Artist Makes ASCII Art Physical With Typewriter
- By Katie Scott
Many wordsmiths have created their magna opera on typewriters, tapping away into the early hours of the morning, but artist Keira Rathbone uses these now largely obsolete machines to type pictures.
Rathbone started creating these typographic works of art in 2003. She told Wired UK: “The idea came to me in a blinding flash, one day sitting in my bedroom with my typewriter, nothing to write, but a desire to press the keys.“As soon as I attempted my first visual piece on the typewriter, I was hooked and knew this would be my main art form. I could then see that the possibilities were endless (and still are, eight years later).”
The artist was inspired by images that are made up from smaller constituent parts — whether the pixels of a TV screen or dots of color in a painting. She emulated this with her work and says it offers the viewer different perspectives dependent on how they are looking at the works.
“I like that my work carries different meanings from different distances.” A piece of work could take a few seconds, or potentially many hours. Rathbone adds, “It depends what I’m typing and when I decide that it’s finished.”
She says that the art receives very positive responses from adults — and intrigue from children: “I have people contacting me from all over the world congratulating me on my art and creativity. When I’m typing live I get the word ‘amazing’ directed my way a lot. This is motivating for me, but also encourages me to keep on thinking about pushing the boundaries of it. Children’s responses are interesting as there is a certain age of child that has never seen a typewriter.”
Rathbone is joining a long list of typewriter artists, with The Typewriter Museum claiming that the earliest example of this art form dates back to 1898 — it was a picture of a butterfly typed on a Bar-lock typewriter.
Among the more recent masters was Paul Smith, an American suffering from severe cerebral palsy, who created hundreds of pictures. Rathbone adds an element of theatricality to her art, turning her typing into what she terms “a sort of live installation.”
She recently performed at Glastonbury and is off to Bestival with her “sonic typewriter” — a machine that has been adapted to give out “twisted sounds” as she types. She also has an exhibition on at the Upsy Daisy Bakery in Hammersmith, London, which will run until Sept. 2. (And if the lure of artistic merit is not enough for you, they make charming cupcakes!).
See more of Rathbone’s work in Wired UK’s gallery.