Reverting to Type 2020: an exhibition of contemporary letterpress protest posters
The power of the protest poster is being celebrated in a new exhibition by New North Press, featuring the work of 100 letterpress artists from 17 countries around the world.
With names such as Sarah Boris, Alan Kitching, Armina Ghazaryan, Erik Spiekermann, and Myrna Keliher, the posters sound a warning signal about the global climate crisis, rail against fake news and surveillance capitalism, call out racism and sexism while fighting for equal opportunities and, of course, react to the coronavirus pandemic.
Curated by Richard Ardagh and Graham Bignell of New North Press the project marks 10 years since their first Reverting to Type exhibition but there's a sense today that its purpose is more important than ever. "We're living through a very turbulent time," says Richard. "The pandemic has destabilised life for everyone and at the same time brought a lot of other issues to the surface. It's become a window of opportunity to look at what's really happening around us and to speak out."
Richard and Graham began to plan this latest show back in December 2019, with Brexit, the climate crisis and politics in mind. "Little did we know what last year had in store with George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, wildfires in Australia and California, Trump's impeachment and acquittal, Covid-19 and its impact on the NHS, education and everything else," adds Richard.
As well as showcasing the work of the global letterpress community, for this special anniversary, New North Press has collaborated with 26 invited artists, designers, poets, comedians, asylum-seekers, adults with learning disabilities, and young people on a number of artworks. Names include Peter Kennard, Malcolm Garrett, Katherine Hamnett, Stewart Lee and Extinction Rebellion Art Group.
Available to view online at revertingtotype.com, the site acts as a digital record of the physical exhibition held in 2020 at the Standpoint Gallery in London where 200 posters from 105 global artists went on display.
"There is validation in seeing a message you believe in printed in big type for all to see, so we hope the exhibition gives people the confidence to stand up for causes they believe in or at least starts conversations," says Richard. "The artworks are displayed with no hierarchy so it's not about whether they were made by a famous designer or an asylum seeker, the message is what comes first."
Why focus on letterpress? "Letterpress printing is how information was disseminated for over 500 years," says Richard. "We live in a time now where social media gives everyone a platform to express an opinion quickly, but as soon as it's there it's gone. The permanence and tactility of a beautifully printed poster have much more impact.
"I've loved seeing the homemade posters in people's windows over the last year. It reminds you that communicating ideas is something everyone needs to do, now more than ever."