Arts Review: Alan Kitching – A Life In Letterpress

The Lighthouse, 9th December – 5th March

It’s important to note before I start this review that I have never visited The Lighthouse before. The starkness of The Lighthouse’s huge rooms and floors is a vast contrast from Buchanan Street which is crammed with shoppers and families but located only metres away. It took me by surprise. If you have to go there for anything simply go there for the view on the top floor. Your eyes taking in Glasgow’s urban horizons is probably the gallery’s best feature (sadly, I didn’t get to experience this breath-taking sight, as there was a private event on).

Thankfully I didn’t visit solely for the view, but went to see Alan Kitching’s exhibition ‘A Life In Letterpress’, detailing 60 years of Kitching’s work, from when he left school aged 15 to work an apprenticeship at a printers, to the establishment of The Typography Workshop in the late 80s. The artist’s work continued to develop, and does right up until the present day. He formed a unique style –  a bold, simple yet elegant font, created from a mix of wood and metal letterforms.

It wasn’t until this establishment of The Typography Workshop, going back to basics, that Kitching’s most recognisable works were created. ‘In order for me to go forward as a designer, I had to go back to something I knew. It was an impulse to go and print.’ This is the moment where the exhibition changes from showcasing Kitching’s earlier work of very plain black and white prints and typography manuals that he used during his training, to this bold, unique style which was stamped onto political slogans, such as his chilling statement opposing the Iraq War printed on stark, black font: ‘Why Iraq? Why Now?’

Kitching’s impressive ability to give power and emphasis to words is also showcased in his commission for the Guardian, one of my favourite parts of the exhibition. Being asked to create a series of prints which would show the newspaper’s integrity within their journalism, he applied his bold and bright lettering to words such as ‘Unbiased’, ‘Boldly’ and ‘Spirited’, suiting the newspaper’s style. A mix of hot and cold colours painted over each other, this layer of multiple colouring contrasts well with his simple typography.

‘A Life In Letterpress’ is an awe-inspiring exhibition showing the development of Kitching’s typography. From his roots as a printer’s apprentice to the creation of his own designing press, the exhibition clearly elaborates this time-scale of artistic development. The Lighthouse lets you take a piece of this exhibition away, a thin newspaper packed with his most iconic designs. Finishing on the 5th March, there is still time to go and see this wonderful exhibition on Kitching’s modern typography.

[Emma McKie]

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