Now Available in Digital Format: Typographic Samples, Pictures & Polemics (1986)

Typographic Samples, Pictures & Polemics (1986) was published in an edition of 500 by Nexus Press, Atlanta, GA. The book received the Mary Ellen LoPresti Award for Best Monograph of 1987 by ARLIS/NA and has been exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art, NY (Committed to Print, 1988) and is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), TateModern (London), the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the Marvin and Ruth Sackner Archive (Miami Beach, FLA), and the Getty Museum (Los Angeles), among other institutions, collections and libraries.

The print edition is sold out, but is now available in digital format.

In a review of an exhibition of Typographic Samples, Pictures & Polemics mounted at Reinhold-Brown Gallery, New York, Roberta Smith — art critic for The New York Times — wrote: “Using typeface to subvert language and vice versa, Michael Corris is a rather masterly artist of the printed word. . . In certain of Corris’s works, poems and political texts, mostly by Bertolt Brecht, masquerade as “typographic samples.” Their messages are repeated in ever-changing or ever-larger typefaces (each carefully labeled) until space runs out. They move visually from whisper to shout, acquire additional rhythms and abrupt truncations. Both syntactical form and political content are amplified, both pleasure and edification are served.

Corris also makes “typographic pictures” that poke fun at the art world, the business world and their overlap. And in “Typographic Polemics,” he editorializes and disrupts our readings of texts by Oscar Wilde, Stuart Davis and Barnett Newman by setting them in different typefaces and so highlighting certain ideas or phrases. In all this, Corris’s work is consistently alluring and amusing. He’s rather like the Saul Steinberg of the printing press, except that he’s also deadly serious.”

“You may wonder why I have been so interested in making art by setting these texts, or fragments of texts? My answer would be: I treat texts like this because words are meaningless. A great writer is understood by the public to be in love with language. The poet, we are taught, agonizes over each and every word; that’s a kind of obsession. I don’t have to agonize over the choice of language, or the grammar or anything of the sort. It’s already there. At this moment it occurs to me that I have a great freedom: I can disregard language, turn it into something else, maybe matter. This is different than the concrete poet, who is very concerned with piling meaning on top of meaning: the text, the form of the text, the fonts employed, and so on. I’m interested in subtracting meaning. Literature holds no fascination for me unless I can take it apart, destroy it, and make it meaningless. But of course, this is a lie, since even something as elementary as repetition provides a text of any sort with a kind of significance, like a single note droning in a raga or a pop song.”

“Michael Corris has produced an outstanding contribution to the book world with his Typographic Samples Pictures and Polemics, which is reminiscent of the spiral bound books of typographic samples available to you at print shops or at art supply stores, to allow you to select type fonts. But this book has a twist, in fact, several twists, with the addition of politics, wit, color and allusions to art history, making this one of the great books of 1986, if not for the 1980s in general!

In this large sized (11 x 17 inch format), the pages are divided into three sections, depending upon the title. Under ‘Typographic Samples’, we get the closest approximation to the sample books, each page illustrating typefaces in various sizes, where the names of the type fonts are given. Yet the texts are from E.P. Thompson (re: nuclear war and the deformation of culture), Brecht (from poems and essays), and Corris himself (re the various problems and solutions created by the computerization of the print shop).

The second part — ‘Typographic Pictures’ — deals with the various ‘Logos for Artists’ which are politically charged phrases creating decorative poster-like flow charts, such as ‘Art is a Weapon’ and ‘For Art and Capitalism.’ (Readers must note that Corris was involved with the publication of The Fox and Red-Herring and Art & Language, so that finding the Internationale as a text for one page should not surprise the reader. In fact, he comments ironically on the relationship between capital and art in contemporary America on most pages.)

The third part — ‘Typographic Polemics’ — creates patterns from statements by Barnett Newman, Oscar Wilde, Alfred Barr, Stuart Davis, sometimes separately, sometimes mixed on a page. But these pages are not dull, for he has added color, arranging stripes in various scales of brightness of white, red, gold and blue, intensifying the meaning of the words.

And if it weren’t for Corris’ skill in typesetting and in designing the book, this beautiful object which will mean more to anyone who owns it as the years pass is a bargain at $25.00, largely because the artist did all the work except for the printing, which was so masterfully done by Nexus Press in Atlanta. If you buy any book from all of these reviewed and you love words, be sure to buy this one. You won’t: be sorry. It is a prize.”

Judith Hoffberg, “Artists’ Books: New and Reviews”, Umbrella (1986), page 18.



Caswell, Thomas Reed, and Ann Lindell. “Recognizing Distinction in the Southeast: Twenty Years of the Mary Ellen LoPresti Awards for Excellence in Art Publishing.” Art Documentation 24, no. 1 (2005): 15-18.

Harper, Glenn. “Review of ‘Typographic Samples, Pictures & Polemics’, Art Papers 10, no. 5 (Sept-Oct 1986): 37

Smith, Roberta. “Art Reviews”, The New York Times, November 7, 1986

Typographic Samples, Pictures & Polemics (Digital Version)

36 Pages | 1986 | English


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