Thursday, July 11, 2013

Signs of Human Kindness

Some months ago, I came across the lettering work of Boston artist Kenji Nakayama, when I noticed some handsaws he hand-lettered. I recently revisited Nakayama's site to explore his handsaw work further, only to discover another story of a humanitarian sign painting exchange he inspired. In 2010 Nakayama chose to use his skills as a sign painter to raise public awareness of the many homeless he saw living on the streets of Boston. Although a small contribution for people with great need, Nakayama hopes his signage might inspire others to take notice and begin conversations with many of the anonymous people living in the margins. To date, he has offered a handful of them $10 and a freshly painted, hand-lettered sign in exchange for their own handmade sign, and he hopes more sign painters will eventually be inspired to participate.  
     In April, Norwegian lettering artist Carl Frisso followed Nakayama's lead and painted this sign for Mike, who calls himself "The Pope of Harvard Square." In 2008 during the economic crash, Mike had a mild stroke and was soon laid off from his job as a construction supervisor in Boston. Because he hasn't fully recovered, he can't return to his former career. You can read his entire story and others on the tumblr, Signs for the Homeless, sponsored by Kenji Nakayama & Christopher Hope.

Beyond Nakayama's humanitarian sign work, he has no shortage of other ambitions and pursuits. This month the Hellion Gallery in Portland, Oregon has an exhibition of Nakayama's individual and collaborative work with fellow artist, Dana Woulfe. Between exhibitions and commissions, he creates large multi-layered stenciled artworks on wood panels and yes, the occasional hand-lettered handsaw. 

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