Slanted Magazine Interview

You have been working side by side for that book. How did you get to know each other?
Pascal: In 2008 Don organized a graffiti workshop at Zico House, Beirut entitled “Bombing Beirut” and asked me to be the Arabic typographer assistant in the workshop. During the workshop I got to meet Don along most of the Lebanese Graffiti crews. Since then I started documenting the Arabic graffiti scene in Beirut and sharing my findings with Don who was visiting Beirut on a regular bases. We ended up as close friends and shared the thought of creating in the near future a book about Arabic graffiti.

Pascal is typographer and type designer, Don is a graffiti writer. How did your views (especially concerning types/ fonts) differ from each other? How may I imagine the work-sharing?
Pascal: Since my graduation from Type and Media at KABK (Royal Academy of arts) I was interested in the urban type and underground graffiti scene. Don and I both understand the structure of the letters and respect their spirit. There was no difference in opinion but a shared value for type drawing and link between typography, graffiti and calligraphy. Calligraphy is the base for professional type designing and graffiti; hence both words stem from the same source. Hassan Massoud, a renowned contemporary Arabic calligrapher, wrote that ….(Don can fill up his quote)……

Arabic Calligraphy and graffiti seem to be two different things that don´t belong together. If I look at works such as “Calligraffiti” by Niels SHOE Meulman (the indirect forerunner of “Arabic Graffiti”), there used to be parallels. What do you think?
Pascal: Calligraphy can be directly spotted in some graffiti piece while completely absent from others depending on the background of the graffiti artist and the knowledge he/she has on the drawing of letters. During the research that Don and I did for the Arabic Graffiti book, we noticed that some graffiti artists inspire their writing directly from contemporary Arabic calligraphy while others base their work on pure experimental typography that have no link what so ever with traditional nor contemporary graffiti. It is directly linked to the educational and social background of the graffiti artist.

The Arabic graffiti scene appears to be very young and in our country nearly unknown. How old is that scene and how has it been developed?
Pascal: The underground graffiti scene started in Beirut around 2002 and grew stronger from 2005 till our present time. In Palestine, graffiti was used as a powerful tool during and after the intifada that started in 2001. Iranian graffiti artist rebel against the government and the socio-political situation with sarcastic messages and drawings in Tehran. In the other remaining Arab nations the graffiti scene is still very shy or completely absent. Hence Arabic graffiti in the Arab nations is still young but with a strong message. On the other hand, we can find professional European artist from Arab origins painting contemporary Arabic graffiti on the streets of Paris, London, Berlin, etc…

How does it work exactly? Is it working pure typographic or is it resisting the veto of images?
Pascal: The most prominent are typographic, Arabic type is so flexible and fluid that it allows the artist to experiment internally with it.
As mentioned you are working as type designer. Among other things you designed the FF Seria Arabic with Martin Majoor in 2009 – the first Arabic font in distribution of the FontShop. We have been wondering about the late acceptance of Arabic fonts in our assortment. What do you think about that?
Pascal: Young contemporary Arabic type designers are behind the design of the FontFont Arabic collection that give the assortment a fresh feel and variety is style. The fonts are designed with a unique twist and reflect the present need of Arabic fonts whether bilingual Arabic/Latin or solely Arabic. Most of the fonts are drawn based on the traditional Arabic calligraphy but with a modern aspect to them.

Your blog 29letters is dealing with the confusion of Arabic fonts and the type stile of the west. Your work is somehow an educating one, because this theme is really spacious, nearly unknown and less explored. Do you feel the Arabic world and the west are increasing affecting each other?
Pascal: The Arab design scene is always influenced by its western counterpart. The Arabs always see the west as more advanced and consider the design styles more elaborated even thought that might not be the case. It happened that in the past decade the awareness to the richness of the Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art grew and international recognition was focused an Iranian and Arabic typography and design. In my opinion the affect on the Arabic and western design is mutual and there is a higher collaboration between western and Arabic designers working on bilingual projects using the Arabic and Latin script. Personally I have collaborated with western designers based in Amsterdam, London, Berlin, Geneva, New York, Chicago, etc. for typographic and corporate identities project for companies in the Arab region especially the gulf Area.

What have you learned from each other while working together?
Pascal: I learned a lot from Don about graffiti art. I learned a lot about the process of creating graffiti and techniques behind it during the workshop in 2008, and widened my knowledge about the international graffiti scene and artist during our work on the book in Berlin 2010.

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