Eric Gill: Iconographer

Left: “The Burial of Christ” from The Four Gospels, wood engraving, 1931. Right: “The Lord’s Song,” from The Lord’s Song, wood engraving, 1934

January 26 - March 24, 2013‌

Eric Gill: Iconographer explores the art and writings of Eric Gill (1882-1940), whose typefaces Gill Sans, Joanna, and Perpetua are still popular today. Gill was a prolific artist and writer whose daring aesthetic combined sensuality and spirituality. His subjects range from fashion to literature, from the erotic to the religious. His iconographic designs and commitment to craftsmanship demonstrate a strong influence from the English Arts and Crafts movement (1880-1910) and artists such as textile designer William Morris and calligrapher Edward Johnston. The exhibition presents sketches, watercolors, wood engravings, and books created between 1910 and 1940.

Gill's was (and is) a controversial and conflicted figure. His art and life were greatly affected by his deeply held religious beliefs. He grew up as a Calvinist Methodist, but converted to Catholicism as an adult. He moved several times with his wife and children between rural areas in England and Wales seeking to recreate medieval guilds of artists where the distinctions between work, creativity, religion, and everyday life were blurred. Toward this end, he founded the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic along with two peers in 1920 in order to unite artisans in a religious association. At the same time, he crossed every imaginable moral boundary in his private life. He was an advocate of free love and Fabian socialism while also a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. The deeply spiritual and overtly sexual are regularly intermixed throughout his work. The engravings in Eric Gill Iconographer embody these tensions while revealing the elegant boldness that defines his aesthetic.

Eric Gill was born into a family of Anglican ministers and Congregationalist preachers in Brighton, England in 1882. The family moved to Chichester, England where Eric began to study art at age fourteen. When he was eighteen, he went to London to enroll as a pupil at the architecture office of W.D. Caröe in Westminster.

By age twenty-one, Gill had given up formal studies in sacred architecture to pursue calligraphy, stone cutting and masonry—crafts he utilized throughout his entire career. Identified on his own tombstone as a "stone carver," he was one of England's most sought after headstone carvers, and received commissions for important stonework and sculptures at Westminster Cathedral, the BBC Headquarters, and the League of Nations building in Geneva. Between 1925 and 1931, Gill designed his best-known typefaces: Perpetua, Gill Sans, and Joanna, named for his daughter. He was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry in 1936, the highest British honor for designers. His most celebrated artworks include sculptures and refined wood engravings as well as drawings. During his lifetime, Gill wrote and published numerous books on art, religion and society, including An Essay on Typography in 1931 and Autobiography in 1940.

Exhibition Organizers & Support

The exhibition was co-curated by Thomas Lucas, S.J., director of the Thacher Gallery, University of San Francisco and Stuart McKee, design professor, University of San Francisco.

The exhibition is drawn primarily from The Albert Sperisen Collection of Eric Gill housed in the Donohue Rare Book Room, Gleeson Library/Geschke Center, University of San Francisco with additional loans from the William Andrews Clark Library, University of California, Los Angeles, and the William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

The exhibition and the related programs have been made possible in part by the generous support of the College of Communication and Fine Arts, LMU's Art and Art History Department, the Graphic Design and Printmaking Programs, and the William H. Hannon Library.


Images (Top-left to bottom-right): Portrait of Eric Gill; Thou Hast Made Me from The Sonnets of John Donne, 1938; Jesus is Nailed to the Cross from The Way of the Cross, 1917; Eve, 1926; The Lord's Song, 1934; The Plait, 1922; The Burial of Christ from The Four Gospels, 1931; Hand Holding a Book, Book-plate for Everard Meynell, 1916; The Madonna and Child with an Angel from Mary Sat A-Working, 1916. All works are from the Albert Sperisen Collection of Eric Gill at the University of San Francisco.