YUAG features signs as art

Jane Doggett ART ’56 translates the universal language of signage into the universal language of art.

An installation of Doggett’s work — a unique blend of geometric graphic design, her informational signage and ancient proverbs she has compiled — opens today at the Yale University Art Gallery. The show reinterprets traditional aphorisms through modern graphic design.

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Jane Doggett
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The installation, titled “Talking Graphics,” is housed in a window-lined, airport-like corridor in the gallery — in many ways the ideal setting, considering Doggett’s background in transportation and airport graphics.

Her creative work stems from the same kind of thinking that drives her sign designs: Simple geometric forms and primary colors are used to convey a pointed message. Each piece also includes a short phrase, printed beneath the design in both English and Latin. This installation includes biblical Psalms, Chinese proverbs and old American adages.

After graduating from the Yale School of Art and Architecture in 1956, Doggett’s focus on graphic design and architecture led her to craft a niche in airport signage.

“I realized that airports were growing, and graphics would be an important part of explaining the maze,” Doggett said in an interview.

Her specialty is a blend of the disciplines and influences she was exposed to while at Yale — graphic design, architecture and human cognition.

“In the design process for an airport, engineers are concerned about how to get the roof to stay up; landscapers are thinking about the bushes; architects are worried about how a building looks and feels,” Doggett explained. “But in the end, you really need graphics to get from A to B.”

Doggett’s work tries to find or create constants, such as colors or clear symbols, that can communicate effectively and transcend language and cultural divides.

Doggett brings together ancient traditions and modernism, fine art and human behavior, drawing on disparate cultures from around the globe.

The installation offers a view into Doggett’s creative process as well: A series of her sketches hanging adjacent to the works lend a human quality to the sharp, plain geometric shapes. The colored-pencil drafts, often on scraps of binder paper and always surrounded by copious notes, are tiny — only 2 inches by 3 inches for designs that then become 2 feet by 3 feet. This is intentional, Doggett explained, because she needs to be able to see the image as a whole. These small sketches are digitized through a vectorization process — a process that converts drawings on paper to a PDF file — and can then be reproduced on a surface of any size, Doggett said.

The most remarkable thing about Doggett’s art is that though the images are not literal representations of the phrases that accompany them, the graphics are uncannily sharp in conveying these messages. The simplicity of the images elicits a visceral reaction; without involving rational thought, the composition of shapes and color just seems right.

Doggett will give a lecture at the gallery Thursday at 5:30 p.m. The installation will be on display until March 7.

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