Monday, May 20, 2013

An Artist's Signature

What's in a signature? I had some interesting discussions over the past couple of months with several different artists, on the topic of signatures. The doctor's signature is stereotypically illegible; the teenage girl might sign all of her 'i's with hearts instead of dots (a running joke from an artist's panel I attended last month), and the size of the signature could have a lot to do with that person's own feelings of importance or self-worth (e.g., "John Hancock"). But what about artists? Why is an artist's signature so important?

Over the years, I've carefully observed how artists sign their paintings. Some of them take care to scratch their name deeply into the wet paint, so that it can never be forged or scraped off. Others line up their letters meticulously, each one at a graceful slant and widely spaced for drama. Some sign their whole name, others just their last. Some only put in their initials and have striven to "brand" their work with a signature that looks like a seal or logo. If you're curious as to why I sign my name, "Anna Rose," I wrote this blog post on it several years ago. I wonder, how much value does a signature have in affirming the artist's identity or style?

I'm still working on figuring this out. I've gotten teased for my "pretty" signature, told that it looks like it was signed by a little old lady. Others have complimented it and said, "It's nice to see a signature I can read!" But when I think about the life experiences that have led up to my current artistic identity, I don't really care what anyone thinks.

When I was very young, my mother took great care to ensure that I learned how to write well. We covered every aspect of writing - not just spelling, form, and grammar - but also, the aesthetic side of writing: calligraphy, cursive, italics. I took every possible visual art form related to writing that I could think of, even playing around with hieroglyphics, Medieval illumination, Greek symbols, and the Hebrew alphabet. I loved the way I could turn a pen to different angles to create subtle changes in the width of a stroke or flourish of a curve. It was all preparation for becoming a painter, of course.

Then, as I grew up, went to art school, and was told that drawings and paintings would be stronger if one worked in angles instead of curves, I bit my lip and did as I was told, but I was still inexplicably attracted to curves. I found them to be softer and more appealing, so I signed my name with them and continued to "fill in" all the gaps in my paintings that were left by the harsh and unfeeling angles. I've since learned a bit more self-control, embracing the power of angles and learning to use them to maintain structure and presence. And, as my friend Matt Taylor has said in this brilliant blog post about curves and angles, "Ambition creates angular shapes. An angle is a challenge to the forces of the universe to break it." I am terribly ambitious, so my nature does not come without its angles. But I still paint with sensitivity, and I hope that never stops. I also like to "hide" my signature at times, within the pattern of a carpet (as you see below, in "Twin Arts") or the texture of a grassy field. It's not about the artist, the "John Hancock" - it's about the work, speaking for itself.


So, could it be true that the style of a signature is related to the very soul of the artist, based on its lines and curves? Food for thought. I'd love to hear your opinions on this!



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8 comments:

  1. Well I am a professional Handwriting Analyst so this post interests me and made me smile. Like you I have also thought about the best way to sign my own artwork and keeping it true to my personality and my normal handwriting style. I am divorced so many years ago I dropped the surname to avoid using my ex's name.
    I have taken up painting again and now I am thinking of how to sign my paintings.. so this was interesting. :)

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    1. Ah, very cool! Best of luck to you and your paintings (and finding a signature that is truly unique)! :-)

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  2. Great topic for discussion! I sign my name with my first initial and last name because I've never been overly fond of my first name. After all, I had nothing to do with choosing it. I underline my name, because way back when I was a kid an artist I really admired (A.R. Waud) underlined his. So I did too... I would have signed my name like Sargent, but the Schmid crowd has that one covered. :-)

    By the way, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much I like your work.

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    1. Thank you, Kevin! I agree with you about the "Schmid crowd," LOL. It's interesting that you chose a signature based on feelings you had as a kid, also. Our childhood has a strong influence on us, for sure!

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  3. I sign my name with my first two initials, last name and the year (j.a.davis 2013). I used to sign it with the name I actually go by (Adam Davis '13), but when I was in art school I found out about another "Adam Davis" who was already an established artist. I don't care for his work and I'm trying to establish my own identity within the contemporary art world. So I started using my intials and last name as a way to disambiguate myself from the other "Adam Davis"s of the world. Unfortunately my name is a VERY common one.

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    1. That is quick a debacle, having to make a name for yourself with a common name. Sounds like you've handled it well. Thanks for sharing!

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