The Abecedary as an art form is a hybrid between visual and written languages, one whose many creative possibilities and natural affinities has yielded centuries of innovative variations. From the illuminated texts of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, to Erté’s art deco alphabet series, to the books of Edward Gorey, and modern projects by painters like Andy Warhol, John Baldessari, Laura Owens and Jasper Johns, it’s easy to see what piques their visual curiosity.
Into this rich vein come Françoise and Douglas Kirkland with their elegant, luxurious new publication, the Physical Poetry Alphabet. The large-plate book offers liberal helpings of fairy dust, haute romance, and masterful poses from classical and modern dance, amplified with lush styling and elaborate image structuring — all laid on the foundation of Douglas Kirkland’s famous photographic portraiture lens.
Françoise Kirkland leads the team of dancer Erika Lemay, costume designer Simone Guidarelli and element designer William Thoren through a pageant of 26 letters and a few punctuation symbols, as they are both imagined and enacted on the glossy pages.
The book seems to ask, can a font constitute a narrative in itself, long before its alphabet is used to form words? In the case of the Physical Poetry Alphabet, the answer is yes. Each letter on its own is a richly detailed arrangement, a precision photo-collage of feathers, flowers, jewels, stars, charms and ribbons — all activated by the motion of a world-class movement artist.
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The book also features not only behind-the-scenes production shots and sketches but also engaging personal and historical texts by Lemay, Thoren and Françoise Kirkland, along with the book’s designer, Ornan Rotem, who adds introductory remarks on the development of the alphabet and what he calls “the long-standing romance between the human body and letters.”