A Love of Letters : The Society of Calligraphy exhibit ranges from traditional penned images to computer-altered artwork.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

Personal lettering is

the subtlest detector

of one's substance and character;

and lettering is

the scribe's confession,

the score composed

of his states of being,


all the things that move him

at the moment of communication. . . .

--from "The Mystic Art of Written Forms" by F. Neugebauer

The calligraphic artwork on display at Century Gallery skillfully illustrates the sentiment of that passage.

In fact, a more lengthy excerpt from Neuge bauer's book is the centerpiece of Becky Rose Eisenstein's piece, "Essence," one of 35 works by 25 calligraphers in the show, "Expanding the Boundaries." It is the 10th biennial exhibit of the Society for Calligraphy, an organization of 1,000 members, about 800 of them in Southern California, who "share the love of letters," said Donna Lee, society president.

"It's one of those exhibits that's an art exhibit and an educational exhibit. This is especially true because you see the tradition," said gallery director Lee Musgrave. In addition to the contemporary work, eight examples of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscript pages are on view. "One thing that distinguishes civilization from non-civilization is the ability to write. It was an art that was cherished by each civilization that produced it."

Musgrave worries that calligraphy may be a dying art, though. "People are coming up with new typefaces on computer--calligraphy in that sense is growing," he said. But, as someone who was born and spent his early years in Australia, where penmanship was extremely important, he laments the fact that it is not emphasized in schools here.

"It takes calligraphy to remind us that the word can tell stories--and single letters can speak poetry," said John Paul Thornton, who coordinated the show for the society. It was juried by three calligraphers. (Thornton is a painter rather than a calligrapher; his father is a calligrapher.)

Among the contemporary works, traditional calligraphy of ink on fine paper shares the gallery with more unusual lettering styles on atypical surfaces, including canvas, a small leaf and raw eggs.

Jim Thornton, John Paul's father, used crayon for his work, "Today." "Solitude, Sweet Solitude" by Nancy Campbell is a collage. Louis L. Lemoine scanned into a computer and enhanced his calligraphic image for "The Alphabet."

"You used to only see calligraphy that was graceful," Musgrave said. "Calligraphy has caught up with painting in its interpretation of aesthetics. Calligraphy, as painting, expresses a non-aesthetic approach."

A few of the calligraphers have created lettering that is so expressionistic and abstract, it is illegible. "They are sweeping the page with these letters. Legibility is not as important as the process," Donna Lee said.

"There was a phase in music when it was not just entertainment." There were artists, such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, who "wanted to convey a message," she said. "Calligraphy is going that way. The letters and the words and the art form are just the medium to convey something they want to say."

Those personal notes range from joyful to sorrowful and ironic. Barbara Close celebrates some of life's delights in her gouache and acrylic piece, "What To Give the Children." She recommends "open sky, clouds, rainbows, impromptu praise, an unexpected kiss, long days to be merry in and nights without fear."

De Ann Singh titled her work, "It Is Sweet To Die For One's Country," but the deep, dark colors of the piece and the unruly placement of the words communicate anything but sweetness.

Inspiration for several calligraphic statements comes from likely sources--Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Chinese proverbs. Reuben Allen used Prismacolor pencils to present the "Chinese Proverb," "One joy scatters a hundred griefs."

"I think calligraphers have their own issues," John Paul Thornton said. "Most have no ego. They do this privately. It's a very humble scene."


What: "Expanding the Boundaries: The 10th Biennial Exhibit of the Society for Calligraphy."

Location: Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St., Sylmar.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Ends Aug. 5.

Call: (818) 362-3220.

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