January 1, 2018

Clariana: A custom typeface that mixes Modernism with artisanality

On my first trip to Caracas Venezuela in 1998, I remember being surprised by its modernity. Although the infrastructure and architecture showed significant decay, I felt as though I was experiencing a sort of mid-century lost world. Only later did I come to know that from 1948 to 1958, Venezuela like many other Latin American countries, was ruled by a dictator. Venezuela’s dictator happened to be obsessed with modernism. The military coup d’état that put Marcos Pérez Jiménez into power also coincided with the discovery of oil in Venezuela. With cash in the coffers and no political opposition to impede spending, a record number of state sponsored construction projects were implemented. The country gained the attention of the world as its economy grew by leaps and bounds. Its largest city, Caracas, began to resemble some of the most modern cities in the United States and Europe. Many Bauhaus inspired masters were hired to work on these grand projects. World figures like Gio Ponte, Alexander Calder, Richard Neutra, and many others were hired to collaborate with Venezuelan architects like Carlos Raul Villanueva to create ambitious modernist structures. With the wealth generated by oil, and the city’s shinny new modernist facade, US corporations came to Caracas in large numbers. New homes for the newly wealthy began to pop up in Caracas. The most desirable neighborhoods were situated in the hilly winding streets at the foot of the Avila Mountain.

Due to the ever expanding scourge of crime that has gripped the city since the late 1980’s, many of these homes have been demolished in favor of more secure, low rise, concrete block apartment buildings. However, there are some that still stand. The only indication of their existence, beside the surrounding thick cement walls, barbed wire, and an imposing steel door, is an elegant, cast iron, string of letters that marks the name of the house.

Venezuelans often give names to their homes. The name can be entirely made up, or a combination of names of family members, or any other meaningful association. I noticed that these name plates had a very similar look, and I became fascinated by their unusual typographic quality. They were all similar in style, but each one was totally unique. In each case they appeared to be handmade but distinctly modernist. I began to photograph as many as I could find as I walked the hilly streets by the Avila. Because I was hiden from view behind a giant concrete wall, I did not fear being confronted by angry owners questioning why I was photographing the entrance of their homes. When I got back to the United States, I began to separate and catalog the letterforms that I found. On each successive trip to Venezuela, I found more examples for my collection. The result was the creation of this typeface. I named it after the first home I encountered in Caracas, and its curious cast iron name plate, "Clariana".

Read about Modernism in Caracas

November 06, 2017

Sketches in halftone: facial expressions
in a series of old snapshots

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