José María Passalacqua (Buenos Aires, 50 years old) lives like a hermit in the Lavapiés neighborhood, Madrid, hunched over a table, writing. “There are times when I don’t go out or talk to anyone,” he says. Passalacqua writes, stops at each letter, traces it with science, composes the words, forms the sentences that end in spiral tails, which not only pursue meaning but also beauty. Write, but not like a regular writer. Passalacqua is a calligrapher. “What I do is write by hand.”
From that shelter full of paper, folders, pens and brushes, ink cans, he puts his calligraphy at the service of the most important fashion and luxury brands: Loewe, Hermès, Chanel, Dior, Gucci, within the which is called artistic and protocol calligraphy. His work gives a point of exclusivity and beauty to invitations, letters, menus, welcome notes or personalized books.
His father and grandfather, both engineers, had a fondness for calligraphy and books on the subject in their native Argentina. And Passalacqua spent hours looking at them without understanding the intricate instructions contained therein. What were all those arrows, those strokes, those numbers? Age led him to understand. He studied Graphic Design and ended up in Madrid for work reasons, when computers began their undeniable dominance: the original thing then was to use your hands. Along the way, he has studied different types and calligraphic techniques in several countries, ancient, medieval calligraphies, Carolingian, Gothic or humanist letters, etc., now experimenting with modernist style calligraphies. One thing he likes about a person’s handwriting is that it is unique, like DNA.
“The layman many times only sees that something is written carefully, that it is beautiful, but there is more behind it,” says the artist, or the craftsman, because his work, in which he must frequently write a text many times, such as a Human printing, has that tenacity and slowness typical of craftsmanship. “To be more precise, I identify myself with some applied arts movements, such as Arts and Crafts, at the end of the 19th century, or the Bauhaus, already in the 20th, that brought art to design,” he says. His handwriting is well laid out, it has movement, it is very expressive, it is not boring. “It is not a dead letter,” acknowledges the clerk.
These are not good times for handwriting: it is practiced less and less, there are many people who can barely understand their own handwriting, and in education, the keyboard or the touch screen are replacing notebooks. “Handwriting offers some things that machines don’t,” says the calligrapher, “I think it’s better for learning and concentration. It is more fun. It is a mistake to stop writing by hand, but even for me, when I make the shopping list and interact with writing informally, it costs me ”, he acknowledges.
His work, bent over the paper for many hours of the day, can have the virtue of careful work, slow life, but only when the management tasks and the constant rush and stimuli of contemporary existence (you have to have Instagram) they allow it. It must be borne in mind that this professional works alone and he himself takes care of organizing his schedule, making budgets, closing invoices and, finally, all the obligations that a professional activity entails. There are days when you don’t even have time to draw a comma. That is why it is not easy to contact him: it is not uncommon for him to isolate himself from the world and turn off all his devices to be alone with his ink and his pen: many times it is the only way he has to move forward.
Letter by letter, the words that he draws shake his body: “One is turning years old and sometimes your tendon hurts so much that you cannot take a sheet of paper,” he laments, “problems begin in the wrists, in the hands, the contractures in the the back does not go away easily, they become pinches…, but I can recommend a great physiotherapist ”.