Arts preview: “Alphabet Alliteration” is poetically powerful

  • Photos by Tessa Berg
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From the November 21, 2013 edition

Richard Aschenbrand has had quite an extensive career in a number of visual and artistic fields. To put it as succinctly as possible, he’s continually worked as a freelancer in the graphic design and advertising fields, spent 45 years on faculty at Columbus College of Art and Design (with 17 years as dean of visual communications) and as a longtime exhibition curator. Aschenbrand’s latest exhibit, “Alphabet Alliteration,” brings all of his talents and passions together in a collection of 32 pieces.

“The ‘Alliteration’ series and these paintings, it kind of full-circles my career as a designer, ad person, typographer, graphic designer and instructor,” Aschenbrand said. “I’ve had a lifelong interest in this and I don’t think it could be any more intense than the images in this exhibition. It’s so focused, with typography as shape, as form, as concept, as image.”

The “Alphabet Alliteration” series features 28 images — one for each letter of the alphabet, and one for “Alphabet” and “Alliterative” — in an alphabetic compendium of alliterative wordplay. Each letter is matched to a corresponding word, “Advertising” for A, “Love” for L, etc., and a series of alliterative words, phrases and sentences describing said word.

While Aschenbrand’s design and typography expertise are clearly demonstrated, it’s his alliterative written work that’s truly astounding — equally astonishing in difficulty, emotion and insight.

The “Advertising” piece, which Aschenbrand wrote 40 years ago and rediscovered when moving seven years ago, is a stellar example of alliteration usage — more than 40 A words in a row — that also conveys a thought-provoking and motivating look into the profession.

“There was the A for advertising; not the design, but just what I’d typed on [an] old typewriter,” Aschenbrand said of re-experiencing the original writing. “The piece jumped out at me and said ‘This has a future and it seems to want more.’”

From “Advertising,” Aschenbrand moved on to “Bullies” because it was a hot topic at the time (and still is, thanks to an NFL player who shall remain incognito). Then Aschenbrand fell ill with cancer, and the alliteration for C was created. He then bounced around to different letters until the “very labor-intensive, but enjoyable” project was completed.

“Alliteration is not easy,” Aschenbrand said. “You can easily think of the letters that would be really problematic; Q, X and Z. So I had a good time with those. Others came very quickly and some of them I had 10 different topics that I started and nine that I dropped.”

A companion “Alphabet Alliteration” book with all 28 images was created and will be available during the exhibit’s run. Aschenbrand said he doesn’t feel completely done with the “Alliteration” series — or creating new works of any kind — and may release a children’s book version in the future.

Paired with the “Alphabet Alliteration” series are three larger paintings and a sculpture. The sculpture features the letters A, B and C constructed out of plumbing parts, and is titled “Basic Plumbing.”

Two of the paintings are exemplary examples of Aschenbrand’s love for typography, and the other is a serious, emotive piece. All three contain a distinct symmetry and thematic words and phrases around the border that was inspired by Edward Hicks’ work.

“Babel” and “Pangrams” are letter-based works, using vibrant colors and stylish design. “Babel” is the titular tower constructed with various letters overlapping and merging. The symmetry gives the tower an almost 3-D effect. “Pangrams” was born out of one of Aschenbrand’s earliest experiences with letters (learning to type using pangrams) and how that transformed into his passion for typography.

“This piece goes no deeper than investigating a joyful surface with texture, pattern and form all described through letters, different fonts and alphabets,” Aschenbrand said.

While “Tower” and “Pangram” feel more jubilant, “Forgive But Never Forget” is a sobering reflection on the Holocaust.

“It’s an important piece to me because … my parents were Holocaust survivors. The horror they experienced in World War II never really left them,” Aschenbrand said.