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Meet Mrs Bilbo Baggins 4


Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe: An interview with Agostino Lacurci 8



12 A Brief History of Grids



Emma Orbach, 58, has shunned society, living in a mudhut she built herself. The Oxford graduate named her home Tir Ysbrydol, which means ‘spirit land’ in Welsh, where she has banned technology. She fetches water from a stream and keeps three goats, seven chickens and two horses.


By David Wilkes

“This is how I want to live. This lifestyle makes me feel really happy and at peace and this is my ideal home.”

Her straw and mud hut looks more suited to Bilbo Baggins. But unlike the wandering hobbit, Oxford University graduate Emma Orbach is staying firmly put. The 58-year-old has spent the past 13 years living with no electricity in her self-built roundhouse, generating her own power and growing her own food. Her daily chores involve tending to her vegetable plot and collecting fruit, looking after her three goats, seven chickens and two horses and chopping firewood.

It is all a far cry from the conventional trappings of Mrs Orbach’s background. Her father was a violinist and her mother a librarian. After graduating from Oxford with a degree in Chinese, she married architectural historian Julian Orbach. Together they founded the Brithdir Mawr ecocommunity in the Preseli Mountains near Newport, in Pembrokeshire, round a 180-acre farm in 1993.

She gets her drinking water from a nearby stream and only rarely ventures to the shops for treats like rice and chocolate.

When her children, who are in their 20s and 30s and live in London, Bristol and Brighton, visit, they, like all guests at the roundhouse, are banned from bringing technology such as phones or laptops with them.

Each community is independent and they co-exist as neighbours in a more traditional style. Explaining why she set up her own home just before 2000, Mrs Orbach said she felt a ‘very strong pull to live life even more simply’.

She runs a ‘healing and retreat centre’ on the site and usually has about five people living in the other roundhouses.

The vegetarian then retires to her wool-stuffed mattress and wool covers at about 7.30pm.

Nestled in the mountains of West Wales, she named her home Tir Ysbrydol, which means ‘spirit land’ in Welsh.

But by then Mr and Mrs Orbach had divorced and the commune split into three entities, including hers.

She is in the process of building a sixth roundhouse there and has permission from the council to build four more, as well as a sauna, workshop and community building.

Her evenings are spent in the glow of her stove, cooking her dinner and playing music on her Celtic harp.

Mrs Orbach said: ‘This is how I want to live. This lifestyle makes me feel really happy and at peace and this is my ideal home.’

The eco-community endured a decade of inquiries, court cases and a planning hearing before their fight, backed by more modern support for green issues, finally ended in victory in 2008 when the roundhouses were given planning approval.

The Hut For five years they enjoyed a simple life, then a survey plane chanced upon the ‘lost tribe’ and they were plunged into a decade-long battle with officialdom. Officials were unable to find any records, let alone planning permission, for the mystery hillside village surrounded by trees and bushes and insisted the eight grass-covered buildings should be demolished.

They pay her a donation, which covers her £63-a-month council tax payments, repair costs and supplies of grain. She said: ‘I don’t miss anything at all about what is normally called reality. The quality of life, in my view, is decreasing and everything is speeding up and becoming more stressful. ‘Once or twice I have joked about getting a takeaway pizza delivered here when I am tired after a long day. But I don’t think anyone would deliver a pizza across two fields anyway.’


A Day in the Life of Emma Orbach The Simple Life Emma keeps seven chickens, three goats and two horses at her eco-hut

One with nature

Emma gets her water from a nearby stream, chops her own firewood and only ventures to a shop to buy special treats such as chocolate

Animal Care

Emma milks one of her three goats as part of her daily routine


Teatime Emma makes a brew on her open fire, adding milk from her own goat

Independent life Emma collects firewood for her eco-home which lacks electricity and running water

Enjoying the night in Emma Orbach plays the Celtic harp in her hobbit-style mud and straw roundhouse in the Welsh mountains




At first glance you would label them as works of art for kids, due to their illustrative stroke, bright tones, and flat, colored backgrounds. But it only takes a moment to realize that in the murals, illustrations and incisions by multidisciplinary artist (born in Foggia in 1986), there’s the desire to speak to everybody, with a visual vocabulary that is able to condense stories open to various levels of reading into figures and characters. Suspended between irony and premonition, his monumental murals are tales of everyday life in which to immerge yourself, rediscovering the narrative power of static images and the urban context from which they appear.

Since 2008 Agostino has indeed been designing stories on the skin of buildings and important public spaces, collaborating with their inhabitants. For those wanting to see him at work, in these days he can be found in Paris, busy creating murals for project “Le Mur”. And on March 13th, again in the French capital, this time at Gallerie L. J., he’ll participate in collective exhibition “Paragone”, curated by Christian Omodeo, a look at forms and colors of contemporary Italian art.

“Future Simple”, Las Armas district, Zaragozza (Spain)



I start from a text, I comment contents that are submitted to me, trying to generate a vision that is both a bearer of the contents of the text and also respects my identity. It’s a demanding job, one of mediation and condensation. you do to a wall with a roller or the shine of silkscreen printing. Working with forms of synthesis, to balance flat forms against the background, I look for a minimum of sensibility through the choice of materials: paper or a particularly stimulating wall.

You’ve experimented various materials and techniques: how has your expressive style evolved into what it is today? I’ve always been interested in the relationship between manual skill and expressive language. This curiosity pushed me to create different works, searching for materials in scenography workshops, experimenting with tools, until I understood that what I really needed for my work could be found at the hardware store next to my house. At the same time I’ve always worked with digital technologies. I recognize how practical they are and pursued various techniques that allowed me to work while saving time and without wasting materials. I’ve always worked on both fronts, until finding a common approach. In other words, I reason on levels: those of Photoshop when working digitally, whereas analogically it would be the whitewashing

You’re young, but you already have a rich CV. What formative experiences allowed you to find your voice? The experience of making murals put me in contact with the reactions of the public. Since then my approach to work has changed: I’ve reached a new security, but also new doubts. I had to question myself in a short span of time, because the wall forces you to make decisions quickly. I like works of synthesis, on which I can reason with few variables in play: an action, a movement, an idea. From these I try to extrapolate an image, a vision, a key to the reading that I can use to interpret on multiple, complex levels. Or at least I try.

How does your approach change when working on an illustration as opposed to a mural? I’ve always been interested in working with a flexible language, similar to that of a person that communicates in everyday life. With illustrations

On the contrary, in a personal project, I start from a vision, a mental picture to which I associate a title, which in turn generates textual contents from others: interpretations, comments, stories and debates. I like seeing my personal works like an overturning of the text-image relationship. Murals instead are site-specific works, that require an accurate study of the context. Sometimes the location brings with it a discussion to which I am sensitive, in which I feel I have something to say and that triggers a spark. Other times, there isn’t enough time, means or stimuli to work in sitespecific terms. In this case, instead of forcing a vision, I try to work on the repertoire.

As a spectator, your work seems to incite a dialogue with the location. What relationships have you managed to build with those who pass by, look at and experience your works on walls? I receive many reactions, mails, comments. It’s striking how my works manage to really touch the lives of the people that live in the places where I paint. It happened for example with mural “Fish’n’Kids” at Porto Fluviale, in the Ostiense district of Rome. One person wrote to me: “I pass through this street everyday and I hated it. Ever since last year I can’t wait to go to and come back from work to walk along it”. Apart from what remains on the wall, to me what is important is the relationship the mural provokes.


In the prison of Rebibbia, through your murals and with your mediation, you managed to put the inmates, the definition of “inhabitants” of a closed space, in communication with the outside world. How did you work on this? I went to Rebibbia twice. The first time I went with an idea I wanted to propose. At the beginning the inmates were a bit skeptical, which is normal. What surprised me were their great expectations with respect to a place that, paradoxically, they feel belongs to them: a sort-of home that must be protected. Making a mural, to them meant improving their surroundings. It was interesting to find a mediation between my language – which I considered more suitable for children – and their imagery, more heterogeneous, adult and realistic. Together, we worked on ideas. The graphical language is clearly mine, but the contents are a kaleidoscope of narratives, in which each cm of color refers to different stories and desires. The second time was more natural, as if we had found a common plane on which to dialogue as equals, and it was them conducting the work.

In your work there’s a mix of humor in the style and disillusionment in the characters. What fascinates you about this combination? I’m fascinated by the mechanisms of irony, such as for example the game of contrasts that occurs with opposites. You can use child-like language to narrate light images as well as catastrophic ones. Personally, I have a cynical vision of reality, I’m very critical and sometimes pessimistic, so making art becomes a cathartic process, in which to stage a drama and at the same time sublimate it, alleviating it. I play it down basically.

You mean a tragicomic effect? Exactly. For example, a first level of reading of the murals in Porto Fluviale can be the infantile image


of a person that swims among fishes. If you look at the context though, you discover that you are in an area historically linked to the fish market, an unhappy environment for the protagonists of the murals. In addition, the title, “Fish’n’Kids”, apart from describing the scene, refers also to a famous dish. So in total you have a vital image that contemporarily represents a catastrophe. It’s the irony unleashed by a sadistic element. I try to work on that threshold mechanism through which an innocent image can become mischievous, or serenity can become a premonition. This is my motivation, my story. But I think the interesting aspect comes afterwards, in the interpretations of others.

You recently painted mural “Abithoudini” in the parking lot of newspaper la Stampa. What discussion were you trying to instigate around the subject of information? The space they asked me to paint was very articulated. I tried to tackle it in my own way, building an internal story divided in two parts. I was inspired by magic, a subject which the city has always been associated with, and to the particular context of the parking lot of La Stampa, one of the biggest Italian newspapers. So I tried to work on the concepts of reality and illusion, and on the confusion they can generate. That’s where the idea of painting scenes from the everyday life of a magician came from. Glimpses of interiors and exteriors of the home of a person that creates illusions and is so accustomed to their tricks that they transpose them into their existence with total indifference. I like to think of my pieces as great works that must be experienced, subdivided in chapters and with an internal, finished discourse.

On March 13th, at Galerie L. J. in Paris, you’ll take part in collective exhibition “Paragone”, curated by Christian Omodeo. Alongside you, street artists such as Moneyless, Tellas and Pane will be on display. What will your contribution be? I’ll be displaying a series of drawings and painting on which I’ve been working, which are part of a project entitled “Elementare”. It’s a series of variations on the theme of elements, intended first and foremost as natural elements, but also as elements of a mathematical, communicative or social system. As always in relation with the discourse on language, I tried to generate my own limited grammar, giving myself some rules, with which to try and create a conversation on the relationship between man and his environment. They are drawings, so rather than be explained, they have to be seen.

What about other upcoming projects? In Paris, during the days of the “Paragone” exhibition, I will be working on project “Le Mur”, a small wall that since 7 years ago has been painted and repainted every 2 weeks by a different artist, and which witnesses the passage of people coming from all over the world. In the meantime I am producing other work in the studio for a solo show I should be doing towards the end of the year. With the warm season approaching I will start travelling and painting. I have various walls programmed in Europe and abroad.






Who are the artists that inspire you the most right now? There are so many, it depends on the period. Recently I had the chance to visit a big exhibition on Mike Kelley in Amsterdam. He is a great artist who recently passed away, and who worked with a thousand different disciplines, maintaining throughout his own recognizable sensibility. What impressed me was the power of his personality and his ability to make languages that are poles apart converge into the same work, generating surprising effects. Some of his works have an absolutely innocent or naïve appearance, that however in the space between image and title, or in the apparently nonsensical combination, hide small distillations of force and vitality.

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Inhospital, Murales realizzato per l’ Asl Roma 3 di Largo Preneste, Roma 2010


Picturin, big wall made for Picturin Festival, in Turin, together whit Hitnes




Arenato, Memorie Urbane Festival, Via Marina ( Lungomare di Serapo), Gaeta, Italy


Smemo, Work made together with Mr.Thoms.



What’s your idea of elegance? Elegance for me is the ability to honestly express yourself with respect towards others. Or wearing a bow tie.



A Brief History of Grids By Lucienne Roberts This whole business of grids is so difficult for graphic designers. Most of us love them. But we’re scared of revealing any nerdy or, worse still, despotic tendencies so we jump nervously from foot to foot, simultaneously belittling and venerating the grid. We’ve got to appear to be casual about it—but not so much so that our peers think we’re grid lightweights. The problem is partly one of association. A grid is generally a series of straight vertical and horizontal lines so, if you’re interested in grids are you “straight” in other ways too? Ultimately, it’s not the notion of the grid that is important— it’s the hand that constructs, the brain that computes, and the perspicacious eye that exploits these invisible structures. A graphic-design grid is a bit like magic (now you see it, now you don’t) sets of intersecting lines that help the designer decide where to put things, but that generally no one else sees. The benefits of using a grid are multifarious, ranging from the psychological to the functional, and, of course, the aesthetic. The grid embodies all the contradictions that designers struggle with. This is the designer’s very own enigma code that can elevate design discourse to that of a science, and eradicate the creative block by “virtually” filling the blank page.


What is a grid?

The First Five Hundred Years

Although derived from calligraphic forms, this lettering is actually type. Taken from a late-sixteenthcentury English Bible, this page shows how printers quickly adopted symmetry. The text is justified and the two columns placed symmetrically on the page, with hanging notes also positioned according to a central axis.

This facsimile page is from a fourteenth-century English manuscript. The overall layout is asymmetric, and therefore surprisingly modern. The main column is positioned to the left of the page, with a large right-hand margin used for notes. All text is calligraphic and ranged left.

A grid subdivides a page vertically and horizontally into margins, columns, inter-column spaces, lines of type, and spaces between blocks of type and images. These subdivisions form the basis of a modular and systematic approach to the layout, particularly for multipage documents, making the design process quicker, and ensuring visual consistency between related pages. At its most basic, the sizes of a grid’s component parts are determined by ease of reading and handling. From the sizes of type to the overall page or sheet size, decision-making is derived from physiology and the psychology of perception as much as by aesthetics. Type sizes are generally determined by hierarchy—captions smaller than body text and so on—column widths by optimum word counts of eight to ten words to the line, and overall layout by the need to group related items. This all sounds rather formulaic, and easy. But designers whose grids produce dynamic or very subtle results take these rules as a starting point only, developing flexible structures in which their sensibility can flourish.


Philosophers and linguists have argued that nothing exists in our consciousness unless it is named and we have a language with which to discuss it. Neither “graphic design” nor “grids” were talked about until the mid-twentieth century. Once named, complex grid structures comprising multiple columns, fields, baseline grids, and so on poured forth as never before, but it’s not true to say that designers or their predecessors—commercial artists, printers, and scribes—hadn’t been thinking about content, proportion, space, and form before this. Even prior to typesetting and printing there were texts available to read. These were religious texts laid out by scribes in calligraphy. The pages were surprisingly modern, often using more than one column, with lettering that was ranged left, and color and variations in letter size used for emphasis. Just as the first cars resembled a horse-drawn carriage, the first printed pages took their cue from the manuscript page. But over time one major difference was introduced— justified setting. In this, spaces between words in continuous text are adjusted in each line so that columns align on both left and

right sides. Although manuscript pages were symmetrical when viewed as spreads, the rangedleft lettering made them essentially asymmetric. With justified setting came 450 years of symmetry, and it wasn’t until the twentieth century that this convention was truly challenged.

Proportion and Geometry This spread from The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, published in 1792, uses the golden section to determine the text area, and the Fibonacci sequence to arrive at relative margin sizes (inner margin 3 units; top and outer margins 5 units; bottom margin 8 units). The gutter is treated as the central axis, and there is one column of text. The outer and bottom margins are larger than the inner and top. These optical adjustments ensure that the text doesn’t appear to be falling off the bottom of the page.

From the beginnings of printing (from the midfifteenth century) until the Industrial Revolution (late eighteenth century), the book was the primary output of printing. Apart from verse, type was generally set in one justified column per page, placed symmetrically on the spread with larger outer margins than inner, and a larger margin at the foot than at the head. But just as each decision made in minimal art is hugely significant, so too were the relative relationships of these few elements on the page. The proportions of these pages and margins were determined by geometry, concerned with the relation of points, lines, surfaces, and solids to one another rather than their measurement. There are many geometrical constructions that can produce a beautiful page, but the golden section is usually cited as the most successful. As it is a geometrically derived form, it can be drawn with a setsquare and a compass—no measuring required. For those who do like to know measurements, the relationship of short to long side of a golden rectangle is 1:1.618. Many contemporary designers find this

apparently irregular ratio unsettlingly chaotic, but others feel that the number sequence at its core has almost magical properties. By adding the lengths of the long and short edges it is possible to arrive at the next measurement in the sequence to give a bigger rectangle of the same proportions. This also works in reverse in order to make a smaller rectangle. Adding two numbers to find the next in a series is also the basis of the number progression of the Fibonacci sequence, named after the thirteenth-century Italian mathematician who first identified it in many natural forms, from the arrangements of petals to the spirals of seashells. A combination of the golden section and Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc) was often used to determine the overall proportion of the page and margins of the classical book.

This diagram shows how to draw a golden-section rectangle using only a set square and a compass. The resulting proportions are considered to be some of the most aesthetically pleasing. Start by using a set square to draw a right angle. Place a compass in one corner and draw an arc to arrive at a square, then draw a line horizontally through its center. Use the compass to join the two points shown to complete the rectangle.


The Next Hundred Years Design as we know it was born partly in response to the Industrial Revolution. As this spread from the English Illustrated Magazine of 1884 shows, designs were suddenly competing for attention. The resulting visual confusion may have a certain charm, but these random layouts were confusing and often inaccessible. Contemporary designers considered this a problem to solve and started to explore different theoretical approaches to their work.

The Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of a capital-based economy, with mass production at its heart. Graphic design was born, although still not named as such. Its job was to communicate diverse messages to an increasingly literate people. The rise in print output was phenomenal— posters, leaflets, and advertising of all kinds, newspapers, timetables, and all manner of information-based design. Suddenly designs competed for attention. Images, initially in the form of engravings and then as photographs, had to be incorporated along with an ever-expanding array of display typefaces. Highly skilled and educated printers stayed firmly in the land of the book, while jobbing printers and compositors struggled to lay out this diverse material for which the classical book was not a useful precedent. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, artists and thinkers identified this as a problem that had to be solved. Although the work produced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement may appear very different from that of modernism, Arts and Crafts was its forerunner in one important respect.


Morris believed that form and function were inextricably entwined. Running almost concurrently with these ideas were the revolutionary cubist experiments of Picasso and Braque, who were exploring how to represent 3-D forms on 2-D planes, producing increasingly abstract results. Artists, and then designers, were influenced by this work, and re-evaluated composition as a result. The early twentiethcentury art movements—futurism, dadaism, surrealism, constructivism, suprematism, and expressionism—also had an influence on the development of the grid. Artists were united in trying to represent a new, industrialised age exemplified by speed of travel and faster communication. They recognized the power of the word and broke with all previous print tradition by using type at conflicting angles or on curves; introducing extreme variation in type sizes; using drawn, abstracted letterforms; and generally ignoring the vertical and horizontal nature of type. For the first time, space was used as a dynamic component in typographic layout. The

ethos that underpins this work was the antithesis of the rational and logical approach implicit in the grid. But in drawing such a resolute line under the past, it opened the door to de Stijl, the Bauhaus, and typographers like Herbert Bayer and Jan Tschichold, who called for some order to be imposed on what seemed like fractured chaos.

This page is from an issue of the Futurist magazine Lacerba, published in 1914. By breaking with previous approaches to layout and design, early twentiethcentury art movements had an influence on the development of the grid. The work was often intentionally chaotic, but as the old rules were broken, a new, more rational system was given the space to develop.

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.� Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds

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