Fernand Leger’s 1919 painting The Typographer is a key work in his elevation of the machine and mechanized movements. He admired mass media both for its capturing of the energy of modern life and its sharpening of human perception, hence framing this painting through such a concentration on the typographer’s letters and symbols. This piece reflects on how Leger’s exploration of electrical power affected his vision – with its imagery drawn from news reports and posters, instead of Nature or the human figure.
The composition is high-contrast, with planes that move rhythmically between dark black lettering and light green numbers which surround an impossible figure in its center. With this arresting image, Leger was able to push towards something new – an explosion of technology which would supplant the figure as subject matter in modern art, most notably in 1911-2 painting Smokers. Here we also realize Leger’s prophetic instinct as but only one year later came the invention of radio – symbolized perfectly by this symbolic combination of machines within The Typographer. With this piece we can gain insight into the time when mechanical modes capture our attention and gave us all a new appreciation for their product: creating art itself!