The London based artist bringing back the lost art of sign-writing.
His is the hand that makes,
His is the hand that wounds,
His is the hand that heals,
His is the house of pain.
In 2012, in a rush to submit her final degree piece, Alex Hughes etches the heart of an H.G Wells tale on a generous cut of mirrored glass. Unapologetic with iridescence and Victorian sensibility, the message creates a sensational culture clash. It also speaks to another aspect of the mirror – is she talking about us?
Sign-making is an endeavour of niche quirkiness, where patience is as golden as the flakes pressed on to its glass medium. David Smith, a thirty- something forefather of the game, charges five to six grand just to hang out with him for a few days. People meet up from around the world in small municipalities like Rochester to pioneer ideas, unbeknown to the general public.
I meet with Hughes on one of the last summer nights in her beloved Ealing. Ho Chi Minh was once a bartender here, which reminds me that all greats are quixotic. Hughes’ trajectory can be equally unlikely; after all, I am meeting an experimental sign-maker, an artist who truly feels in order to think.
Evening Alex. Ice breaker question; you’re castaway with Tunechi, it’s hot. What three things do you keep on your raft?
Haha. My guy! You know, two years ago, I was listening to Wayne’s ‘6 Foot 7 Foot’ on holiday. You know the line, “real g’s move in silence [like] lasagne?” Well only the other day, I sat in front of my plate of lasagne in complete silence and awe – I had just worked it out. What a creature. So I’d bring some lasagne, but let’s not mess about… I’d also pack a mosquito net for us both to share. Last one’s tough, but it’ll have to be this guy. [Hughes picks up a bright pink record sleeve, with a suggestively-dressed Rod Stewart on the cover.] But just his autobiography, which is amazing. He’s cut from the same cloth as my Weezy. I’m sure he’d read it, too.
Rod Stewart and lasagne, sounds like a cosy winter evening. Apart from your own imagination, where do you go for inspiration?
My [method of seeking] inspiration is actually the perfect excuse for a drink. Most sign-writing belongs in pubs and I will go out of my way to drink near my favourite designs. The Southampton Arms in Gospel Oak and the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch have beautiful works in them. Sam Smith pubs that don’t play Sam Smith are also perfect thinking holes. I’m lucky to have creatively persuasive friends; sometimes just a chat with Sam Roberts [expert and workshop facilitator] or Pete Hardwicke [first mentor] will provide a spark for new work.
What came to mind when we threw her these words –
Pink – Panther
Bullet – Speeding
Eyes – Puppies
Nokia – Blower
Sugars – None
Design or Build – Build
Slice of cake or the gooey mix – The mix!
This is an extract from the Autumn/Winter14 Issue of Viper Magazine. Read more from the magazine here. Buy physical and digital copies here.
Words by Timothy Shola