23rd March 2020

Men of Letters

John Hyland

John Hyland Account Director


Reading time 10 mins

The ‘Men of letters’ exhibition brings together the life and works of Phill Grimshaw and Tony Forster, two prolific hand-lettering and typographic designers. This exhibition not only celebrates the raft of retrospective work from these designs but features an array of unseen work too. Keep reading to find out about John Hylands visit and experience.

Men of Letters

I didn’t realise that a museum visit would be a nostalgia trip but this turned out to be the case. The Men of Letters exhibition ran from Feb to March at Bolton Museum and appealed because of a love of hand drawn lettering and also that the retrospective was the work of two men: Tony Forster and Phill Grimshaw - this resonated with me because Tony taught and inspired Phill at what was then ‘Bolton College of Art’, where I attended for 4 years and which set me on my career path.

There’s a reason that the lettering is hand drawn. Most of it was produced either pre, or on the cusp of the digital revolution, using pencils, ink and decades of skill. This is where the unexpected bout of nostalgia kicked in, seeing the work that reminded me of my art college days after an hour looking at the hand drawn lettering, the logos, the memory of buying and using ‘Rotring' pens came flooding back reminding me of a time, pre mortgage, wedding, kids and full time work and the freedom that art college gave me to be creative.

Looking at the work of the two men, gave me a feeling of a time passed, and showcased skills that I fear will disappear unless it's cherished and nutured. Creatively, I know things come full circle and I really hope that this is the case and there is a renaissance of this approach to typographic design. It was an entirely uplifting experience and made me realise that I should seek out more exhibitions right on my doorstop and especially within the fantastic civic buildings that I forget we have in abundance.

One of the exhibitors, Tony Foster posthumously said “It has always fascinated me that we only have 26 letters. Arranged in the right order they can make you laugh or cry, make you happy or sad, angry or elated.” The ‘Men of Letters’ exhibition gave me the opportunity to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the letter forms again and the chance to experience some of that emotion.

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