mos Paul Kennedy Jr. is someone who hardly needs an introduction in the world of letterpress printing. Once upon a time he was an AT&T systems analyst, but at the age of 40, he switched careers after being inspired by an 18th-century print shop and book bindery demonstration at a Chicago museum. Since then, he’s become widely known for his colorful printing techniques primarily using handset type. His work also carries a sort of political weight, as one critic noted that Amos is “unafraid of asking uncomfortable questions about race and artistic pretension.”
For this Community Spotlight, I asked my co-worker Nick Hurd, a stellar letterpress printer in his own right, to talk to Amos about his work, which is a huge inspiration to our own letterpress posters. Check out the end of the post for a link to a feature length documentary about him called Proceed and Be Bold!, produced by 20K Films.
NICK HURD (NH): How did you get started as a letterpress printer?
AMOS PAUL KENNEDY JR. (APK): I took a class in letterpress printing at Artist Book Works in Chicago, Illinois.
NH: Was there a moment that inspired you to do this work?
APK: A visit to Williamsburg, Virginia in 1988.
NH: Can you describe the process of coming up with an idea for a poster?
APK: There is some text that I want to print, and I print it.
NH: Do you work through iterations or is it more of an “Ah-Ha” moment?
APK: More of an “Ah-Ha.” It is just what I do. It is difficult for me to describe my process because it is so unorganized. I do the work that needs to be done.
NH: What is the relationship between the process of hand type setting and the messages that you are producing?
APK: There is no relationship. The message can go out through any printing technique. I just happened to have learned letterpress printing first.
“Evolution is a very slow process. The body learns the limitations of the materials and equipment and adapts to better use those limitations.”
NH: What can designers who primarily work with computers learn from setting type by hand?
APK: What a designer can learn is limited by the designer. And even then, they learn far more than they realize.
NH: You have been very prolific over a large period of time. How has your process and finished art works evolved through out the years?
APK: Evolution is a very slow process. The body learns the limitations of the materials and equipment and adapts to better use those limitations.
NH: Posters have a long history and tradition in social movements. Are they still relevant in today’s digital world?
APK: Yes, posters invade your visual space. They directly connect with the masses. That is why posters are so highly regulated.
NH: You have tackled difficult subjects in your work, like race. What kinds of reactions have you received from these posters? And what role do you think this type of printing can play in communicating political messages?
APK: Posters are a tool of propaganda. They spread ideas. A poster for a product or service promote ideas just as much as a poster for a political position.
NH: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to tell us about?
APK: I am just printing. I have enough ideas to keep printing until I am unable to print.
20K Films produced a feature-length documentary about Amos and his work called Proceed and Be Bold!. You can watch it here!
Community Spotlight is a blog series that seeks to connect people and build power. Each post will feature a person or organization doing great work in their community and fighting for a more just world. We interview writers, illustrators, podcasters, filmmakers, activists, and more. Subscribe today and let’s start building together.