Local artist experiments with typography at Sticks + Stones Gallery

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Giana Tansman/Staff

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It seems that everywhere we are  warned about the looming death of the printed word. As pixels and computer screens replace ink and paper, it is all the more thrilling to see an artist inspired by handcrafted lettering. Artist Marcos LaFarga is fascinated by the way just a few letters can be infused with personality, humor and emotion.

In his exhibit at Oakland’s Sticks + Stones Gallery, he presents his gift for turning words and phrases into provocative works of art. “Make it Rain” shows his latest works exploring innovative uses of typography in simple graphic compositions.

Born and raised in the Bay, LaFarga is becoming a central figure in the Bay Area art world. The artist found his start in the graffiti scene, where he first discovered his passion for art and words. Although his roots are in street art, he is also a formally trained artist, earning an MFA at California College of the Arts.

LaFarga works as a graphic designer for web and print, but his current focus is on his gallery pieces. In all his work, LaFarga creates clean compositions that glorify the 26 letters of the alphabet.

His versatility is thoroughly showcased in his show at Sticks + Stones. Combining his education on the street and in the classroom, LaFarga has put out a show that is profoundly thoughtful, but at the same time bold and edgy.

The show consists of both large and small canvases, in which he takes pithy platitudes and turns them into graphic headings. Nodding to 1960s pop art and minimalism, his paintings are crisp and simple, conveying their message as concisely as possible.

The larger works, like the title piece “Make it Rain,” incorporate illustrations into the hand-painted typography. “Make it Rain” has a red striped umbrella and rain entwined in the text, while “Sing” and “Bathtime” both feature illustrations of women emerging from the words. These bombshell female figures are common throughout his body of work.

LaFarga is always deliberate with his use of color, incorporating pops of pigments only where they will be most effective. His smaller pieces are black and white with brief touches of peach-colored paint. In these pieces, he constantly reinvents fonts and uses lines and design elements to create dynamic compositions.

He uses text in witty and innovative ways, creating catchy logos from the phrases he chooses. The words themselves dictate the final design. “Digital Days” uses pixelated wording on a patterned background made to look computer generated, while consecutive circles surround the “O” in “O Well” to echo the shape of the text.

In “Words to Live By,” LaFarga paints “Words” in a playful script remnant of a 1950s neon sign with “To Live By” written on a scroll wedged below. He lays this logo on a background of sharply-rendered squares and lines.

The paintings themselves are arranged on the wall in a geometric organization. The square canvases form a grid pattern, creating Tetris-shaped areas of negative wall space. The resulting effect is an overarching balance that unites the pieces together and reflects the visual equilibrium established in each individual painting.

Also featured in the exhibition is his work for the East Bay Express newspaper box project. Fellow Bay Area artist Eddie Colla has been commissioning local artists to work with him to turn the newspaper bins into works of art. The project showcases the personal styles of nearby talents while working to promote and preserve printed news.

On the side of his bin, LaFarga has painted the words “Free Press” in bold typography. The other side has a photo realistic painting of a young boy peddling an East Bay Express. LaFarga’s “ML” logo is stamped all over the box.

Upon the completion of the show, LaFarga’s box will be put into operation on Bay Area streets for public viewing. As he shows his support for hard-copy publications, LaFarga further expresses the importance of tactile interaction with printed type. Demonstrating the aesthetic power of letters, LaFarga allows the word to become the core of his art.

Anna Carey is the lead visual art critic.

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