An exhibition of new works by seminal US artist Lawrence Weiner opens at the South London Gallery today. Beloved by artists and designers alike, Weiner's new show features a series of text-based works on the walls of the gallery, as well as an off-site piece, placed on the facade of the semi-derelict Peckham Road Fire Station across the road...
Titled 'All In Due Course', the exhibition mixes written expressions with typographic gestures, all displayed in Weiner's familiar style, using bold text and strong colours. While many of the phrases he uses are familiar – including the show's title, which appears on the outside of the fire station, and 'stretched to the limit', on the wall of the upstairs space – the meaning of the work remains deliberately oblique and open to the audience's interpretation.
Weiner is widely acclaimed as being one of the godfathers of conceptualism, cited alongside artists such as Ed Ruscha and Joseph Kosuth as pioneering the use of text in art. Yet this is a tag he wears with some discomfort, if not out-and-out irritation, preferring to think of himself as a sculptor, who happens to use words to form his works. Speaking before the show at SLG last night, he commented that perhaps the 1960s British art collective Art & Language were to blame for this: "They began to start this other thing, that language was different from things. It's not, it's all language. Any person who tries to give you an indication of where you can find yourself in the world by making anything – any object, any painting, any drawing – is speaking to you. You might not understand their dialect, but the fact is, there is no hierarchy."
He is particularly resistant to the notion that he might be perceived as 'avant garde'. "What the hell is avant garde?," he says. "I really don't understand how you could be in front of your own time. What do you do – when you go to the bathroom, do you have to look backwards? How do you get in front of yourself, you can't. That's not our question, our question is not how something that an artist makes looks, it's what it means. Each individual work is trying to explain somebody's place in the sun, and somebody's relation to the world."
Talking of his process, Weiner says, "it's all about materials, either in the field, or in the studio, it makes no difference. You're putting things together, you're looking at them, and then you see something that's interesting and you have to tell somebody, you have to translate that into some kind of language. You can draw a cartoon, you can draw an illustration or you can distil it down to words. I distil it down into words."
Weiner is particular loved by designers for his use of type as a means of artistic expression, and for his immaculate style of presentation. Yet despite how distinctive his typographic style has become, for Weiner, the emphasis of the work is always on its meaning, rather than its form.
The font he uses is of his own design, created after Franklin Gothic, the font he previously used, began to grow in popularity. "I tried to find a font that didn't carry anything with it," he explains. "That was Franklin Gothic. I used it for a long time, and it turned out that what I was making had some use for society. After a while people started to use it because it really was a font with some elegance, and everything looked like it was by me. So I decided to design another font, and I designed this font. It's not going to be forever, hopefully. Hopefully I will find a way to sit down and reorient what I think is a font."
With its links to signage and even advertising, Weiner's work is naturally suited to appearing outside the gallery space. In the past, his art has appeared on posters and T-shirts, and for this show, he has even created a temporary tattoo, on sale in the SLG shop. The work for the fire station, which features the show's title, is designed to be a little surprise to passers-by (though does currently have a sign to indicate and explain its presence). "I tried to figure out some way that this concept ‘All in due course’, with the gesture, would mean something to somebody that was walking down the street," he says. "We tried to figure out a way to put it on the building so it looks like it was always there…. As you’re walking down the road, when the awning is gone, it will look like it was there forever. It says something, it really does."
All In Due Course is on show at the South London Gallery until November 23, more info is here. All photographs by Andy Keate.