The Typographic Hub

Tart Cards

With a little bit of thought and ingenuity every image and every object we encounter, from boring postcards to aircraft safety pamphlets is a potential work of art. This research looks at the phenomena of tart cards, and discusses how their aesthetics came to outstrip their original purpose and elevate them to the realms of accidental art.

All cities have their symbols, but none more ephemeral and omnipresent as London’s tart cards. Tart cards are the means by which London prostitutes advertise their services and they have become as ubiquitous a symbol of that city as the red telephone boxes in which they are found. Step in to any Central London call box and you can contemplate up to eighty cards inviting you to be tied, teased, spanked or massaged either in luxury apartments, fully-equipped chambers or the privacy of your own hotel room. Read the cards in the boxes and you get more than just a hint of an alternative London.

Some people find the cards offensive, others amusing; for the girls and their customers they are a commercial necessity. To anyone interested in printing and graphic design the cards form a microcosm of evolving typographic tastes and techniques; for those printers prepared to take the risk, they represent regular and lucrative business.

But love them or loath them tart cards are undoubtedly an intriguing slice of English social history; they provde Britain's finest exhibition of vernacular graphics; and are one of the most power exemplars of accidental art.

The notion of finding 'art' in anything started with Marcel Duchamp's theory of the objet trouve; continued with Andy Warhol's understanding of the art of commerce; and continues today as we visit galleries to view graffiti and ready-made art such as Tracey Emin's My Bed.

The public is now accustomed to seeing art in non-art objects, particularly when, as with Tart Cards, they are as powerful as many paintings or other fields of graphic arts.

This research explores the history and the graphic power of the Tart Card.