Finding Gill – Revolting revolutionary. Part 1

Finding useful facts

As a mentor, teacher, typographic designer, sign writer and survivor of abuse (as all of us are) I find myself having to examine my own conscience as to whether or not I can continue to use Gill’s work in my practice.

So as a start-point of this exploration I have included an extract and passionate response comments from the BBC article ”Can the art of a paedophile be celebrated?”

My first thoughts are of course sympathy and heartfelt grief for those who suffer abuse and those who suffered under the wretched acts of Gill.

I have to then think about whether I can be impartial, and accept as a fact that even such an odious culprit could possess a ‘good side’ let alone be able to bring joy and genuine benefit to society as a whole.  The temptation at this point is to broker comparisons:  would I talk to Hitler about art? etc etc.

I dare say at first no I surely wouldn’t talk to Gill, Da Vinci or Hitler about art or Michael Jackson about music.

But the fact is many of us would. In my own case given time I dare say I would too and here’s why.

Fundamentally I feel we cannot obliterate everything that exists as a result of the maker’s criminality – where would we draw the line?  Oh excuse me sir but your bay window was built by a murderer so it has to go!!

And secondly good people show humanity.

The object that is created by the mortal is immortal. It is not the man or woman that remains at large in it. And Eric Gill is dead.

When one looks at a Goya or a Rembrandt one knows nothing of the man who made it.  It is in many ways devoid of the maker.

Yet we know that cannot be true on a passionate level, and in many ways the artist controls the context and subject for example and ‘lives on’.

I believe in keeping to a factual line – or evaluating one and in this story there is a fascinating opportunity to do so.

But a font is not a painting. It is a symbol that we use and embellish in order elevate it. Letters are strokes of the brush and not the whole picture.

And of Genius? (mythology has an interesting spin on it)

In ancient Roman and Greek mythology genius was an entity.. that became engaged and empowered the creative with the special moments of success.

Ancient Rome: the genius (plural in Latin genii) was the guiding spirit or tutelary deity of a person, family (gens), or place (genius loci).[2] The noun is related to the Latin verb gigno, genui, genitus, “to bring into being, create, produce.” Because the achievements of exceptional individuals seemed to indicate the presence of a particularly powerful genius, by the time of Augustus the word began to acquire its secondary meaning of “inspiration, talent.”[3]

Another model: Modern fantasy

In modern works of fantasy, such as Dungeons and Dragons or The Dresden Files, a genius loci is an intelligent spirit or magical power that resides in a place. Very few genius loci of this form are able to move from their native area, either because they are “part of the land” or because they are bound to it. Genius loci are usually portrayed as being extremely powerful and usually also very intelligent, though there is a great deal of variability on these points. Some versions are nearly omnipotent and omniscient inside the area they inhabit, while others are simply vast, semi-sentient wellsprings of magical energy. This power almost never extends beyond the border of the genius loci.

Different settings give different explanations for the existence of genius loci. In most cases, however, the intelligent, magical entity simply develops from the similarly named “spirit of place” over a great deal of time. In other settings, genius loci are formed by powerful magical events, and in others they are the results of ley linesmana pools, or an equivalent.

From my own creative experience at times it certainly is the case that creativity feels like a flowing occupancy and I actually teach it as such.  I find it is a model that helps students make great progress.

But can I use this model to justify using Gill?


In a word No.

NGS now use Johnston and our own version named London Sawyer.



Font identity and recognition

As a typographer I also realise that the whole question becomes arbitrary because Gill Sans as we know it today isn’t actually his work at all, having been tweaked, morphed, modified and vectorised by dozens of designers over the course of digitisation.

The S, G, M, 2, 4 and Q have all been rearranged from Gill’s original forms which in turn are heavily dependent on the London Transport ‘Johnston’ font for its style and form.

The Johnston typeface was commissioned in 1913 by Frank Pick, Commercial Manager of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (also known as ‘The Underground Group’), as part of his plan to strengthen the company’s corporate identity, and introduced in 1916. Pick specified to Johnston that he wanted a typeface that would ensure that the Underground Group’s posters would not be mistaken for advertisements; it should have “the bold simplicity of the authentic lettering of the finest periods” and belong “unmistakably to the twentieth century”. In 1933, The Underground Group was absorbed by the London Passenger Transport Board and the typeface was adopted as part of the London Transport brand.

The font family was originally called Underground. It became known as Johnston’s Railway Type, and later simply Johnston. It comes with two weights, heavy and ordinary. Heavy does not contain lower-case letters.

Johnston (or Johnston Sans) is a humanist sans-serif typeface designed by and named after Edward Johnston. It is well known for its use byTransport for London.

Johnston’s former student Eric Gill also worked on the development of the typeface,[1] which was later to influence his own Gill Sans typeface, produced 1928–32.

So in terms of his original fonts we have to stay very close to a factual line: we know Gill was a very unbalanced individual who created several versions of the sans serif from it’s originator that has now become canonised and redrawn into it’s modern form. The question today arises where is the Gill?

The brand name Gill is arguably irrelevant as most do not naturally associate it with the man.

Foremost in my thinking is that the much altered Gill Sans Monotype font we use today we in turn change as users – we adapt and arrange in our own way. And so in many ways it has as much to do with Eric Gill as it has with my half chewed garden gnome.

the very roots of the original Gill Sans font still remain heavily derived from and embarrassingly reminiscent of the unique and highly original Johnson Sans.

That aside the question remains… would I still use Gill Sans MT?

To answer that I will include an extract from the article Other Moral ‘Pearls’ of Eric Gill by Patrick Odou who states: 

Gill was being presented as a pure idealist who lived Distributism in the communities he helped to found, as a kind of prophet who should be followed. The fans of Gill did not tell their audience the entire story. In my readings I found quite a different man: a sexual maniac, an incestuous brother, a pedophile father, and a pornographic and blasphemous artist. The exposition of this material caused surprise. I am glad to have contributed, in a small way, to the prevention of some well-intentioned Catholics from falling into a trap. But the surprise produced by my exposition raises a few questions:

• Why were the promoters of Distributism hiding Gill’s vices?

• Didn’t they know that the man was a blasphemous and pornographic artist, an   incestuous brother and pedophile father?

• If they knew, why didn’t they warn their audience about those vices? Was it because   they were complacent with such vices?

• If they didn’t know, as I hope, it seems that according to Catholic Morals, they should   now repent, publicly apologize and erase Gill from the list of writers they promote.

Link to article

And on the basis of reading just a few paragraphs of the sickening diary entries made by Gill the answer is No – NGS will not use Gill sans or any version of.

In part 2 I will explain why I have become some interested in the ‘Font’ and so indifferent toward Gill until now. 


Here is the article extract and link with comments below:


Thoughts and deeds

Gill is not the first artist to have committed terrible misdeeds. Travel back a few hundred years and you have the moral conundrums of the work of Caravaggio [painter, killer, supposed homoerotic depiction of boys] or Gesualdo [composer and double killer].

 Do we turn our eyes away from his wonderful works of art or do we try to explore further and see how they were arrived at 
Fiona MacCarthy

And if attitudes count as well as deeds then there are Wagner [composer, raging anti-Semite] and Larkin [poet, supposed racist and sexist].

“If you actually stop looking or listening to people whose moral conduct you disapprove of, you are not left with all that much,” MacCarthy says.

“Gill’s behaviour was obviously reprehensible. He was a child abuser and he did completely renege on his Catholic principles.

“But what do we do? Do we turn our eyes away from his wonderful works of art or do we, as I think we should, try to explore further and see how they were arrived at.”

Send us your comments using the form below.

The books should continue to be published and used for what they are. By the law of averages there are nasty people working in banks for example, but there is no suggestion that we should close our accounts. Why not use the royalties to help a charity working in this area – Childline for example.
Jeremy Rawlings, Milton Keynes

According to Freud, Leonardo da vinci abused the young students in his care, as a means of satisfying his narcissistic homosexuality. Has anybody refused to look at his work on this basis?
Jeremy, London

As someone who carries out investigations of computers belonging to suspected paedophiles with a view to gathering evidence where it is available, I would challenge Alext, Ian B and any others like them to continue holding the view they do after having been forced to actually see with their own eyes the utterly revolting acts that these kind of filth perpetuate and get a thrill from viewing – I find it hard to believe that anyone, having seen this kind of material, could want anything less than complete erasure from existance of anything linked to individuals that commit such abhorrent acts.

As for bringing poets persecuted for their sexuality into the debate – sorry, how is this in any way relevant? Homosexual poets from ages gone by were persecuted due to the ignorance of the time – I pray that there will never be a time when sexually abusing defenceless children is deemed acceptable. Comparing the two situations is a huge insult to all non heterosexuals accross the world is it not?
Alex, London

Work of art, be it in any form, is a medium of expression and right of every artist. Interestingly, not everyone will look at it and draw same meaning out of it. If ten people are asked to review a painting without having any prior knowledge about the painter and his history, they will all have different perceptions about it. I think there is no need to destroy any genius’ work? I agree that it may be disturbing for the victims yet how can one destroy a masterpiece for personal reasons? Secondly, I think an artist¿s personal and professional life should never be mixed up.
Meera, Karachi, Pakistan

There seem to be several arguments here on a number of different areas. The reason that Davey wrote the books was to be able to get close to children. This is very different to an artist who did terrible things but didn’t produce their art to facilitate their crimes. In these cases we can differentiate between the person and the art, but in the case of Davey, the person, the work and the crime are the same thing. Maybe we should allow the books to continue being produced, but remove his authorship and give the proceeds to a charity related to the crime.

Surely whilst a convicted paedophile is in prison he simply should not be allowed to make money on the open market to enjoy as his pension when released. This is not a question about art, it is more complex than that.We should not allow our rapists and murderers to enjoy market forces whatever their creations if they are convicted and serving a prison sentence.The legal maxim stands that noone should profit from their criminal activity. Drug dealers have their assets seized. In Davey’s case his work is targeted at children so any profit made is too closely connected to the subject matter of his crimes. He should not be allowed to have these books published and circulated to children. As a society we have become too politically correct.
Sascha, Edinburgh

I’m undecided. As a graphic designer who studied Eric Gill at college, I don’t even like using his typeface, Gill Sans, in my work. Then again, I really used to enjoy Chris Langham’s comedy work. I’d hate never to listen to his radio series again.
David, London, UK

I think the problem is that these works frighten people. They are reminders of the complexity of human life. We would much prefer it if our “monsters” could only do monstrous things as it helps us catagorise them. If the monsters are instead capable of also doing good things then it makes us feel more uncomfortable as it makes us think of them as human with both human talents and human failings.
Richard, Chester

Fullest sympathies and understanding to the victims of abusers but, if we judge all works by the worst points of their creators, we will have very little left. If the school music book is useful then use it. The fact that someone can produce a thing of meaning or beauty, but also carry out evil acts, shows us the true nature of humanity. We must use our judgement, not our prejudice when considering what is worthy.
Alext, London

There must be millions of artists, musicians, writers etc who are questionable human beings despite their ability in their chosen field, and accordingly there must be millions more fans who have to decide between their admiration for the work and revulsion for the person. The fact is, just because you like a certain painting, album or book doesn’t mean you condone the unrelated actions of the creator, and there shouldn’t have to be a choice unless that creator is allowed to carry on illegal activity because of who they are.
Shona, Greenock, Scotland

No need for a high profile ban of Davey’s music textbooks – the publisher could quietly delete them & let the supply dwindle away. Where the crimes & the readership are so closely linked, it’d clearly be wrong to keep selling, and profiting from, them.
Hirsty, Surrey

A very difficult one. With knowledge, abhorrent; in ignorance, lauded and accepted. By the same token, should we destroy the Forth Bridge or the Bridge over the River Kwai, given that they cost so many lives, or buildings in London erected from slave labour money? A part of me says that the brain which was so depraved as to commit these sickening acts we rightly deride is the same brain that produced the creations we marvel at; perhaps these faculties aren’t mutually exclusive…
Alex, Edinburgh

Possibly the copyright of a seriously criminal artist should be stripped from him and the works officially attributed to a past artist of comparable merit.
Miland Joshi, Birmingham

Miland, I almost agree with this, but the danger is we’d be headed to an Orwelllian nightmare of a society, where the authorities are able to rewrite history. The best thing to do is let people decide for themselves. If schools refuse to use this book, the publisher will probaby stop printing it.
Tony Enticknap, London

How can one contemplate even keeping it? This cannot be celebrated even though it is an artistic gift. What has happened to the moral duty to the victims who will be affected for the rest of their lives. Society needs to do the right thing.
Zainah Zain, Cardiff

Maybe these works of art should be taken down and stored away until such a time as the people who have been abused or hurt by these artists have long since passed away. Artwork done by similar artists of the past does not bother us now because there is no-one it can offend as they have long since gone.
Ben Rattigan, Hartlepool

I would propose a contemporary author revises the books and Davey’s authorship is removed, as that may be more respectful to the survivors of his abuse, and means that the valuable work is not lost.
Chandra, London

If you destroy or proscribe art simply because you do not like its creator, then you run the risk of comparison with Nazi Germany where books were burned simply because they were written by Jews. Many convicted criminals have produced great works. Great poets were persecuted for their homosexuality in times past. We should celebrate and cherish the creation of great art – whatever its source.
Ian B, Knutsford, Cheshire

Ian, you simply can not compare sexually abusing children to homosexuality and being Jewish. Homosexuality is not a crime and neither is being a Jew. Neither harms anyone or destroy lives and neither of these things are illegal. Sexually abusing children is illegal and does destroy lives. It is not a matter of simply disliking the creator. The creator and his works are inherently linked and while condoning one may not be directly condoning the other it is is incredibly dismissive of and insulting to abuse survivors to allow his work to be circulated, particularly in schools.
Scarlett, Scotland



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