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Frank Singleton’s typewriter art at Rust Belt Books

Who knew you could make art (other than writing) with an old manual typewriter? A few dozen of Frank Singleton’s typewriter artworks, on standard 8-1/2-by-11 bond paper, are currently on display at Rust Belt Books.

Out of symbols and letters, he makes images, pictures. These include abstract as well as figurative works, such as one that looks like an American primitive painting, of hills and fields and a forest, all or mainly in slashes and asterisks.

Among the abstractions are various pattern works, ranging from Euclidean geometricals to patterns evocative of quilts and tartans, using multi-colored ribbons to create subtle color effects.

A quilting analogy often comes to mind, based on the look of the final product, but also due to the careful planning and patient execution that had to go into producing these works.

There are several examples of concrete poetry, pieces that paint a literal as well as a literary picture. For example, a Maze of Human Life, a freewheeling sort of completed crossword puzzle, without grid lines or numbers, starting from top left with words and concepts like birth, home, family, spring, and moving stepwise down and across the page, through situations and events and issues such as health, gender, celebration, worry, and luck, toward the bottom right and depression, death, and God, question mark.

Or a credible illustration of the Big Bang, in just those words and letters, splaying out to legibility from an initial centerpoint of such density—all the letters overtyped on the same spot—as to have disintegrated the paper at that spot.

There are game pieces, such as Jabberwocky, consisting of lines and block paragraphs of nonsense prose with the words of the Lewis Carroll semi-nonsense poem concealed within, at least until you hunt and find them.

There are even a few stories, with a particular typewriter twist. For example, a “his” and “her” pair of stories about the same incident from different points of view, and starting from opposite sides of the page, the lines vertically oriented and alternating, his story and hers.

Another story is narrated by the typewriter, a female typewriter, apparently, who laments that she has been sadly neglected of recent years by her owner/lover.

(Reading this story, anyone who once owned and operated a typewriter—when the typewriter was state-of-the-art—will feel pangs of remorse about having abandoned that faithful companion for the admittedly more glamorous but also more complicated and temperamental, not to mention more costly from the get-go and then high-maintenance, Apple or PC. Typewriters didn’t catch viruses. Every couple of years you took it in to a typewriter guy and for a few bucks he cleaned and tightened and oiled the mechanism and made it good as new.)

But then the story takes a grim turn. As the typewriter/narrator explains, the owner/lover “was stricken last year with paralysis. He will never type again. He lies at present alone in the next room, totally out of touch.”

And eventually goes maudlin. “Forever will I recline here,” the typewriter/narrator says, “lonely and frustrated…My still moist ribbon will eventually dry out and decompose. And no one will ever know how I feel.”

(Maybe it was better this way.)

The typewriter art display continues through June 30.

jack foran

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