Rick Griffith has designs on Denver. Bold ones.
Cover photo by Eric Magnussen
The admonition greets visitors as they arrive for MATTER's eleventh annual print sale and party. High on a wall of the design studio's cavernous warehouse space on Market Street, the two-color screen-print poster warns in severely modified Helvetica Bold: "You may not steal the font library here, nor may you bring any janky, knock off, free shit up in here. This is a fucking business."
There's nothing janky or knock-off about the crowd that's shown up here — hipsters in skinny jeans, plastic-rimmed glasses and thrift-store dresses. As for any of them stealing MATTER's font library? Not if that library comprises the eight-foot-tall plywood letters that stand like sentinels around the studio, each decorated with various prints for sale for $100 and up.
"The burden of knowledge is action," reads one four-color print tacked to a giant letter "S." Nearby, an uppercase "D" holds a poster that's been printed with historic letterpress plates advertising bygone circus attractions. On some posters, comic-book-style word bubbles frame bold statements; on others, words and letters climb around one another like elements of an architectural facade. Nearby, T-shirts for sale pronounce "Shut up and eat your Helvetica," while $15 ladies' underwear declares, "Do you think this kerns itself?"
Drinks in hand, guests admire the gargantuan wooden letters like they're taking in sculptures at a museum. In the studio's print shop, they marvel at century-old printing presses and drawer after drawer of wooden and metal type in all shapes and sizes. And they line up for a chance to shmooze with Rick Griffith, the graphic artist and typographer who's the owner and driving force behind MATTER. Dressed in his signature sportcoat, jeans, black boots and gold pirate earrings, Griffith is happy to oblige. He works the room, greeting guests with warm grins and drawing them into scholarly tête-à-têtes. No topic is off limits; if he ruffles a few feathers along the way, so be it. And every now and then, he breaks away from a conversation to help the bartender refill a giant fish tank brimming with homemade mojito mix.
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Usually this mad scientist's laboratory is off limits to everyone save clients and colleagues; the annual party is the only time all year that MATTER throws open its doors and offers its wider body of work for sale to the general public. And these days, people are increasingly interested in what's happening behind those doors. Not only is the studio doing commissions for major corporate brands, but Griffith's work has been included in the national design archives of AIGA, formerly the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and the Butler Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Columbia University. The Denver Art Museum recently purchased 26 of his pieces for its permanent collection; a book of typographic images he produced was named one of the 100 best-designed books of 2005 by AIGA; and the 59-word "Definition of Graphic Design" he spent eighteen months crafting now appears on T-shirts and pillowcases around the world.
"We just might be the last great graphic design studio," the 41-year-old Griffith likes to say in moments of exuberance.
At 9:15 p.m., and again at midnight, the music dies down as drumbeats and electronic squeals echo through the party and musicians in ski masks, helmets and sombreros stream through the studio's garage door, followed by dancers in a Chinese dragon costume. As the cacophony of Itchy-O, Denver's avant-garde marching band, builds to a crescendo, filling the room with strobe-light flickers and smoke-machine fog, party-goers crowd in and dance to the frenetic beat.
From the vantage point of a second-story loft, Griffith nods his head to the music. Smiling, he watches over the festivities, making sure that no janky, knock-off, free shit manages to sneak in.
After all, this is a fucking business.
If Rick Griffith were a typeface, he'd be a reversed-stress slab serif. That's according to Jeremy Peterson, MATTER's long-haired, shaggy-bearded art director. That typeface features letters with thicker horizontal strokes than vertical ones, the opposite of most type, which Peterson thinks fits his boss because "it's kind of a 'fuck you' to how type should be constructed, but it's beautiful and it works."
Jessica Wurtzel, Griffith's wife, believes her husband would be Mrs Eaves, a contemporary reimagining of an eighteenth-century typeface, because "it's a reference to classical ideas," she explains. "It's modern and it's got a twist." MATTER designer Allison Clayton figures Griffith would be Poster Bodoni Italic, which "is big and kind of funny-looking, but it makes a lot of sense," while Nick Sherman, a typographer who runs the popular blog Woodtyper.com, pegs him as Cooper Black, because "it has this history of being misused, it has a little bit of a cartoony feel, and it has a really bold and strong style." Then again, Jim Sherraden, manager of Hatch Show Print, the celebrated 130-year-old letterpress shop in Nashville, says impishly, "I would say a round typeface, 'cause his head is round, and the cigarettes he rolls are round." He's referring to the hand-crafted smokes, packed with Peter Stokkebye Danish Export tobacco, that Griffith lights up every now and then.
Whatever typeface people suggest for Griffith, everyone agrees it should be one with serifs, the little tabs that adorn the tops and bottoms of letters. That's because the man has two pointy tufts of hair sprouting from either side of his head.
And just as serifs are supposed to help letters stand out from one another, Griffith is never one to get lost in the crowd. He was the first in his circle of friends to get an iPod, though the fingers he used to fiddle with it were usually stained with old printing inks.
"His is not a slick hip; his is a knowing hip," says Ken Bloom, the former head of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, the first Colorado museum to showcase Griffith's work. "His is the original hip."
And Griffith is at every hip event around: shmoozing at gallery openings and design symposiums, serving on the mayor's Create Denver advisory committee, swapping programming stories at Boulder tech meet-ups, roaming the halls at one local college or another (he's taught graphic design and typography at the University of Colorado Denver, the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and the University of Denver). No matter where he is, he's undoubtedly holding forth on one esoteric topic or another — the relative merits of Helvetica, the most ubiquitous modern typeface, and Futura, the most popular; the ongoing relevance of the Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich; the comedic perfection of Derek and Clyde, a British act from the 1970s; the physics involved in the original Asteroids arcade game.
"I think what you get from Rick is a kind of impresario in the city," says Adam Lerner, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. "He's a new hybrid creative who cuts across the bounds of graphic design work, the art world, the music world, youth culture and the professional world of design. It feels like he is at the center of so many events in the Denver creative community."
Often that creative center seems to overlap with the MATTER studio, a 14,000-square-foot, onetime printing-supply warehouse. (Griffith and his family live in another former print shop in northwest Denver: "My life is easily connected by all these things that have to do with printing," he says.) The space acts like a magnet for creative flotsam and jetsam: A friend gifted Griffith with a malfunctioning, decades-old sandwich vending machine that sits in a side room, waiting to be transformed into a machine that will vend "thoughts," no correct change required. And one day, someone dropped a complete set of tiny metal foundry type, all in Chinese characters, on the counter of MATTER's shop, a storefront where passersby can purchase greeting cards that read "I'm sorry your Cyclops died" and "I've always fucking hated your work."
The "sentiment" cards are just a tiny sample of the work the studio is constantly churning out. Under the brand MATTERIAL, the company produces type-focused apparel such as a poodle skirt decorated with a poodle pooping out "M"s, as well as hand-bound writing pads and other paper products geared toward designers' needs. Fueled by pitchers of latte pulled at all hours from a restaurant-grade La Marzotco espresso machine, MATTER's six employees and two adjuncts work with both the latest technology and age-old crafts. While they digitally film client meetings and tweak corporate logos on top-of-the-line iMacs (Griffith's is the biggest, a 27-inch monster), they're also skilled at hand-rolling ink onto wooden type and operating machinery so unwieldy and treacherous that the mechanical throwbacks are known as "widowmakers."
"It's the kind of place where someone who is motivated will have a chance to do something awesome, and someone who isn't in it for the love will feel overwhelmed," says Peterson. "Everything we do has to be fucking perfect."
That perfection extends to the way people converse. Use of the word "just" is frowned upon because, as Griffith explains, "'Just' is the word that people use when they don't want to recognize your effort or don't want to pay you back." People who employ "font" and "typeface" interchangeably are quickly corrected; typeface refers to a design family such as Arial, Helvetica or Times New Roman, while a font is a particular style and quantity of a typeface. And, as explained in Practical Matters: A Guide to the Benefits and Obligations of Being a Client at MATTER, a 56-page manual provided to the studio's clientele, sarcasm has been banned from the premises except on Wednesdays. "I view sarcasm as a cruel method of communication," explains Griffith. "People shouldn't doubt the words they're saying to each other."
Or the worldview he espouses with those words. "As far as I am concerned, language rules everything around me. Language rules the whole game," Griffith says. "When most designers look to photography or illustration to solve graphical problems, we look to words. Words are the power I choose to wield; words are the tools I choose to use. We have faith in words."
Griffith's favorite time to work with type is when no one else is around. "Amongst all the designer/printers, the letterpress designer/printer is uniquely vulnerable," he wrote in an introduction to Pressed!, a letterpress exhibit he curated at the Denver Pavilions last summer. "Most have been trained and practice in manners which resemble monastic life — entirely reliant on antiquated tools using obscure measurements, large, heavy equipment almost impossible to accommodate, and an ever-shrinking resource of parts and type."
On a Sunday afternoon, the MATTER studio is dark and silent save for the print shop, where Griffith has been working for hours to carefully align two small, custom-designed blocks of metal type on a pair of letterpress printers in order to print forty copies of his carefully constructed "Definition of Graphic Design." While Griffith introduced the definition three years ago as a four-by-eight-foot stencil displayed on a downtown wall one night to the consternation of the Denver police, this time the work will be printed on five-by-seven-inch cards that will be sent to friends and colleagues.
One type block displays the definition in backwards Gotham letters: "In practicing graphic design it is implied that — from deploying the most basic proportions of a letterform to negotiating the format, inclusion of (or reference to) material objects — any competent attempt will include the creation and application of some sympathetic agreements, a concern and further effort to ensure that the work is conditioned by the message it will convey." The other block features tiny annotations Griffith added to the text after a friend informed him that the definition was completely inaccessible. One note explains that "proportions of a letterform" can refer to the relationship of the x-height to the cap height and the weight of the thickest stroke to the thinnest stroke, while another points out that "the message" is also the name of a very important jam from 1982.
In this print shop — littered with drawers of letters, ligatures and punctuation marks, T-squares and X-ACTO blades, cans of ink in colors like "Oil Forest," "Royal Purple" and "Downtown Brown" — everything is measured in picas, which correspond to a sixth of an inch, and points, which measure just 1/72nd of an inch. "It's the way we see the world because that's the way we change the world," explains Griffith. Take the two blocks of text he's been positioning: He figures there's just a point or two of give if both are going to align correctly on the final print. And since the annotation type is only two and a half points tall, he has to apply just the right amount of ink to the letterpress so that each tiny printed serif is readable.
Sometimes the typefaces Griffith chooses to work with are unique and expressive, ornate letterforms that call to mind a certain mood or timeframe. Other times, like with this project, the typefaces he selects are relatively simple — he's using Gotham, a type inspired by architectural signage of mid-twentieth-century New York City, for the graphic design definition, and Clarendon, the first typeface ever registered under Britain's Ornamental Designs Act of 1842, for the annotation — in order to let the words speak for themselves.
Once everything is prepared on the two letterpresses, Griffith is finally ready to begin production. First he prints the annotations, pulling a metal lever that brings to life a fifty-year-old motorized letterpress, which he calls "the young press." One by one, he slips a blank card into position as the iron jaws of the machine close and open, leaving behind tiny, red-inked words. Then he moves over to the other press, a century-old device powered by a foot pedal, shuffling the half-printed cards in and out of the machine at a much faster pace.
"Anyone who prints says you want to have your whole self involved, because if you don't, you make mistakes and potentially hurt yourself," he says. "We've not had an accident yet."
Griffith could do this same job in moments using a computer printer, but he insists it wouldn't be the same. "The effort it takes to produce something ultimately communicates its truthfulness," he says. "People wouldn't spend a long time telling lies. That's what the Internet is for."
Most people would look at the five-by-seven cards produced by this exercise and see black-and-red type against the white of the page. Griffith and other type experts see the opposite: white space broken up by black and red marks. Griffith knows what it feels like to be the one bit of color in a sea of white space.
Born in England to middle-class parents from the British West Indies, Rick Griffith held his own at the elite private schools where his parents managed to send him, especially excelling at oratory and debate. He really stood out after his family immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s and settled in suburban Washington, D.C. "I was a black Englishman who did not fit in with the black kids and did not fit in with the white kids," he recalls.
"Being lost in that was very interesting for me," he adds, speaking without a hint of a British accent. "I became a bit of a chameleon in this country."
In 1986, the seventeen-year-old chameleon rebelled and ran away from home. Griffith found refuge in the hardcore punk culture that was emerging in the D.C. area, a scene that would produce bands like Scream and Fugazi. "Being aligned with the punk movement gave me a chance to have a really strong voice," he says. "Terms like 'No business like usual' became commonplace for me."
Soon he discovered another way to give voice to his rebellion. While working at a record store in suburban Virginia, his boss showed him the album Sound on Sound, by the new-wave band Bill Nelson's Red Noise.
Instead of the tidy, proper letterforms Griffith was used to seeing, the words on the cover were built from pieces of electronic music equipment — speaker cords and headphones and radio antennas. "The album was a knock-out punch," he says. "From that point on, I found myself moving towards graphic design."
Any illicit substances he was on at the time probably didn't hurt.
He moved to New York, where he made a name for himself first designing punk-show posters at the Kinko's where he was the night manager. He was soon getting gigs with the likes of FCB/LKP and InterBrand, some of the biggest creative agencies in town.
By the time he landed in Denver, in 1995, he'd started his own design firm — a move he punctuated with a bizarre typeface he designed during the O.J. Simpson trial, with upside-down and sideways letters. He screen-printed the type onto four-foot-long specimen sheets featuring massive knives in the background, then encased the work in plastic bags so that it looked like crime-scene evidence, and sent samples to the six biggest design studios in town. "It never occurred to me I was sending a gigantic knife," he says. "I immediately got on people's radar."
He's been on their radar ever since, continuing to explore the power — and subversiveness — of type. "At some point in the early or mid-'90s, when I looked at what my skills were, I realized I could recognize on sight almost every typeface I encountered," Griffith recalls. "And when you look at a skill set like that, you say, 'What do you do with something like that?'" Since there seemed to be no other typographic authorities in the region, he decided to become such an authority himself — and MATTER was born.
Griffith began amassing a library of type-specimen books and buying up all the lead and wood type he could find. Recently, he's been making regular "typographic pilgrimages" so that he can work at letterpress meccas around the country: the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin; the Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection in Austin, Texas; Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee; and the print shop in Gordo, Alabama, of Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., the man Griffith calls "the other black printer in these United States."
Over the past decade, letterpress printing has come back into style. "It's being found again, and I think it's because as human beings, we are hard-wired for process," says Hatch's Sherraden. "The simplicity of letters pressed into paper with ink in between is magic to the typical graphical design student. It's the antithesis of digital design. Digital type is just so simple. We are reading it so fast, we are hardly reading it; we are just glancing at information when we read on the computer. You can't read this banged-up wood type on there, but you can on a nice poster. It's very refreshing to see type pressed, big and bold."
As non-digital graphic mediums such as screen printing, lithography, stencil printing and graffiti have become increasingly cool, Griffith has gotten very hot. His work has been cited by Print, Dwell and Good magazines; his designs were featured in Shepard Fairey's Manifest Hope exhibit held in Denver during the Democratic National Convention. And Griffith has helped organize a variety of type-oriented events around town in addition to Pressed!: an evening of "typography tomfoolery" at the Denver Art Museum called "Typo"; a screening at Starz FilmCenter of Typeface, a documentary about the Hamilton Wood Type Museum; and a show in the jury-selection room at the Denver City and County Building titled If (Silence = Golden) — Then — Get Rich Quick, Now: New Works Designed to Inspire Quiet Meditation While Waiting for Jury Service.
"What I think someone like Rick does is bring a certain confidence in his own style and what he does with that around town, and I think that encourages people to be creative and put their own take on design out there," says Charles Carpenter, president of AIGA Colorado. "He is saying, 'Be out there, be bold.' It adds to the texture and flavor of Colorado, and it encourages people to have their own voice, to be their own self."
Or, as Griffith likes to put it, "I'm a big, fat black cheerleader for design and design practices."
And one day, some of the cheerleader's designs will be hanging on the walls of the Denver Art Museum. "I don't think there is anybody else in Denver doing anything like this," says Darrin Alfred, DAM's design curator. The museum has purchased a number of Griffith prints over the past two years; Alfred's favorites are a series of images taken from Seeking New Suprematist Forms Through Typography, a forty-edition book of typographic creations that was recognized in AIGA's "50 Books/50 Covers" competition in 2005, copies of which have been sold for hundreds of dollars.
In each print, colorful letterforms flow over and around one another. They don't spell anything; the meaning is in the bold, fluid shapes of the letters themselves. "He's taken the type and removed them from having to communicate a verbal message so he can explore the emotive qualities and emotive potential of these letterforms," explains Alfred. "What's great about this work is it ties back to about 90 percent of what is on view in the museum. It's not very different from a representation of a Western landscape or a painting of a human figure. One can have the same sort of emotional response."
Smiling mischievously, Rick Griffith prowls the halls of Edison Elementary, nodding good morning to students and faculty alike. He makes a quick detour into a classroom to lead the kids in a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" for the blushing teacher, a family friend, then heads upstairs. At the open door of another classroom, he catches the eye of his nine-year-old daughter, Marin, and makes a funny face, wiggling his fingers at his temples — and being careful not to attract the attention of Marin's third-grade teacher, who's not likely to appreciate that sort of thing.
Finally, he reaches his destination: the classroom of third-grade teacher Floyd Baltz. As Griffith makes his way to the front of the room with a strange little shuffle, slapping high-fives with delighted students, Baltz points to his guest's hairdo and announces, "If you don't know Mr. Griffith, don't let these fool you. They are not horns."
"It's Krusty!" hollers one of the students, referring to Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons.
"Herschel Krustofski," corrects Griffith, before taking a seat and clearing his throat with an exaggerated, dramatic flourish. It is time for the spelling test.
"Number one: 'Somebody.' As in, 'Somebody moved my cheese,'" says Griffith in a deep, professorial tone, triggering a round of giggles. "Quiet," he snaps, feigning annoyance. "This is a place of deep sadness, not happiness."
Griffith continues through the words he's selected for the test, illustrated with the sort of examples only a mind like his would dream up. Toothbrush: "As in, 'I would know what a toothbrush is if I used one.'" Driveway: "The eternal question being, why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?" Flashlight: "If you go to a wedding fifteen years from now, that song will be playing, you will be dancing, and it will be funky."
After each word, the students scribble down their answers on long, thin paper pads that have lines for twenty words, followed by the compliment "Great Job!" Imprinted at the bottom corner of each page is the trademark "SPELLRIGHT: A Tool for Practice & Learning," alongside the logo for MATTER.
Over the past two years, MATTER has produced more than 5,000 of these SPELLRIGHT pads, all from reclaimed paper, and donated them free of charge to Edison and two other public elementary schools in northwest Denver. "I'm obsessed with it," says Griffith. "As long as they are taking spelling tests on paper, we would like to help them out."
He came up with the idea four years ago, when his older daughter Rowan, now twelve, was a student in Baltz's classroom. Baltz had suggested he run spelling tests for the class, but the first day Griffith showed up, the students spent fifteen minutes just tearing pieces of paper in half to use for the test. "It was an enormous waste of time, and there was nothing enriching about that task," recalls Griffith.
So he offered to cut up and provide paper for the tests, a process that evolved into the SPELLRIGHT pads. In the coming year, Griffith wants to find a way to take the program nationwide. "It signifies my minor, tiny contribution to a tiny little problem that I observed, that if we can solve it on a large scale, we can maybe be contributing to a better public-school education for hundreds of thousands of students," he says.
For Griffith, the project illustrates the importance of design thinking: designers taking the same creative and analytical tools they use to craft pleasing images and objects and coming up with ways to make the world function better. "Design is greater than graphic design or industrial design or architecture," he says. Or, as he explained it last summer at TEDxBoulder, a conference highlighting cutting-edge ideas: "The nature of design thinking is, 'What if we can put ourselves in touch with a resource, connecting surplus over here to a need over here?'"
That's why the MATTER team is constantly on the lookout for shuttering print shops: All of the MATTERIAL product lines are made from skids and pallets of unused paper other businesses have left behind. That's why everything MATTER mails out is shipped in packaging saved in the cardboard morgue in the back of the studio, a mountain of empty beer cases and iMac boxes. That's why one of Griffith's most oft-repeated slogans these days is: "Act as if every resource is scarce."
And that's why, for Griffith, the SPELLRIGHT pads are a win-win: "It relies on reused paper, pulled out of the waste stream, and it helps the public-school system."
And if SPELLRIGHT happens to convince some kid to fall in love with letters and words? All the better.
The small group of bankers, lawyers and software consultants who assemble at the MATTER studio one winter afternoon look out of place among the street-art images for sale, the poster that proclaims, "Buy some shit today. Jack shit," the giant yellow gas-station sign that advertises Super Unleaded for $1.99. The visitors are gold-level members of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and they're here to hear about the studio's unique selling tools from Griffith — who just happens to be a few minutes late.
When he finally arrives, wearing a gray sports jacket and scarf emblazoned with his definition of graphic design, Griffith seems a bit harried. He's just come from two back-to-back business meetings; to make matters worse, the slide projector he needs for his presentation isn't yet set up and a giant plywood G is blocking part of the projector screen. But once everything is arranged and the formal presentation begins, Griffith quickly settles into a groove.
As Griffith likes to say, "I give good meeting." He rattles off concepts such as product differentiation, target consumers and mapping return on investment; he discusses succeeding in noisy business climates; he mentions the branding work and research projects that MATTER has completed for the likes of Virginia Tech, the National Science Foundation, the medical device company Byers Peak. And all the while, the projector screen shows examples of the intricate business charts and visual aids that MATTER creates for its clients: riots of arrows and images and text that resemble stylized versions of Rube Goldberg machines.
Griffith knows that work for people like this is what will pay MATTER's bills. But he also knows that his blend of sarcasm bans, typeface esoterica and pooping poodles isn't for everybody in the corporate world — and he shed his chameleon skin a long time ago. "I'm not the guy who doesn't want to make money," he says. "I just don't want to short-circuit myself to do it."
While his company's unique approach has resulted in some stellar business relationships, it doesn't work for all potential clients. "There are a lot of design studios that want to work with everyone, and that just doesn't happen here. That is not what Rick is about," says Griffith's wife, who handles the business aspects of the studio. "Rick can be brutally honest about things, and for some people, that doesn't fit."
That brutal honesty, as well as a penchant for hijinks, has earned Griffith some detractors. A few years ago, an AIGA Colorado event highlighting his work was called off after complaints from a local graphic designer apparently offended by Griffith's punk tendencies. And Jason Otero, who founded MATTER with Griffith, split from the firm soon after and relocated to New York City. "I worked with Rick many, many years ago and would prefer to leave that door closed," Otero says in an e-mail.
Ever since he sent that giant, type-swathed knife, Griffith says, "there have been a few people in this town who have consistently been horrified by my work. The reason why some people don't get me is the same reason why other people do get me."
Still, he insists he's grown older and wiser and left many of his boneheaded ways behind. Besides, there's no time left in his days to trifle with artistic rivalries, what with all the client meetings to attend and exhibits to curate and type-oriented excursions to arrange and once-a-year print sales to plan. It's not easy being big and bold, always standing out from the crowd like a single, distinctive letter on an otherwise blank page.
"He is carving a path that hasn't been carved before," says Wurtzel. "He is not a white man going down the same old path. The traditional type of businessman who owns a design firm doesn't fit Rick's profile. How can I expect what he does not to take so much work?"
Sometimes, though, that work is too much even for Griffith. One night in early November, after participating in a printing conference at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Wisconsin, Griffith started driving to Chicago, where he had a 6 a.m. flight the next morning. At some point he dozed off behind the wheel, colliding with a semi-trailer.
"I was as fortunate as anyone could be while colliding with a semi at 70 miles per hour," he says. "'Fortunate' is the only way I can describe it. 'Fortunate' covers a lot of stuff in my life." He walked away with little more than hematomas in both of his legs, and even managed to make his flight home.
Still, the experience "changes a few things for me," he admits. For example, he pays heed to the alarm he's set on his iPhone that goes off every morning at 6:45 a.m., a warning that's labeled "Last wake-up call to change the world."
"The pressure is on," he says. "All we have is time, talent and objectivity."
Even after the fish tank of mojito mix runs dry at MATTER's eleventh annual print sale and party, Rick Griffith is still going strong.
In the early hours of the morning, he sits behind the desk in his office and holds court for a small gathering of hangers-on: plastic-rimmed glasses perched casually on his forehead, a bottle of San Pellegrino resting close at hand, pontificating on every topic imaginable. The relevance of reverse-stress typefaces. The tendency of some people to use too many prepositions. The significance of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake: "He just fucked with language so hard he made room for new things to happen."
Next year, Griffith pronounces, instead of holding a huge party for the print sale, "It is going to be a complete tea service." It's in jest, but he might not have time for anything much larger, considering the rest of his plans for 2011: expanding the SPELLRIGHT program; taking another road trip to Gordo, Alabama, to acquire a 2,200-pound offset printing press from Kennedy Jr., with whom Griffith has launched a tongue-in-cheek organization, the Amalgamated Coloured Printers Association; exploring the history of stenciled types, Griffith's latest typographic obsession.
At one point in the rambling conversation, Griffith brings up one of his latest — and most unusual — pieces of work: a baby announcement he designed and wrote for family friends.
Welcoming a child into the world through type: That was just Griffith's sort of assignment (if he'd deign to use the word "just"). He chose plain and simple Helvetica Bold for the job, to let the words themselves deliver the message. The child, Griffith noted with his typical mix of propriety and playfulness, "would appear at a lengthy first glance to be an ideal 20-inch-long, brown-haired, 7-pound,-11-ounce baby boy, born with the Hebrew name Lazer (Short for Ellezer) on the Isle of Manhattan during Friday, November twelve at four twenty in the morning in the year twenty ten in the common era."
The announcement went on to note, "His parents would like to teach him to know a good idea when he sees it. And to be sensitive and appreciative in thought and deed for his talents and privileges."
Then it ended with a phrase that Griffith has been repeating more and more these days: "Everyone is fortunate."
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