I met Amos Kennedy Jr. at the opening of his show at Mule Gallery a couple of weeks ago. A self-described “humble negro printer,” Kennedy is currently turning a 3000 sq ft Detroit warehouse (that, at the moment, only has 1500 sq ft of roof) into a print shop and center for the study of letterpress print. Read on! And if you’re in the Bay Area, see his show before it closes at the end of June!
When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium? What other media do you work in?
Well, I am a printer not a printmaker. People like to call me a printmaker. But I consider myself a commercial printer. But in reality, I just put ink on paper. I really enjoy the process. Oh, I have been know to bind a book or two, make collages, blow a little glass, play with cloth but I spend a lot of time defying the social norms of this civilization.
How would you describe your work?
Messy. Lacking the skills of fine printing. A true reflection of my life.
You describe yourself as a “humble negro printer”. Why?
Because to be humble does not mean you are unaware of your humility. Have you seen me? I tell people that I am “negro” because most people mistake me for africanamerican. There is a profound difference between “negro” and africanamerican. My ancestors were the enslaved peoples whose labor built the wealth of this civilization.
What’s the first thing you ever remember making?
In elementary school, I would fold paper and make what I called “books”.
Is there a ritual or activity that is crucial to your practice?
Each day I am in my space, I MUST put ink on paper. Why else go to the space? Problem solving happens at the press for me. I enjoy being in the moment.
What are you currently working on, and why?
I am taking a 3,000 sq ft building with a 1,500 sq ft roof and converting it into a print shop. See the answer to question #8.
Do you have a dream project (or two)?
1) To organize the wood type collection I have and create a catalog of it.
2) Create installations of display in public libraries across the nation.
To build a space for the advance study of the design and production of letterpress printed posters. While more and more people want to design and print poster using the letterpress process, there are few places in theseunitestatesofamerica that allow them to pursue that goal. For the past twenty years I have collected several printing presses and a collection of wood type. Now, I have rebuilding an old auto repair garage in Detroit to house the equipment, so people can come and develop the craft of poster design.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
It is the doing that matters. Lose yourself in the process to find yourself. Keep your exceptions low so you can meet them. As you become experienced in the craft, your projects will reflect that growth.
What do you want readers to know about you or your work?
If I knew what I was doing, I won’t do it. I live in the moment. Generosity is what makes us human, Be generous. I am transformed by the work I do more than the work is transformed by me. Make stuff!!! Do not worry about the quality of what you make. Make stuff.
How can people find you?
My Internet presence is kennedyprints. I keep it simple so I can remember it.