There is a long cultural link between works and art. Before people could read and write, they were creating images in caves, Egyptian hieroglyphs used images and symbols to create letters and words, medieval manuscripts had beautiful illuminated images within them and stained glass windows told the stories of the Bible to people who could not read or write. Today, the beauty of calligraphy continues in the Middle East, for example in the work of the poet and artist Her Royal Highness Sheikha Khawla Bint Ahmed Khalifa Al Suwaidi.
It’s only natural that artists should play with letters and words. Phillips London in Berkeley Square is filling the August gap in auctions with its exhibition “Words are Deeds”, where the Italian curator Francesco Bonami “imagines the exhibition as a conversation or visual soundtrack with meaning constructed through each different work”. Some artists, as you would expect, use letters from signs (Jack Pierson) or neon writing (Martin Creed and Joseph Kosulth), others compile stories with letters and words (Richard Prince, Glenn Ligon and Candice Brietz for example – her work being reflected in the floor of the gallery space). Others use newspapers (Nicolas Gambaroff), others are more stylised and subtle (Tim Rollins with his huge work “Amerika – Everyone is Welcome” which seems particularly appropriate in 2017, though it was executed in 2002, and Tony Lewis’ slowly-decaying “Coca Cola”, adding in other political dimensions. Digital is of course here, as with Jenny Holzer’s running commentary “Survival” from 1999.
Words and art combined have the power to make comments on politics and society – much needed at the moment.