The Power of Words and Art

For Fall Winter 2020 Alessandro Michele discovered ‘Psychopts’ an art book co-authored by seminal punk musician Richard Hell and Christopher Wool, where Richard overlaid words he mistook for one another to create a new meaning. Lifting the word mix-ups from the book, Alessandro Michele printed them onto T-shirts.
Read the story by Willy Ndatira or listen to the special podcast featuring Richard Hell here.

Misreading words can be a reliable source of humour or even put us in a self reflective mood depending on the connection we create in the moment. Richard Hell turned his misreadings into art. To be more specific: ‘Psychopts’, which is a term he coined by combining the words psyche and optical. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele picked 4 psychopts for their collaboration which was unveiled during the Gucci Fall Winter 2020 men’s show in Milan. In our information age, words have enormous power, Richard Hell and Gucci through their collaboration remind us of that. From catchy political slogans to social media comments and conspiracy theories, words shape people’s thoughts and behaviour. Subverting them to draw attention to their power in a time of crisis is a good idea. Dadaism an art movement formed in Zurich (Switzerland) during World War One thought that at the heart of reason is language. They sought to undermine the fundamental structures of the supposedly rational, ordered society which had resulted in a devastating war. Language was where rules were constructed so to destroy words and disrupt syntax was perhaps the ultimate act of subversion. To free text and speech from conventional rules of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, Dadaists used puns, wordplay, and experimental poetry and literature. Some artists turned words and letters into abstract forms, stripping them of their legibility. These experiments were meant to expose the arbitrary relationship between words and their meanings. Writer William Burroughs called language a virus, he started to experiment with language through a technique called ‘Cut Ups’. Literally cutting up passages of prose by himself and other writers and then pasting them back together at random to create new texts or poems. Burroughs discovered the cutup technique in 1959 in Paris through his friend Brion Gysin, a painter. The ‘Cut Ups’ were created by the Dada poet Tristan Tzara, as a deconstruction of a primary text using the random cutting up of words and phrases to form new sentences or a new piece of writing. It is a process of extraction and reconstruction of a new meaning of language, based on chaotic intuition and the free creative flow. This method also influenced music, it’s what people call sampling. Perhaps Richard Hell’s misreadings could be simply referred to as Freudian slips. In an article for Psychology Today, writer Jena Pincott suggested that we make one to two errors for every 1,000 words we say. Richard Hell decided to write his down and create a connection. This is the many subjects we will discuss in this podcast. Richard Lester Meyers better known by his stage name Richard Hell, is an American singer, songwriter, bass guitarist and writer. A man of many talents who left home at the age of 17 and moved to New York City to become a poet. The Gucci Men’s Fall 2020 show was the first time he attended a fashion show, and it was also Alessandro Michele’s returned to the menswear calendar. Their collaboration is a timely one which reminds us of not only the the power of words but also art. Willy Ndatira @williamcult