Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Secret Pencils

The gleaming photos of pencils that hang on the walls of Paul Smith at 9 Albermarle Street in London's Piccadilly are underlined by the shop's quiet opulence and elegant finery. If nothing else the tailored suits and fine garments exuding an air of hand crafted exclusivity match the lucid detail of the oversized writing instruments. Secret Pencils is a photographic project by Alex Hammond and Mike Tinney which "seeks to savour the use of pencils - documenting them in stunning detail, and thereby showing the secrets of their use and revealing an insight into their users: professionals who have defined themselves and their craft with the help of the modest stylus." Scores of creative minds from Quentin Blake, Louis de Bernieres, Norman Foster and Anish Kappor to Mike Leigh, Stephen Fry and Paul Smith himself have allowed their pencils to be photographed for the project. The result: the revelation of the mundane object as the instrument of creativity but also as thing of beauty in and by itself.

Wood, graphite, and the human imprints of use are magnified to crisp detail so much so that the pencils are transformed from instruments of writing and designing to sculptures, totems, revered objects, tactile but at the same time removed from touch, intimate but also distant, worn from daily use and untouchable larger-than-life objects. The grand name of the pencil's user fades into obscurity as the materiality of the stylus is magnified. At the same time the pencil is made to bear witness to its user's creative process: as such it remains open to interpretation - are the marks of use and "misuse" on the body of the pencil signs of the user's thoughts, do they attest to hers or his personality? 

The pencils appear to have a personality of their own - their leads some sharpened with a knife, others perfectly pointy, their ends immaculate or chewed, their shafts ragged, carved or polished - set against single block colour backgrounds, illuminated, removed from the hand, put on a pedestal, they become talismans. Their markings previously obscured between index and thumb and in the anonymity of the pencil pot are now revealed by the lens as typographic wonders; their imperfections due to extensive use become badges of honour, necessary sacrifices to the altar of the creative process. 

These pencils are sacred in that they are removed from the familiarity of use - the sweat of the palm, the smudginess of graphite - and elevated into the status of icons. 

Pencil of Anish Kapoor - Secret Pencils

Pencil of Mike Leigh - Secret Pencils

Pencils of David Rock - Secret Pencils

Pencils of David Shrigley - detail - Secret Pencils

Pencil of Sir Peter Blake - Secret Pencils

All photos from the exhibition at Paul Smith, Albermarle St., London - Secret Pencils

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