Here is a guest blog by Richmond artist Monica Lewis about trusting your terrestrial frame of reference.—rr
One Poster’s Insight, One Earth in the Balance
In Richmond’s Fan neighborhood, a resident has commissioned and displayed a series of wheat-pasted posters that are artistic statements on the issues of politics, voting, race, and social change. As new posters are put up every few weeks, pedestrians are treated to ever-changing, serendipitous discoveries. The posters are delightful and many offer thoughtful illustrations of the word “hope.” What, exactly, does that word mean? Like “love,” it is a concept that we hang onto when we desperately need reassurance and goodness. But the word is only helpful when in the context of a story or a real event; it offers nothing as an empty abstraction. Currently on display is a poster by Brenda McManus, who teaches graphic design at Pace University and co-runs BRED, a studio for experiments with typography and printmaking. Her formal, restrained poster deserves close consideration.
McManus’s poster is a sparse composition that plays with the cornerstones of Western image making: Albertian perspective and the Golden Rectangle ratio. (Note its divisions of the main black rectangle into smaller rectangles.) Referencing another Western concept, the white lines on the expanse of blackness are reminiscent of a solar system diagram. Furthering this visual metaphor, the pitch blackness of outer space is pierced by a light source — a sun — at the vanishing point of the perspective lines. The word “hope” emanates from this light source. Our earthly home, depicted as a blue marble of a planet, revolves around and depends upon this cosmic power.
The word “truth” is written on the planes that create a sense of distance, making a diorama box for us to peer into. Across this box, in defiance of the perspective trick, is the word “trust.” In both words, there is the letter “U.” Both “U”s line up at the source of light.
Really, this poster is a poster within a poster. That is to say, this black composition floats upon the poster’s larger composition. This black rectangle dominates its sky-blue background but its off-center placement reveals an additional meaning. Being off-center, the sky-blue segments around it are of varying sizes. They do not function as a frame. Rather, it is as if planes move across this sky-blue space. We see fragments of other edges. Designers call this kind of composition an “open design” because elements run off the page. The effect is of infinity; there is so much more — so many more compositions — that we cannot see.
Our view may be incomplete but the systems of perspective and proportion can be trusted for their reference to reality. As if there were any question, this poster has a handy “you are here” arrow pointing to our Earth. The arrow fittingly resembles the symbol of a house: a simple structure with a pitched roof. Yes, Earth is our home.
There may be other vantage points and other interpretations — other planes that move across the nothingness of space — but we are on Earth and we can trust the truth of our representational systems. There may not be an exact correspondence. There might be moments of irritating conflict (as when the last two letters of “trust” and “truth” do not align perfectly), but the overall effect gels into a reliable vision. Trust is a conscious decision. We know the match is not perfect — there is some slippage — but when we trust we allow light to shine in the darkness. Hope is the promise of good things ahead, as sure as the sunrise at the dawn of a new day.
This message is timely. In recent days, the GOP has solidified Trump’s Big Lie. In recent years, we have lost too many people to Q-Anon’s conspiracy theories. For decades, climate science has been doubted and denied, costing us valuable time in the race to lower emissions. The directive to “trust truth” is needed because, somehow, the acceptance of truth has become optional. When citizens choose to ignore facts and reality, we venture into a dangerous state of affairs. This situation, and all its implications, teeters on hopelessness. Hence, this poster’s imperative, “trust truth.” That is our hope.
—Monica Lewis, Richmond Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby