On Viewing Words

In this paper I will argue the value to be found in the visual analysis of text, drawing upon the artists’ books of Czech-born Australian artist Petr Herel (1943–2022) as case study. A seminal figure in the development and dissemination of the artist’s book in Australia, the complexity of Herel’s work lies in part through his use of text that conveys meaning without necessarily being conventionally ‘read’. This paper takes concepts rooted in traditional and conventionally rigid semiotic frameworks,including the relationship between text and context and the polysemy of meaning, and applies them in a flexible and contemporary approach that facilitates new visual analyses of the text present in Herel’s books. The artist’s use of unfamiliar alphabets, familiar alphabets and unknowable alphabets calls for a new iteration of analysis that encourages and celebrates visual meaning(s) from text.