If you ask the average Tacoma supporter why they love their city, they might answer with the water views, the lower cost of living, the world-class museums, the small-town feel.
But Tom Llewellyn and Lance Kagey, known better as the Beautiful Angle guerrilla letterpress poster team, sing praises for dandelions, beer, homeless people, argumentative city councils, and dangerous buses. They do it with paper and ink, with quirky text and vintage type.
Now they are taking it one step further: They’ve assembled a multitude of posters into a hand-bound folio that tells Tacoma’s story in quasi-fantastical myth form, and they will sell it at their 10th anniversary holiday party tonight at Fulcrum Gallery.
“I’m kind of inspired by a quote by (English writer) G.K. Chesterton that men didn’t love Rome because she was great – she was great because they loved her,” explained Llewellyn as he took a break from hanging posters in Fulcrum’s front gallery for his “Myth and Mystery” show. “Tacoma’s like that for me.”
As Beautiful Angle’s slightly obsessed fans will tell you, this civic cheerleading has been at the center of the pair’s letterpress posters for the 10 years they’ve been making them in Kagey’s basement studio. Llewellyn, a writer and creative director for Russell, comes up with the irreverent poetry, while Kagey, art director at the same company, arranges the vintage lead type and creates his own engravings. The results are uniquely Tacoman posters that the pair wheatpastes onto buildings in town each month while being tailed by fans who grab them immediately for their collections.
Beautiful Angle also has been in gallery shows, and has won the city’s Amocat award.
This month, though, they’ve come up with something a little different: a poster book. It’s a limited edition 30-page folio, 13 inches by 19 inches, bound with clips to be easily dismantled. But you wouldn’t want to dismantle “Myth and Mystery,” because unlike the individual posters, it tells a story, albeit an eccentric-uncle type of story. It’s a story of Tacoma itself, reinvented as a series of quasi-myths based on a few trivial facts, a kind of tongue-in-cheek love letter written in stencil, vintage type, linocut, engraving and almost anything else you could imagine inking and pressing.
Take the cover. Shadowed in pale aqua, the brown title is surrounded by tiny, sometimes illegible printers’ marks collected from the old Clinton and Hull printing company downtown. A 1930s-ish advertisement for Mount Rainier sits next to the mysterious “Churchill’s Kidy-Vil” and the insignia for the Knights of Pythias. Trawling through the vintage type signs they inherited, they’ve assembled a visual history jigsaw of Tacoma.
Inside, the fun begins. There’s a page with an Adam-and-Eve print emblazoned red over a shopping cart, next to a Genesis-like story that ends with the original humans escaping from the Garden of Eden into the path of a No. 1 bus along Sixth Avenue. There’s a potted history of Nicholas Delin’s sawmill on the Puyallup, “quoted” from an imaginary Johnstone’s History Book. There’s a sensual poem from “Johnstone’s ‘The Concubine’s Tale’ ” la the Song of Solomon, and more Biblical allusion in the City of Destiny page showing an argumentative Tacoma City Council crowded into the Tower of Babel. There’s a page on Jack the bike guy, who rides his folk-art wheeled creation down Tacoma’s streets daily, and pages inspired by local street people, with linocut illustrations by guest artist Chelsey Scheffe.
The posters are interspersed with the pair’s traditional overlaid images, posters printed on posters, the ink gelling into a rich, paint-like dimension.
“We see Tacoma as a kind of holy city, not in an evangelical way, but in the idea that Tacoma becomes a better place if we declare it so,” Llewellyn said.
Kagey said: “The language isn’t touristy or marketing. It’s that you’re loving it so much, you’re willing to criticize it.”
And why do the Beautiful Angle guys love Tacoma so much?
“We learned through 10 years of Beautiful Angle that the amazing thing Tacoma has to offer is that it needs you,” explained Llewellyn. “Seattle doesn’t need you. But Tacoma does, and that’s pretty cool.”
Funded by a City of Tacoma TAIP grant, the project has taken 18 months. The 50 copies of the folio will be sold at tonight’s holiday sale and party, an annual event that this year benefits local youth mentor group Write@253. Each original poster also is up on the walls at Fulcrum through December.
Do they have a favorite one of the folio?
Llewellyn pointed out a circular poster the size of a manhole and printed just like one – only the text is taken from Dante’s “Inferno,” and the “Bell System” (an actual Tacoma manhole reference) has become “Hell System,” with the bell inverted to become a grinning devil.
Kagey’s favorite is the “Word becomes Flesh” poster. In a poem littered with letterpress references, the capitalized “WORD” morphs into the word “FLESH,” with a Da Vinci-type human presiding. In a way, it’s the essence of what Beautiful Angle tries to do – use words to generate a new fleshy reality of Tacoma.
“There’s lots of meaning poured in, lots of layers,” Kagey said, “but we don’t want people to wallow in the meaning. They can just take whatever they want from it.”
What: “Myth and Mystery.” Beautiful Angle holiday benefit sale, party and show
Where: Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma
When: Party and sale at 7 tonight; exhibit open noon-6 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays and by appointment through Dec. 19
Cost: Exhibit/party free; limited edition folio $50; new poster $10; others at various pricesthenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/arts