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Word Pictures

Artist Mary Kuper is bringing words to life in a new monthly series of artworks that explore different etymologies. Mary will reveal the meaning behind a new word each month and these artistic explorations will be on display in the foyer of the National Poetry Library. 

Mary Kuper on Word Pictures

"I started studying linguistics but found it was not the science that appealed to me, but the imagery evoked by the words. I worked for a while as a printer and the pleasure of physically constructing meaning with pieces of lead or wood and the beauty of type on the page lead me into illustration. 

Wooden type is the armature on which these Word Pictures hang; the shape of the word is my starting point. Behind this are words I have collected that conjure up images in the space between their present and past meanings, their origins and their familiar current usage.

The realisation that I could use pictures to talk about words by going inside a single word was a great discovery for me. An illustrator always struggles not to repeat the text in the images. Here the narrative of the word is hidden inside it and the pictures tell that story. There is a past, a present and some unknown future, encapsulated in the combination of letters.

These pictures are made using drawing and various print methods. I used a typewriter for the etymologies because I wanted to avoid the computer, which makes the ‘processing’ of words so easy to shape shift. There is no logic to the words I have chosen  except that they all have stories I want to draw. Some of the origins are speculative, so-called ‘folk’ etymologies but still unravel a narrative in much the same way as does the language of dreams."

The first Word Picture in the series was on display until Tue 31 Mar 2020

Mary Kuper

Chintzy by Mary Kuper
Reading the phrase "Oh! Chintzy, chintzy cheeriness", in 'Death in Leamington', by John Betjeman, I was curious to know where the word came from. It was a gift to have a cheetah and a cheap and cheerful fabric linked by their etymology. Usually very structured in my working method, my plan with these prints is to work intuitively with whatever materials seem appropriate to each word, relying on the letterpress and typewritten definitions to hold the series together. Here I used stencils and a cut up floral plastic cloth to print from.