped in the form of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s portraits, for instance. Arcimboldo, a 16th century Milanese painter, was himself a master of mash-ups, painting human heads as assemblages of fruit, flowers and vegetables. A pear stands in as a nose, and onions as ruddy cheeks. In Sundar’s series, the typeface of the letter A pays homage to Arcimboldo, and is entirely made up of fruits.

Art History Typography, Art History Typography Arvind Sundar, Art History Typography 36 Days of Type The artists selected in this art history primer were based on Sundar’s personal favourites — he calls Pollock and Marin his polestars — and because their surnames fit the alphabet.

The ink series is now available as a book, titled Art History Typography (Rs 2,400, available at http://www.floatingcanvas.co). It is formatted like a children’s book, with the alphabet on one side, and the representative object on the other, such as A for Apple or P for Pot. Here, A is Arcimboldo and P is Jackson Pollock, with selections of their art presented as objects.

Sundar says that he chose this format because he sees it not just as a coffee table book but also as an educational tool, as “a doorstep to art history”. Sundar graduated with an MFA from University of Cincinnati in 2018, and is a painter and designer with a keen interest in geometry, calligraphy and typography. Having taught at Loyola College in Chennai for a couple of years, he says, “I don’t see a structured art education in India, especially in regard to art history. In the US, I have seen kindergarten teachers taking children to art museums. We don’t have it here. I wanted to stir up some interest in both adults and children.” He cites the instance of the letter U for Paolo Uccello, and hopes that his audience will be compelled to read up more on one of the first painters of the Italian Renaissance, known for his obsession with perspective.

Art History Typography, Art History Typography Arvind Sundar, Art History Typography 36 Days of Type Sundar says he chose this format because he sees it not just as a coffee table book but also as an educational tool, as “a doorstep to art history”.

The book includes other art greats, such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. Sundar’s typographic interpretations present these artists’ legacy in a nutshell. Some, such as M for Agnes Martin, the 20th century American abstractionist, are particularly innovative. Sundar says, “With Agnes Martin it was the grids. As I am a painter, I am largely inspired by grids. I wanted to have a strong grid influence in the book and that’s the reason I chose Martin.”

The artists selected in this art history primer were based on Sundar’s personal favourites — he calls Pollock and Marin his polestars — and because their surnames fit the alphabet. If audiences are looking for an edition featuring Indian art history, they will not be disappointed to learn that Sundar has one in the making.

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