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Eric Gill

Arthur Eric Rowton Gill (22 February 188217 November 1940) was a British sculptor, typeface designer, stonecutter and printmaker, who was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. Today he is a controversial figure, with his well known religious views and subject matter being seen at odds with his paraphiliaic behaviour and erotic art.

Life

Gill was born in 1882 in Brighton, Sussex (now East Sussex) and in 1897 the family moved to Chichester. Eric studied at Chichester Technical and Art School, and in 1900 moved to London to train as an architect with the practice of W.D. Caroe, specialists in ecclesiastical architecture. Frustrated with his training, he took evening classes in stone masonry at Westminster Technical Institute and in calligraphy at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where Edward Johnston, creator of the London Underground typeface, became a strong influence. In 1903 he gave up his architectural training to become a calligrapher, letter-cutter and monumental mason.

In 1904 he married Ethel Hester Moore (1878–1961), and in 1907 he moved with his family to "Sopers", a house in the village of Ditchling in Sussex, which would later become the centre of an artists' community inspired by Gill. There he started producing sculpture – his first public success was Mother and Child (1912).

In 1913 he moved to Hopkin's Crank at Ditchling Common, 2 miles north of the village. In 1914 he produced sculptures for the stations of the cross in Westminster Cathedral. In the same year he met the typographer Stanley Morison. After the war, together with Hilary Pepler and Desmond Chute, Gill founded The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling, where his pupils included the young David Jones, who soon began a relationship with Gill's daughter, Petra.

In 1924 he moved to Capel-y-ffin in Wales, where he set up a new workshop, to be followed by Jones and other disciples. In 1925 he designed the Perpetua typeface, with the uppercase based upon monumental Roman inscriptions, for Morison, who was working for the Monotype Corporation. An in-situ example of Gill's design and personal cutting of his Perpetua typeface can be found in the nave of Poling church in West Sussex, on a wall plaque commemorating the life of Sir Harry Johnston. The Perpetua design was followed by the Gill Sans typeface in 1927–30, based on the sans-serif lettering originally designed by Johnston for London Underground. In the period 1930-31 Gill designed the typeface Joanna which he used to handset his book, An Essay on Typography.

Gill soon tired of Capel-y-ffin, coming to feel that it had the wrong atmosphere, and also being too far from London, where most of his clients were. In 1928 he moved to Pigotts near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, where he set up a printing press and lettering workshop. He took on a number of apprentices, including David Kindersley, who in turn became a successful sculptor and engraver, and John Skelton (1923–1999), his nephew, and also noted as an important letterer and sculptor. Other apprentices included Laurie Cribb, Donald Potter and Walter Ritchie. Others in the household included Denis Tegetmeier, married to Gill's daughter Petra, and Rene Hague, married to the other daughter, Joanna.

In 1932 Gill produced a group of sculptures, Prospero and Ariel, for the BBC's Broadcasting House in London. In 1937, he designed a postage stamp for the Post Office, and in 1938 produced The Creation of Adam, three bas-reliefs in stone for the Palace of Nations, the League of Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland. During this period he was made a Royal Designer for Industry, the highest British award for designers, by the Royal Society of Arts and became a founder-member of the newly established Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry.

A deeply religious man, Eric Gill published numerous essays on the relationship between art and religion. He also produced a number of erotic engravings. Gill died of lung cancer in Harefield Hospital, Uxbridge, Middlesex in 1940. His papers and library are archived at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLA.

Typefaces

Eric Gill's types include:

  • Gill Sans (his most famous face and lasting legacy to typography 1927–1930)
  • Perpetua (1926)
  • Golden Cockerel Press Type (for the Golden Cockerel Press; 1929)
  • Solus (1929),
  • Joanna (based on work by Granjon; 1930– 1931)
  • Aries (1932)
  • Floriated Capitals (1932)
  • Bunyan (1934)
  • Pilgrim (recut version of Bunyan; 1953)
  • Jubilee (also known as Cunard; 1934)

In his 1947–1949 redesign for Penguin Books, a project that resulted in the establishment of Penguin Composition Rules, Jan Tschichold specified use of Gill Sans for book titles, and in branding their Pelican imprint. In the 1990s, the BBC adopted Gill Sans for its wordmark and many of its on-screen television graphics.

Controversies

Whilst Gill was a deeply religious man, largely following the Roman Catholic faith, his beliefs and practices were by no means orthodox. His personal diaries describe his sexual activity in great detail including the fact that Gill sexually abused his own children, had an incestuous relationship with his sister and performed sexual acts on his dog. This aspect of Gill's life was little known until publication of the 1989 biography by Fiona MacCarthy. Robert Speaight's earlier biography mentioned none of it.

As the revelations about Gill's private life resonated, there was a reassessment of his personal and artistic achievement. As his recent biographer sums up: "After the initial shock, […] as Gill's history of adulteries, incest, and experimental connection with his dog became public knowledge in the late 1980s, the consequent reassessment of his life and art left his artistic reputation strengthened. Gill emerged as one of the twentieth century's strangest and most original controversialists, a sometimes infuriating, always arresting spokesman for man's continuing need of God in an increasingly materialistic civilization, and for intellectual vigour in an age of encroaching triviality.

Selected writings

  • A Holy Tradition of Working: An Anthology of Writings, Golgonooza Press, 1983, ISBN 0-903880-30-X
  • Clothes: An Essay Upon the Nature and Significance of the Natural and Artificial Integuments Worn by Men and Women, 1931, Jonathan Cape
  • An Essay on Typography, 1931, ISBN 0-87923-762-7, ISBN 0-87923-950-6 (reprints)
  • Christianity and Art, 1927
  • Art, 1934
  • Work and Property, 1937
  • Work and Culture, 1938
  • Autobiography: Quod Ore Sumpsimus, Jonathan Cape, 1940 (published posthumously) ISBN 1-870495-13-6

References

  • Attwater, Donald. A Cell of Good Living. London : G. Chapman, 1969. ISBN 0-225-48865-5
  • Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Hartley & Marks, 1992. ISBN 0-88179-033-8.
  • Collins, Judith. Eric Gill: The Sculpture. Woodstock, NY : Overlook Press, 1998. ISBN 0-87951-830-8
  • Corey, Steven and MacKenzie, Julia (eds). Eric Gill: A Bibliography. St Paul's Bibliographies, 1991. ISBN 0-906795-53-2
  • Dodd, Robin. From Gutenberg to OpenType. Hartley & Marks, 2006. ISBN 0-88179-210-1
  • Fiedl, Frederich, Nicholas Ott and Bernard Stein. Typography: An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques Through History. Black Dog & Leventhal: 1998. ISBN 1-57912-023-7.
  • Gill, Cecil, Beatrice Warde and David Kindersley. The Life and Works of Eric Gill. Papers read at a Clark Library symposium, 22 April 1967. Los Angeles : William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, 1968
  • Gill, Evan and Peace, David (eds). Eric Gill: The Inscriptions. Herbert Press: 1994. ISBN 1-871569-66-4
  • Harling, Robert. The letter forms and type designs of Eric Gill. Westerham : Eva Svensson, 1976. ISBN 0-903696-04-5
  • Holliday, Peter. Eric Gill in Ditchling. Oak Knoll Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58456-075-4
  • Kindersley, David. Mr. Eric Gill: Further Thoughts by an Apprentice. Cardozo Kindersley Editions: 1967. 1982. ISBN 0950194654
  • MacCarthy, Fiona. Eric Gill. Faber & Faber: 1989. ISBN 0-571-14302-4
  • Macmillan, Neil. An A–Z of Type Designers. Yale University Press: 2006. ISBN 0-300-11151-7.
  • Miles, Jonathan. Eric Gill & David Jones at Capel-y-ffin. Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan : Seren Books, 1992. ISBN 1-85411-051-9
  • Pincus, J.W., W. Turner Berry and A. F. Johnson. Encyclopædia of Type Faces. Cassell Paperback, London; 2001. ISBN 1-84188-139-2
  • Skelton, Christopher, (ed.) Eric Gill – The Engravings. London : Herbert, 1990. ISBN 1-87156-915-X
  • Speaight, Robert. Life of Eric Gill. London : Methuen, 1966
  • Thorp, Joseph. Eric Gill. London : J. Cape, 1929
  • Yorke, Malcolm. Eric Gill – Man of Flesh and Spirit. London : Constable, 1981. ISBN 0-09-463740-7

Notes

External links

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