What do ink, quotes, tenacity and iconic overalls have in common? Amos Kennedy, who gave us a quick tour of his Detroit print studio. Sneak a peek below, then pop over to the blog for the full shebang.
A rabble-rouser with a cause, Kennedy’s energy is infectious, his irreverence inspiring. His prints convey his imperishable passion, and his determination to move others to action, to encourage people to put their brains to positive use. He has a predilection for powerful quotes and potent phrases, conveyed via sharp graphics, bold typography, and curious color combos of overprinted text. His hand-pressed editions are a gutsy balance between controlled chaos and planned precision. A thumb print, a thick splotch of ink, an unexpected smudge—it’s all part of the appeal.
Kennedy quit his job at forty to pursue life as a master printer, and he’s achieved just that. (We’re pretty sure he could achieve just about anything his set his mind to). He operates his own letterpress printery, Kennedy Prints, was honored as a United States Artists Glasgow Fellow in Crafts, teaches workshops all around the world, produces prints prolifically and sells them at his own shows, and is a vocal advocate for the democratization of art and design and the importance of employing creative powers for wider good. (Get a taste of his incisive insight via this clip from the 2016 AIGA Design Conference in Las Vegas.) He even starred in a documentary centering on his own printing practice—Laura Zinger’s Proceed and Be Bold. Throughout it all, he refers to himself as a “humble Negro printer”, and does so with purpose. “There is a profound difference between ‘negro’ and africanamerican. My ancestors were the enslaved peoples whose labor built the wealth of this civilization,” he says in an interview with fellow 20x200 artist Jen Hewett.
Purpose meets provocation and playfulness in Kennedy’s prints. Case-in-point: these clever 8”x6” $10 prints he conceived of as an extra-special edition benefitting his local public library. Like all of his work, each intricately layered, hand-cranked letterpress I Support Public Libraries print in this edition is really one-of-a-kind, but sweeter still is that all proceeds go to the Elmwood Park branch of the Detroit Public Library. So far, we’ve donated almost $2,000! Snag a couple of these stunning, supremely affordable prints to help us increase that total, why dontcha, and give Kennedy’s In the Studio a look while you’re at it.
Where's your studio?
I am a printer. I have a shop. For the past five years my shop has been in storage. I am able to print in the space.
What's your favorite tool in the studio?
What do you wear when working in the studio?
What's on your in-studio playlist?
I listen to the classical radio in the morning. The rest of the time, I listen to whatever.
What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
Lock the doors.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
Do the work. Don't consider styles, WORK!
Printmaking is widely regarded as an important medium for affordable art creation. Is that part of what drew you to the medium to begin with? And, as a creator, is it really all that affordable?
Printing is affordable that is why it is printing. I like the fact that the printed material is supposed to be distributed. I am a creator because I am human. Creativity is in our DNA.There are different levels of affordability.
Provocation seems to be an important aspect of your artistic approach. You don't shy away from truth telling. Any tips for how not to give a fuck, artistically-speaking?
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
How does one procrastinate doing what they enjoy?
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how did you get there?
Never wanted to be one. Just a printer will do for me. Actually, I am a person with a printing press.
How do you get over creative blocks?
What do you like best about 20x200?
The company's commitment to community building.The affordability or the art work.
Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
Your work space is a sacred space. Find permanent space.
The 411 on Amos Kennedy, Jr. + Kennedy Prints!
Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. quit his corporate job at the age of forty to become, as he calls himself, “a humble Negro printer.” He received his MFA from the of Wisconsin, Madison, has taught workshops in over seventy countries and is currently spearheading the Detroit Printing Plant. He is featured in Laura Zinger’s documentary Proceed and Be Bold and hosts his Cash and Carry poster shows. (text care of Brooklyn Public Library)