The legacy of British designer and sculptor Eric Gill is more than marked by the shocking posthumous revelations in his private life. Despite this – and the subsequent calls to have his work removed from public view – the fact remains that Gill was an artist of great talent, whose work in typeface creation was hugely influential to the discipline, ubiquitously employed across publishing and design industries to this day.
Given this, Monotype is staging a week-long celebration of Gill and his most legendary works. Gill started working on Gill Sans in 1927 and produced Joanna a few years later, in 1930; both fonts have been since adopted by Monotype, which has continuously been adapting them to contemporary typographic needs, from different alphabets to new currency symbols, as well as for use on digital platforms.
With a background as a sculptor, carver and calligrapher, Gill had a particular sensibility for light and shadow, apparent in his typographic work. He and Monotype developed a long relationship, and the American company acquired several of his fonts, which he often created and updated in collaboration with the commercial team there. ‘Gill Sans is evidence of the company’s strong relationship with Eric Gill,’ says Dan Rhatigan, a consultant on the Gill Series project and former type director at Monotype.
On display in the exhibition – curated by James Fooks-Bale, Monotype's creative director – is an array of materials that inspired the development of Gill’s typefaces, as well as documents that explore his fonts' histories and eventful development.
The show also serves as the announcement of a series of new fonts that continue Gill’s legacy. Over 75 new fonts have been introduced in the Monotype library, the most comprehensive update to the Gill Sans and Joanna families yet. Gill Sans Nova, Joanna Nova and Joanna Sans Nova will be available immediately from Monotype. Four designers collaborated over the course of over two years to develop contemporary styles that are true to the typographer’s original intentions. Adjustments of the fonts include an increased palette of weights, making them better suited to digital use, and a Sans version of Joanna, which didn’t exist before. ‘The [Joanna] font has such a vast library and heritage,’ says Terrance Weinzierl, one of the designers tasked with the new project. ‘What we asked ourselves was: how do we contribute to that in a meaningful way?’ The resulting design balances simplicity, beauty and usability, but also maintains Gill’s initial aesthetic character.
‘Gill’s mastery of light and dark spaces is what made his typefaces so good,’ said Steve Matteson, the company’s creative type director. ‘Our work with the [Eric Gill] series spotlights the role Monotype continuously plays with respect [to] the past, present and future of type, where we have the unique ability to revive legacy designs with new weights, characters and languages.'
The exhibition, and the subsequent commercial release of the three typefaces, is an important step in a conversation that brings type history to life.