Bububu-2. Crnogrsk dnvnk. Episote 22. Interview with Yuriy Gordon

Bububu has already rejoiced on the renewed tunnel connecting Budva and Becici turned by the DEAC  into a gallery delighting the eye of those walking through it with paintings by Alexander Florensky, Alexander Alekseev (click here for an interview), and Yuriy Gordon, whose interview is offered to your kind attention below.

Yura, you have drawn, or rather sketched, or rather not you, but someone else has written in some intricate lettering the names of some fifty Montenegrin localities based on your sketches …

This is all of the coastal line, including the Boka Bay. Almost every single locality is there, except for the littlest ones. There are lots of them tiny villages scattered along the bay, you don’t even find all of them on the map. I did my best to squeeze in as many names as possible.

bu 22 mnog

Does the artist take into account and appreciate the effort of those who work with and for him? The guys who did the mural from your sketches said it was a devilish endeavor, for each locality, each town, each village had a new lettering.

We first thought we’d do stickers instead of hand-written letter. The ornament was supposed to be done with the use of stencil masks …


Is it easier this way? Is that because the ornament has a repetitive pattern?

The ornament is repetitive, but there are turns, the stencil mask needs to be changed, things are not as easy as they may sound. All in all, we could have done it a little differently, but nevertheless when it comes to the fonts I know no compromise. I had to produce all the different letters… I must note that all the fonts are by our Letterhead Studio.


These are the fonts developed in the course of many years, you don’t mean you had to do 50 new fonts from scratch?

Of course I used the fonts from our existing portfolio, but some of them needed adjustment. Not all of them had Serbian letters in them. Have we already mentioned that each name is given in two languages?

bu 22 ul


No. We are saying it now.

For example, there was no Đ in my fonts. Moreover, the fonts evolve along with the geographies on the map, from Turkey to Venice. Ulcinj is done in a font that resembles Arabic ligature or the square Jewish lettering. Kotor is visibly Italian in its lettering. Herceg Novi is Austrian. All these trends are very clearly visible.


Budva is in the middle of the mural. You have written it with Latin “D”, like “БУDВА”. This has caused a storm of debates in the Montenegrin community on Facebool; the posting revealing the ‘utter illiteracy’ of this decision has harvested a thousand likes. A thousand likes for a Montenegrin internet community is an incredible lot. Locals are always quivering and flickering when it comes to any intrusion into their local affairs. I once witnessed a woman at the House of Artists in Kotor who saw Igor Gusev’s painting in which a telephone is hidden behind Tito’s face, and that woman plunged into a passionate explanation why this shouldn’t be done that way. In the end of the day, that painting was removed from Gusev’s exhibition and, honestly, I believe this was the right thing to do. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  Do whatever when at a place of your own. Yet, you have decided to keep the inappropriate letter. Of course it’s only a letter, not Tito…

bu 22 D

This has been done intentionally to show that Latin and Cyrillic alphabets are not enemies. There are reverberations between that D: there is an emblem of Dukley Gardens above it, and the blazon of Budva below it. But what’s most important is that the two alphabets are intertwined in one word. All this is happening now and for one time only, this is happening in Budva, in the very core of the project. Also note that the names in Cyrillic and in Latin are all in the local language. A Russian would read the name as his “own”, and may not even notice he is reading in another language.  This is the effect a European may have, I assume. This is hospitality without a translation, this is kind of a symbolic story.  


The water artery piercing the mural, does it correlate with reality?

Naturally it does. Yet I had to mark down my appetite by thirty meters. Initially, the mural was to stretch along all of the tunnel, which is 101 meters long, but then we found out we can use only two thirds of it. We had to go very compact, especially about the desert areas of Ada Bojana and Velika Plaza… But anyway, the coastal like is pictured as accurately as possible. We have even drawn a butterfly-shaped Bay of Kotor.

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Yes, this is probably one of the most unexpected ways in history to portray Boka. (Let’s tell our readers in brackets that you have other unique experiences in the map genre, like the “texted” maps of Moscow and St. Petersburg; we can even show one of these maps at the end of this text). The mural has ornaments, have you borrowed them from anywhere?

Ornaments go east to west, from Albanian and Turkish to Venetian and German. Some ornaments have been borrowed directly from historic sources. For example, the eagles you see there are the original eagles I saw in a XIX c. church. Yet, I composed some of the ornaments based on familiar motives.


Why have you chosen to speak about the fonts and the ornaments right to left?

If you enter the tunnel from the Budva end, you will read them all the European style, left to right, and the other way around if you enter from the other end. This is how geography works.

Have you ever attempted any major works like this mural before, not the ones on paper?

Of course there have been some outdoor signs, quite big ones. The Moskvichka boutique used our sign for several decades. I did win that competition for the “millennium” sign. I remember I go that January 1st, 2000 issue of the “Kommersant” with a small picture of Yeltsin on the front page, a small picture of the patriarch and a huge photo of a billboard with our millennium sign on it. That was a moment of peaking glory which came and went without anyone noticing.

bu 22 harperz

What has been the kinkiest order as far as the fonts?

Almost all glossy magazines in Moscow use our fonts, you name it: “Vogue”, “Harper’s Bazaar”, “Esquire”, all of them. The craziest font is the one that has been ordered by Dima Barbanel for “Harper’s Bazaar”. There is no second font like that anywhere in the world. There are like nine elements in one letter, so that we can make “twinkle” and “twinkle little star” the same length.  Half the letters have to be inclined to one side, and the other half must be inclined to the other.


So sophisticated, why?

That was Dima’s idea: he wanted the font to be like a wonderfully dressed yet senselessly drunk model.



We now are working on a font for Bazar Art, and it is promising to come out as an equally crazy one. For Citizen K, we are working on a font called Citizen M, named after fonts by Markevitch, whose sketches have been used in the making of this font, with all the two-tier ligatures, unexpected diagonals etc. The goal is to slow down the process of reading. This is what I have always been keenly interested in: managing the pace of reading.


Do you intend to hinder the reader?

In some cases reading does need to be hindered. We read too fast. We lose taste to reading, and taste is very important. Reading is becoming our fast food. We do not read tastily, yet we can.

What thing has surprised you about Montenegro?

Tema Lebedev has drawn my attention to this: the lettering of contemporary Cyrillic alphabet frequently resembles the font we, Russians, usually refer to as “pre-Peter the Great”. However, there was no “Peter” here in our sense, yet some archaic norms are used by our contemporaries just like that…


I’m not getting it.

Do you know how they used to spell A? With a belly?


Yes, and?

That’s the old letter, yet they are using it without giving it a second thought. It is not anywhere in contemporary fonts, yet they have it. What we treat as exotic and Old Slavonic is some sort of a norm for them. It’s like I start calling you “sire”, and you’d take it normally. We have no such medial forms. These two-tier ligatures I use are of the same origin. They are the letters growing on the opposite sides of one stem. I do my best using it this technique as if it has never been gone, not as something exotic…


Interview by Vyacheslav Kuristyn

Map of St. Petersburg by Yuriy Gordon

Карта СПб в исполнении Юрия Гордона

Карта СПб в исполнении Юрия Гордона