Here’s another one of those accidental wall works of art I like so much. Age, weathering, layers of worn paint, peeling paint, the splodge of mortar between the sandstone slab and the bricks. And on the left of the pinkish patch there’s some faint pencilled handwriting in the remnants of the plaster. I suspect it’s just some builder’s notes, but I like to think it is something more esoteric, a fleeting message lost in the passage of time.
The letter A
The letter A is the first letter of most modern alphabets, and in English is the third most commonly used letter (after E and T). Our modern A evolved from the pictogram of an ox which became the Phoenician letter aleph which became the Greek alpha. A represents many things: a musical note, number one, first rate, top service, the first and best. In typography the lower case a can be drawn in the open form or the closed form. Most typefaces use the open a, but some, such as Futura, Lubalin Graph and Stone Informal, use the closed a. Many typefaces retain the open form across all the weights (Helvetica, Gotham), but many others, including Garamond, Minion, Sabon, Gill Sans and Lucida, to name but a few, use the open form in the roman weights and the closed form in the italic.
What strikes me most about this lettering, dated around 1910, is that it has been integrated into the whole facade and does not take second place to the row of animal heads watching over it and the stars of the southern cross flanking it. The ornate letters are carved into the sandstone lintel and painted gold, and what considerable skill must have gone into it. And I am impressed that it has been maintained in such excellent condition.
When I was 15 I got a job at the newly opened local Woolworths. Out the back, right next to the tea room, was a place that held enormous allure – the showcard and ticketwriting room. I started as a price chaser and made my way up the ranks to checkout chick, but neither job held the mystery and fascination of ticketwriting. I wondered if I could learn that secret writing style, but I never did. These days you don’t see it around so much, but one of my local grocers displays this fine example. It reminds me of a time, and I am pleased it is a skill that has not disappeared completely.
Despite the size of the writing on the brick wall it’s not immediately obvious from the main road because the Officeworks awning is in the way. I was taking a detour through the grounds of Sydney Uni and, as often happens when you go an alternative route, you see the same old things with a different perspective and new aspects of an otherwise familiar environment are revealed. I don’t know what the graffiti is about but I like the juxtaposition of the two sets of bold type on two equally strong backgrounds.
Nuts and mutton
An en dash is used to connect two things or denote a range, for example dates (13–14 June), places (Sydney–Hobart) and pages (22–33). An en dash is approximately the width of a lowercase n, and is also referred to as a nut dash. An em dash indicates a transition — or added emphasis — within a sentence — or an afterthought. An em dash can replace commas, semicolons, colons and parentheses to indicate an interruption or change of thought. An em dash is approximately the width of an uppercase M and is also known as a mutton dash.
The bold sweep of white on dark grey and the distressed yellow lettering remind me of some sort of Rauschenberg-Motherwell concoction, if such a thing could exist. It has Rauschenberg’s printmaking-plus-found-object quality, Motherwell’s dynamism and strength. Robert Rauschenberg was known to have inked the wheel of a car and run over paper to create a drawing. As for Robert Motherwell: his body of work, everything from his huge black and white paintings to his small works on paper, is astonishing in its expressiveness and emotional depth.
That flash of light in the sky during a thunderstorm is caused by an electrical discharge (about 100 million volts – take that you mere mortals!) which has built up in a cumulonimbus cloud. No wonder the lightning bolt is an important symbol in the mythologies of many cultures. It typically represents instant and divine intervention, and is seen as both creator and destroyer, fire and water, salvation and divinity, and supernatural power. This humble lightning bolt has seen better days, but I like it just the way it is: as if roughly coloured in using a stencil and a black texta with not quite enough ink. And it’s in good company with that rust and peeling paint.
Cobargo is a village on the south coast of New South Wales with a population of less than 500 people. It was settled in the 1820s when graziers moved stock into the area and by 1871 there was a school, post office, store, hotel, church and blacksmith shop, and by the 1890s the town even had its own newspaper. A branch of the Bank of New South Wales opened in 1903, and in 1917 operated from its new office on the corner of Bermagui Road until it closed in 1997. The Cobargo streetscape features beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings, many now occupied by local artisans, but it seems most fortuitous that a brewing supplier should occupy the bank building, where they have made excellent use of the existing sign.
My friend found this number nine during her neighbourhood wanderings and was most taken with it, and keen that I should see it too. And it is indeed a most splendid number nine: bold and flamboyant but simultaneously a little secretive and teasing, not only because it tempts you to open the door and see if more will be revealed, but because it is circumscribed by shadowy greenery that hints at an inner life.