Graphique de la Rue: The Signs of Paris

Graphique de la Rue: The Signs of Paris
By Louise Fili
Princeton Architectural Press
264 pages, $40.00

By Chris Dickman
Founding Editor, Graphics.com

Those involved in the study of architecture, design or the decorative arts have simply to randomly wander Paris with an alert eye to receive a very special education. That was certainly my experience in the 70s, as I strolled about Paris between life drawing and lithography classes, soaking in the seemingly endless expression of centuries of design, often embodied most effectively in the lettering carved in institutional buildings or the mosaics and enameling of shop signs.

Louise Fili would thus seem to be something of a kindred spirit, having apparently spent the last four decades not only ambling through Paris with the eye of a designer but capturing her most memorable finds. Fili brings a seasoned designer's perspective to this endeavor, having not only snagged an AIGA Medal for lifetime achievement but a place in the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. Last year saw the publication of her Grafica della Strada: The Signs of Italy , a photographic celebration of the work of sign craftsmen across Italy.

Graphique de la Rue: The Signs of Paris follows in the same vein, described by the author as her "typographic love letter to Paris." Grouped in such categorizations as mosaics, Art Deco and the street, with brief text to launch each collection, the main attraction is the photos, which mostly consist of satisfying closeups, often spanning two pages. the richness of these ultimately provoking a state of despair that our own urban environment is in contrast such a typographic wasteland. Is there hope for a future in which such typographic riches are once again the norm, rather than the exception? Fili doesn't seem to think so, given a section at the end that demonstrates how wonderful type treatments have been lost to banal replacements that she understandably describes as "heartbreaking." Which prompts the classic question: Is it better to be awake or asleep? Something to ponder while you follow Fili's directions on how to visit each of the examples in the book on your next trip to Paris.

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