The ‘Love is a Verb’ immersive exhibit showcases Jennifer Graves’ message of love, connection, and community through letterpress printing. The focus of this exhibit is a set of letterpress prints with the words “LOVE IS A VERB.” in different color combinations. The two prints were created in 2020 and 2021, respectively. They are currently on view in Roosevelt Hall at Chapman University. The artist behind these works is Jennifer Graves, an American book artist and letterpress printer. Jennifer Graves started her letterpress and book arts journey in 2014 when she moved from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. After discovering her love for the process and history of letterpress, she decided to devote her time to instructing and creating art. Graves is the owner of SCRAPScollective and is a part-time instructor at Laboratory Press studio at Otis College of Art and Design. She has taken part in a number of exhibitions including Decatur Arts Alliance’s Book as Art Expanding the Limits, Reverting to Type 2020: Protest Posters, Standpoint Gallery; London, 2021 Ink on Paper Letterpress Exhibition, and more.
Jennifer Graves primarily prints on a Vandercook printing press, using traditional techniques, vintage wood, and metal type—occasionally experimenting with printing on linoleum and woodcuts. Through Grave’s letterpress works, she explores different ways of delivering a clear message. She connects different aesthetic solutions to meet this goal, including the “harmonious relationship between old and new, type and image, and appropriate color” (Escalette Permanent Collection). Through experimenting with color, Graves tries to achieve balance and create clear messages in cohesive and interesting ways. Graves explains that in a world of confusion and chaos, she wants to create something that is simple and clear: “I’m known for printing posters and broadsides with bold wood type that convey a message, encouragement, thought, realization, protests, etc. My printing is intentional and uncomplicated, life is complicated enough so I want what I create to be clear” (Graves qtd. by VoyageLA). Clarity is really important for Graves, especially clarity in the message, which is present in Love is a Verb, where the message is obvious and apparent. We can also see the goal for clarity in the way she works with color and how that relationship affects the delivery of the type. The copper ink contrasts both with the purple and green and emphasizes the message in the prints. The use of a bold sans serif typeface, as well as the enlarged scale and tight letterspacing, reinforces the message, achieving the clarity that Graves is aiming for in her work.
Graves also finds inspiration for the art from the intricate history of letterpress. Vintage wood and metal type have stories, beauty, and imperfections that make each piece unique. She is likely using some form of vintage types and the small imperfections and texture show up in the work. Additionally, each print is made by hand by positioning each letter and adding spacing, mixing inks, and adding ink to the press rollers. This comes through in the choice of copper ink, and the subtle imperfections in the spacing and pieces of type, for example in the S, A, R, and B. This adds a layer of history and character to the piece, tying back to Graves’ experimentation with the old and the new. While this message and print may be modern, vintage type pieces bring their own character and history into this contemporary artwork.
A large part of all of Graves’ artworks is that what she is printing serves a purpose. She intends for her art to allow the viewer to wonder and reflect on what it means for them. Her pieces are meant to evoke feelings of “determination, encouragement, hope, inspiration, togetherness, and connection to our community” (Escalette Permanent Collection). She also tends to frame her messages around social issues and themes of love, and hope (Partners in Print). In Love is a Verb, the message is clear and invites the viewer to reflect on how love is shown or can be an action. These intentions outlined by the artist guide the goals behind the creation of the exhibit. Words have the ability to deliver a strong message, and the goal of the immersive exhibit is to encompass the viewer in Graves’ message. The goal is to amplify the message and intention that she is trying to communicate in her original piece through a physical experience. Additional goals include using color and form to highlight the original work and encourage the audience to promote Grave’s message of taking action to spread love.
Research and Inspiration
There are numerous examples of the power of words throughout modern art history. This immersive installation is inspired by previous works that have shaped visual language through text. The Love is a Verb exhibit makes reference to Robert Indiana’s ‘LOVE,’ which was an iconic symbol of the 60s and has since remained a recognizable symbol of love and connection. Furthermore, the work of Barbara Kruger and her text installations provides an example of not only how a text installation can be implemented, but the power that words can hold in a physical space. Kruger’s installation at MoMA, “Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.” demonstrates the power to convey a message and encourage action through typography. In a similar way, the ‘Love is a Verb’ exhibit utilizes type and messaging to communicate a message and encourage action in the viewers. Work by Lawrence Weiner also added to the understanding and execution of the exhibit. Weiner’s work includes numerous typography-based installations. His work helped to shape the way that typography and text is used to communicate in a museum/exhibit setting. Altogether, these artists and influences are inspirational to the development of the ‘Love is a Verb’ exhibition and demonstrate the intention behind communicating a message with typography in an immersive setting.
Graves’ prints, and specifically ‘Love is a Verb’ utilize letterpress print, dynamic colors, historical allusions, and text to create a print that connects with the viewer. Some important themes from this work and others is the essence of love, connection, and community. These are concepts that are visualized in the immersive exhibit through typography. The entire exhibit features only the four words, love is a verb, which take up the entirety of the space. This reinforces the clarity and boldness that Graves’ intended to convey with her original piece. The use of projection and a three dimensional version of the typography touch on Graves’ theme of combining the old and new; it is taking a deeply historical practice like letterpress and modernizing it in a digital and physical setting to be viewed in a new way. The use of color is based off the colors used in the original prints. The colors are vibrant and bring energy to the immersive experience. The overall intention is for the viewer to be immersed in the experience, so much so that it leaves them feeling inspired to act on the message of ‘Love is a Verb.’
“About SCRAPScollective.” SCRAPScollective, https://www.scrapscollective.com/about.
Chappell, Bill. “Artist Robert Indiana Dies at 89: The Story behind 'Love'.” NPR, NPR, 22
May 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/22/613295340/artist-robert-
Kruger, Barbara. “Installation View of the Exhibition ‘Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean
Me. I Mean You’: Moma.” The Museum of Modern Art,
“Lawrence Weiner.” Regen Projects,
“Meet Jennifer Graves - Voyage LA Magazine: La City Guide.” Voyage LA Magazine | LA City Guide, 7 Oct. 2020, http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-jenngraves-south-bay/.
Partners in Print, 7 Apr. 2021, https://partnersinprint.org/who-we-are/jen-graves/.
The Escalette Permanent Art Collection. “Jennifer Graves.” Escallete Collections EMuseum, https://chapman.emuseum.com/people/885/jennifer- graves/objects/images.
TypeRoom. “Type as Poetry: Art Basel to Honour Lawrence Weiner with out of Sight .”