Type Adds Dimensions to MATTER
RICK GRIFFITH DABBLES IN STUDIO AND TEACHING
MATTER is a studio where printing supplies line nearly every wall. Letters— block letters, letters packaged as puzzles, pieces of paper covered in words and sentences, both sensical and non—litter the area; it’s the true mark of an establishment of passionate typographers.
Design Director and owner of MATTER Rick Griffith is also Denver City and County Commissioner of Culture, and a CU Denver adjunct professor. “I’ve got any number of projects going at the same time,” Griffith said.
His hands never stop moving, pushing blocks of letters together, apart, onto paper, and against scraps of metal. The piece that he’s working on states, “You’re a strong, independent black man and you need to be respected.”
“That’s what I always say to my family, students, whatever,” Griffith said. “I use it as a way of creating a mirror. I say that to people when they’re wrong, too, and it works whether it’s to a middle-aged white kid, or a young black woman. It works because it treats language as a mirror.”
One could say that Griffith’s work as a whole treats language in this manner, reflecting meaning onto its viewer to serve as a sort of self-realization. There is no doubt that an underlying obsession with words and letters fuels the work of the studio.
“You can attempt to type as a design or you can attempt to design as a typographer,” Griffith said. “We attempt to design as typographers here.”
After decades of working with letters, Griffith has seen a great deal of evolution in his work. “When I was younger, I said, ‘I don’t know what they call the guys that make album covers for a living, but I want to be one,’” Griffith said. “That was how I found design in the first place.”
This magnetism toward design led him to advertising. “Someone made me an offer to work for some cigarette company,” Griffith said. “Then I started to realize that design was bigger than that. I thought, ‘Wow, I can really experiment with typography.’”
He pauses while telling stories of his work’s evolution to constantly keep letters moving around with precision. “Sorry, I’m just looking to see if these are lined up,” he said occasionally.
Now his work has expanded to include professorships at CU Denver, the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, and the University of Denver. He has contributed to the art community as Denver City and County Commissioner of Culture, and as an education reform panelist. In all of these positions, Griffith looks to promote something he calls “diversity of purpose.”
“I want cities and groups to assemble with a thought of diversity of ideas,” Griffith said. “I work in so many groups and government spaces and I’ve learned that that’s the part that really feeds good collaboration. We should be hunting for diverse ideas and for diverse purposes, and encouraging people to diversify their knowledge-base.”
To Griffith, that means encouraging black people or women to enter into unexplored fields so that they can be valuable in very authentic ways. “Not just for a sense of tokenism, but for a sense of purpose,” he said.
Griffith admits that he sounds like a walking bumper sticker at times, but seems to accept the quality as “his thing.” But even more so than sometimes bumper sticker-esque ramblings, his thing is letters and words.
“It just feels elemental to me,” Griffith said. “I don’t think that I could avoid the work if I wanted to. Type is my work.”
Above: Rick Griffith always keeps his hands moving inside the MATTER studio.
photo: Nicole Elizabeth • CU Denver Sentry