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For the Love of Typography - Laki 139 in an Interview

  • Simon Slater aka Laki 139
March 26, 2019
A philosophy graduate interested in critical theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

A creative director and artist, Simon Slater aka LAKI 139 has a great passion for typography, encompassing everything from graffiti writing and reclaimed metal, to collage and calligraphy in his work. Such powerful cultural motifs as Star Wars and other science fiction, the fantasy art of Syd Mead and Boris Vallejo, comic books and horror films had a massive influence on his youth, helping him develop his distinct signature style.

After reading through Subway Art and Spraycan Art, books regarded as integral documents of the early history of the New York City graffiti movement, the experience of seeing big letters on trains or walls in different environments and surfaces inspired an enduring love for typography, setting him on an ongoing exploration of its different facets. Today, he describes his style as “a mix of rejected, brutal, disregarded materials with the grace and finesse of calligraphy and a helping of industrial typography.”

We had a chat with LAKI 139 about his moniker, the passion for typography, the evolution of his style and much more.

LAKI 139 - Untitled, 2013
LAKI 139 – Untitled, 2013

A Great Passion for Typography

Widewalls: You go by the moniker LAKI 139. Is there a backstory behind this tag?

LAKI 139: When I was at a music gig in 1991 to see one of my favourite bands, Slowdive, tour their Souvlaki album, I noticed that the tour t-shirts were printed with the term ‘SOUVLAKI 139’, signifying the 139th album on the record label. I liked the look of the letters in LAKI and the 139 gave it a classic New York feel, so I changed my tag to Laki139.

Widewalls: You have a great passion for typography, encompassing everything from graffiti writing and reclaimed metal to collage and calligraphy. How did this all start?

Laki 139: As a 1970’s kid, I was routinely exposed to such powerful cultural motifs as Star Wars and other science fiction, the fantasy art of Syd Mead, Roger Dean & Boris Vallejo, comic books and horror films were a massive influence on my youth. The cinema and video stores was a gallery for me and I was fascinated by the sheer diversity of the design and typography for each genre of film.

Throughout the years, I’ve explored and experienced a wide range of typographic disciplines – one thing leads to another. Say if you’re into graffiti, you cannot ignore the influence calligraphy has on the hand-styles. This then opens a new door to many worldwide and historic styles in this profession – Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese etc.

Collider, 2018, Skavenger, 2018
Left: LAKI 139 – Collider, 2018 / Right: LAKI 139 – Skavenger, 2018

The Evolution of His Distinct Style

Widewalls: Throughout your career, you have been continually exploring and honing ways to combine a variety of different elements into your work. How did your style develop over time?

LAKI 139: I think it all comes down to experiences and never give up on soaking up what you see, appreciate and love. As a commercial creative director, looking for influences for certain jobs, I sometimes apply what I have found into my graphic art. When I was at University in the early 90’s – everyone was jumping on Apple Macs using the same handful of fonts – everybody’s work looked the same. I didn’t want that, I’ve always wanted to have a unique feel to my work but also using the computer as a tool. I think this is when I started to hit on my style and it has been a long but exciting process since.

Widewalls: Your work is intricate and complex; could you tell us something about your working process behind it?

LAKI 139: My working process can be reversed at times. If I find a beautiful piece of rusted metal for example, this could be in my studio for months until I can marry up a concept to complement it. Or I could sketch a typographic layout and wait for the correct material to come my way. Or, they sometimes happen at the same time.

I’m constantly sketching, taking photos and picking up pieces of printed ‘junk’ and looking for that elusive canvas!

Bad Transmission II, 2018, Silver Machine 2, 2015
Left: LAKI 139 – Bad Transmission II, 2018 / Right: LAKI 139 – Silver Machine 2, 2015

Inspiration and Influences

Widewalls: You are also a creative director running an independent design and art direction company. How do you approach your commercial projects compared to personal ones?

LAKI 139: The thought process is the same really, but I have to hone into what the client’s needs are. I still need to look at influences and what is on the market already depending on if I am selling a product or designing a logo.

Widewalls: Who are the artists who have influenced you along the way and whose work do you appreciate now?

LAKI 139: There are thousands of artists that have influenced me and it never stops on a daily basis – this is the beauty of the internet Although I loved the time before the internet when you would go to your local bookstore and find the latest design book that had been launched. The main instigators that have and still influence me are; Herb Lubalin, Josef Muller Brockman, Vaughan Oliver and Chris Bigg, The Designers Republic, David Carson and Jose Parla. Too many to list!

Widewalls: Could you reveal some of your future plans and projects?

LAKI 139: I have a group exhibition coming up soon in Manchester. I have a twenty deep backlog of pieces to complete, after that – hopefully gain more commissions (I would love to create a body of work for a boutique hotel or pub chain), still enjoy what I do and keep pushing my style.

Featured image: Simon Slater aka Laki 139. Photo credit: Jonathan De Bem. Image courtesy the artist.