Eric Gill
November 14, 2006 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Eric Gill was a print-maker, sculptor, typographer and thinker [pdf]. An artist whose life has had quite a bit of drama associated with it. There is even a new society dedicated to parsing the impacts of his legacy.
posted by sciurus (18 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Downloading the .zip file linked on this page provides a 56 page pdf with excerpts from his journals and other primary source materials.
posted by sciurus at 9:54 AM on November 14, 2006

Gill Sans is Britain's answer to Helvetica, and its designer was indeed a talented craftsman and artist.

The Tate has an archive of his works which includes many other images.
posted by attaboy at 10:31 AM on November 14, 2006

he also had sex with the family dog....
posted by atomicmedia at 10:35 AM on November 14, 2006

The man was indeed an absolute master of printing, typography (and 99% of people who use Gill Sans have sadly never heard of him), carving and the like. So yes, he was also an extreme deviant, and carried on with several members of his family, plus, indeed, the dog.

The "Gill question" is whether or not we should still appreciate his art despite that. In particular, this arises because of his fusion of the erotic and the religious. The first of these images illustrates the issue nicely: Eve and the Gospel of St Matthew. Personally, I think anyone who says they no longer find his work aesthetic after discovering his vices is lying.
posted by imperium at 10:36 AM on November 14, 2006

Fascinating history. The "bit of drama" link above contains a link to a gallery of Gill prints including some naughty ones. They're quite beautiful.
posted by Nelson at 10:38 AM on November 14, 2006

Grr, corrected link
posted by Nelson at 10:38 AM on November 14, 2006

Dudeman, that's the second link in my post. ;)
posted by sciurus at 10:49 AM on November 14, 2006

regardless of his pedophilia, despicable and disgusting and not known to me until I clicked the link, I have always been a fan of Gill. I am also a Catholic, and a strong critic of those who try to extract inherent sexuality from the lives of the saints and that of Jesus Christ. It is not alarming that people see images and icons of Jesus in coitus as blasphemous, but to say that someone who communed with prostitutes died a virgin is a bit beyond even me.
posted by parmanparman at 11:13 AM on November 14, 2006

Thanks for this post.

I am apalled at his reprehensible behavior (with the family dog, no less!) but am moved by the minimalism and profound spirituality of his art. It seems to me that he humanizes the divine, and taps into the divinity of the human.

A mirror of the best and worst of us all.
posted by luminous phenomena at 11:26 AM on November 14, 2006

I must say, finding out about the incest and the dog and so forth kind of puts my off Gill Sans in a way that, for instance, the various crimes of Roman Polanski did not put me off his work. Because I use Gill Sans as a tool to express myself, rathen than simply appreciate it from afar as an objet d'art, it seems distinctly icky.
posted by blueshammer at 11:49 AM on November 14, 2006

"Icky" or not, Gill's contributions to the world of art and type are more worthy of acknowledgment and respect than his past indiscretions. It's like saying the Declaration of Independence isn't worth preserving because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and may have slept with them.

Besides, the site that hosts the "bit of drama" article is hardly an objective source: The writer calls all of Gill's nude art "pornographic", and also suggests the UK government be run by a church-organized hierarchy and that recognition of gay civil unions are "anti-life" and "anti-family."
posted by Down10 at 12:55 PM on November 14, 2006

The 'bit of drama' link is very amusing. It reproduces one of Gill's woodcuts illustrating his favourite theme of Christ as the Bridegroom, the Church as the Bride. (Whatever you think about the sexual symbolism of this, you can't deny that, theologically speaking, it's impeccably orthodox -- following in a long line of Christian commentary on the Song of Songs.) The author's caption is: 'One of the [sic] Gill's blasphemous drawings is a Christ having sexual relations with an unidentified woman saint.' One could hardly wish for a better illustration of the way that conservative Christians project their own repressed sexual fantasies onto their opponents.

That said, Gill's sexual imagination certainly has its dark side (its 'disordered' side, as a Catholic would say) -- and even Fiona MacCarthy's excellent biography, which first revealed the incest (and the dog), tends to avert its gaze from some of the darker aspects. It really came home to me when I saw an item on sale in a London gallery a few years ago: a collection of Gill's nude studies of his daughter Petra, exquisitely printed and bound, with Gill's inscription on the flyleaf, 'To darling Petra on her 18th birthday, with love from Daddy'. Creepy, or what? On the other hand, all Gill's daughters seem to have gone on to lead extremely happy lives, with none of the sexual trauma you might expect, which goes to show -- well, I don't know exactly what it does go to show, except that it's dangerous to jump to conclusions.
posted by verstegan at 3:19 PM on November 14, 2006

Oh great! I use fonts all the time in my work. You know what I'm going to think every time I see Gill Sans in the menu now don't you? Anyway, interesting post, thank you sciurus.
posted by tellurian at 3:35 PM on November 14, 2006

Typographer Barry Deck created a tribute (of sorts) to Gill called Canicopulis.

(it's flash, so you'll have to click on 'work' to see it)
posted by O9scar at 4:14 PM on November 14, 2006

Uh oh... a pedophile? I don't know if I can use Gill Sans anymore. I'll struggle with that for awhile, like I can't quite keep myself from watching Roman Polanski movies. (I can, however, easily keep from watching Victor Salva movies.)
posted by asfuller at 8:39 PM on November 14, 2006

Great post, cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:41 PM on November 14, 2006

The 'bit of drama' link is very amusing.

Yeah, I tried to give a spectrum of links on his past, one that doesn't mention the weirdness at all [The Notre Dame stuff], one that is relatively objective [The Guardian] and one that obsesses over the weirdness [bit of drama site].
posted by sciurus at 5:01 AM on November 15, 2006

a collection of Gill's nude studies of his daughter Petra, exquisitely printed and bound, with Gill's inscription on the flyleaf, 'To darling Petra on her 18th birthday, with love from Daddy'. Creepy, or what?

"Who's your Daddy?!"
posted by spock at 10:21 AM on November 15, 2006

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