Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rene Knip's "type" virtuosity




Rene Knip's letters are architectural, built and constructed rather than drawn or written. And the architectonic nature lends itself very readily to use in real architecture: in buildings, on walls, as floor tiles, etc. The relationship between the letters and their surroundings isn't clearcut; it's as though the letters themselves were part of the built environment. Sometimes they are. Knip takes inspiration from various existing letterforms left over from the 1920s and '30s, especially those that he has found in the streets of Amsterdam. Others have mined this same vein; the squared-off echoes of Art Nouveau, De Stijl, and Art Moderne remind me of the lettering of cartoonist Joost Swarte, and some of the constructed shapes are reminiscent of alphabets done by Max Kisman. Knip's genius is in melding the letterforms and their immediate environment, making each a part of the other.Knip studied with the renowned Dutch letterer and type-designer Chris Brand, at the St. Joost Academy of Art and later in private lessons at Brand's home. Although Brand's letters were always quite traditional in their form, he encouraged Knip's very different style and taught him to pay attention to the "white of the letter": the space inside (the counter). 

Knip takes this quite literally in the way he sees letters and other objects: "When looking at a landscape, I like to single out forms which have a strong graphic character, such as trees and fences. Letters are similar: to me, a letter is a form that rises up from the background." In Jan Middendorp's text, he describes Knip's letters as having "a brutal physicality that is rare in today's digital world." Knip came into his own when he began working on environmental projects with the architectural firm of Merkx + Girod, where he could integrate his lettering ideas into the physical materials of a building's interior. When he does signage, it tends to become part of the material around it, rather than just appearing as two-dimensional lettering on the surface.