James Cook, typewriter artist from London, UK. Photography © J. Cook
1.Tell us what you do and your beginnings.
I am a 23-year-old London-based typewriter artist. I consider typewriter art, colloquially known as a “typicition”, a part-time job with architectural design as the focal point of my career goals. My subject matter delves into architecture, landscape and portraiture (both human and animal).
I have been producing my “typicitions” for over 6 years and the scale of my work ranges from the size of a postcard and the antithesis of this being rolls-upon-rolls of paper. Specifically, these are drawings constructed in section and hot-pressed together thereby allowing for creations larger than the limitations of a typewriter’s traditional paper-feed.
Subsequently, each drawing can take anywhere between a week and a month to complete and yet somehow I have managed to accumulate a portfolio of almost 100 pieces of work since my amateurish beginnings back in 2014. Each drawing is assembled from a variety of characters, letters and punctuation marks using the forty-four keys of a typical typewriter. Information is overlaid and the keys are tapped at variable pressures to achieve tonal shading.
Whilst most of my work is straightforward by its frame of reference, the use of perspective and concept of concealing of information plays and important role in how the drawings are observed by the viewer. Some of my more recent works feature hidden written messages which only become visible from up-close and thereby add another dimension to the drawings. Comparatively, my work is difficult to be distinguished as type-written from a far distance.
2.What are your favourite museums in the world? Why?
It wasn’t until recently that I visited my first Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. I have been back twice and I always enjoy the energy and diversity of the work. The summer show stands out to me because it’s impossible to realistically curate the 1,500 works to fit a cohesive theme. I have never been too much of a fan of exhibitions which curate the viewer into specific rooms, step-by-step in order to see selected works at a given moment.
Those places without prescribed movements are exactly the reason why I love the Summer Show because I never feel as if I have missed a vital piece of information that is essential to allowing me to understand the next piece of art coming my way. I feel that the exhibition is democratic in a positive way as it brings together people from all different backgrounds and interests and that’s exactly why it’s my favourite place to be surprised by art.
A fan-favourite is the Tate Modern and I am also pleased to read that another featured artist for #MuseumWeek, Nathaniel Rackowe, also admires the dark, industrial-grade tanks of the Tate.
3.How important are social networks in your business? And which platform do you prefer and why?
Instagram is my go-to platform for communicating my projects with people. It has a global outreach beyond the walls of my “studio” space where I can easily make contact with like-minded typewriter enthusiasts and artists that explore this unique style of making drawings.
The app has evolved tremendously since my super-humble beginnings back in 2014. With the fairly-recent additions of IGTV and Reels, I am now more capable of explaining the process of my working methods through visually-engaging time-lapse videos without the necessity to use step-by-step images of the drawing over a period of days.
These additions to the platform have transformed how I communicate my projects. As pleasant as the final outcome of a typewriter drawing can be, I spend much more time than ever before with a camera and tripod on-location making type-written drawings of the great outdoors!
4.What are your future projects?
My day-to-day projects consist of private, type-written commissions which fluctuate in demand constantly and are a whirlwind of paper, ink ribbons and podcasts. The majority of my 35 typewriters in the collection are incredibly noisy so I find myself listening to lots of podcasts and music when I am in the midst of creating the portrait of a client’s family relative or their favourite childhood landmark.
At the moment, there are at least twelve commissions that need completing before Christmas and of course these projects need to be balanced with my work schedule with studying my Masters degree at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture.
I feel like I am only scratching the surface of where I want to take this art medium and I have a bucket list of projects which I hope to get around to starting in the near future… I have been in contact recently with The Dronalist who has secured me some aerial drone footage of Lower Manhattan which I will transfer into a large-scale piece of typewriter artwork very soon.
I was recently given a typewriter by a gentleman who’s late father was a BBC Worldwide Journalist back in the 1960’s and used a typewriter with Arabic script. I would love to produce some drawings of Islamic architecture using this specific alphabet as a future project.
5.To create greater engagement among museums, artists and professionals, do you have any advice for cultural projects such as #MuseumWeek?
Over the summer holidays, I held my very first “physical” exhibition of my typewriter artwork. It was small and scarcely-advertised. This largely kept the locals in the know about the event. I was extremely fortunate to have been given an opportunity by the town clerk of a small, picturesque village in the heart of the county of Essex to create one.
Given the state of the world right now, there was never a plan in the pipeline to hold an exhibition of my art; albeit not until next year when the situation would seem much clearer. Therefore, it was quite a rush to make the event happen. During the exhibition, the most common remark that I got back from visitors was that the re-opening of the venue space “restored a little bit of normality” to this small town where it was exhibited.
A trend in gallery closures has occurred across the UK since lockdown and now with some easing of restrictions up until recently, it has been financially-unviable for many smaller, local galleries to reopen again. I saw this free exhibition as an opportunity to get communities back into exhibitions and see work in front of their very own eyes.
I am so thankful to those visitors that abided by the governments regulations to maintain the safety of everyone during the exhibition. I hope that #MuseumWeek can encourage more artists to do the small things, like run local events for communities that may have lost a gallery or exhibition space, before they tackle the big stuff.
Interview by Fabio Pariante, journalist
James Cook (Braintree, 1996) is an English architecture student and typewriter artist. The passion for drawing with the typewriter was inspired by Paul Smith, a typewriter artist who died in 2007, and bought the first typewriter from an elderly couple.
Today the artist owns about 20 typewriters, which he uses to produce works dedicated mostly to film actors, but also to create complex landscapes and architecture. Among the most interesting works, a few years ago Cook created the London skyline, and for the occasion he received a letter from the former mayor of the city, now prime minister, Boris Johnson. The artist lives and works in London.