In a Ted Talk delivered in 2008, the designer and artist Paula Scher said, “The best way to accomplish serious design … is to be totally and completely unqualified for the job.” The observation is germane to the print she recently completed at Blue Acier, in which she decided to explore a new medium (for her) and wade into graphic diplomacy (of a sort). Titled You Me, her new woodcut is related to a poster design concerning peaceful coexistence Scher had made for an international competition sponsored by the Museum On the Seam in Jerusalem. The poster was never produced, and Scher turned to woodcut, whose traces of the hand, she believed, would humanize her message.
A typography wizard who already had an illustrious design career, Scher began exhibiting paintings in 2006, followed by screenprints based on the paintings. She had taken up painting to offset the long and tedious process of getting corporate approval for her famous 2002 Citibank logo (the one with the blue letters and the single red arc that conjures an umbrella). The images in her large paintings and screenprints are colorful maps dense with place names. Radiating outward from brightly hued continents, the names—of all different sizes and often loosened from the sites they designate—stream across the earth as if to erase geographical distinctions. The woodcut is much simpler, but these two short words are the heart of war and peace.
You Me sets those words at the center of a composition buzzing with energy. Appearing in off-white against a ruddy red ground, the words, frilly with scalloped edges, seem to radiate the surrounding white lines, which resemble a labyrinth or irregular double halo. Metaphorically alluding to the rift between Israel and Palestine, the composition represents both division and embeddedness: the paired words are both distinct and inextricably linked. The image feels serious in its message but playful in its blips and irregularities. Would that its spirit could ripple out to all the people and places on our planet searching to resolve the competing claims of separation and unity.