Friday 21 January 2022

Sans Gill

 The other day, in the course of a meandering telephone call with my brother, the subject got round to Eric Gill, that brilliant engraver and typographer and famously depraved sex maniac. It can only be a matter of time, I quipped, until they start dropping his typefaces... Well, I though I was quipping, but I should have known better: we live in times so mad that events routinely outpace any attempt at satire, particularly in the wonderful world of 'cancel culture'. Sure enough, I now learn that the charity Save the Children is dropping the Gill Sans typeface from its logo, not wishing to link the work of a known abuser with a children's charity. This begs an obvious question: before the charity drew attention to it, how many people would have known it was Gill Sans? Come to that, how many people would even be able to identify Gill Sans? There are plenty of similar typefaces, and nothing about Sans that screams 'Eric Gill', still less 'Eric Gill, child abuser'. A typeface is just a typeface (in Gill Sans's case a 'humanist sans-serif'), too abstract to express anything of its creator's personality, still less his moral character. However, Eric Gill is clearly in the firing line now – as evidenced by the vandal who the other day took a hammer to his Prospero and Ariel outside Broadcasting House (to its credit, the BBC is so far standing firm in its determination to keep its Gill statuary). Eric Gill was a bad man, therefore even his typefaces must be expunged in our oh-so-moral times. 
  Until Fiona MacCarthy's 1989 biography, Gill's sexual misdeeds were unsuspected: there is nothing in his published work – still less in his typefaces – to suggest them (his erotic wood engravings seem quite straightforward). However, because his sins are now known, his works are to be, if at all possible, suppressed. Had he been a murderer, he would be on safer ground – Caravaggio remains very much in favour, and no one talks of cancelling Benvenuto Cellini or the composer Gesualdo. Come to that, no one takes a hammer to Karl Marx in Highgate cemetery, and 70 million or more deaths can be laid at the door of his political philosophy. Now, if it could be proved that he abused his daughters, that would change things... Or would it? 

No comments:

Post a Comment