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Southern Stories
Jan 27/17

Art Form is Saved in the Church of Type Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments

If the Church of Type were an actual religious organization, Kevin Bradley would be the pope.
“I am authentic letterpress,” he said from his residence in Santa Monica. “I’m the king. I’ve been doing this 25 years.”
He puts between 60 and 80 hours into each of his vibrant, quirky posters that are sometimes an homage to pop culture and sometimes whatever strikes his fancy.
“The type I use is 200 years old, so I’m working on the same playing field as all of my heroes from the 20th centuries. I’m making a contemporary poster with 200-year-old stuff,” he said.
“I’ve always thought it’s important to make things by hand. It’s got its own magic.”
Though he operates from a storefront in California, Bradley originally hails from Greeneville, Tenn., and he took the time to answer a few questions about his craft.

How were you first introduced to letterpress?
“I picked it up in college in the ’80s when the Macintosh was just coming out, and I decided I wanted to make things by hand because that was more appealing to me, and I didn’t want to be in a cubicle all day so I took the low-tech road, and here I am, still doing it 25 years later.
And I’ve been selecting type and presses this whole time. I have two Vandercook hand-operated poster machines, and I have a 4-foot-by-10-foot Takach art press. I can put a 4 x 10 sheet of paper on it. Everything is made by hand, hand-carved, hand-set type, very old school.

So you design and work in wood?
Yeah. When I write, I draw it in the wood box, and I carve it. I’m a typographer, and I have one of the best collections of type in the letterpress field. I like to draw it and carve it as well and that’s what makes my work so unique. If you want to break free of the grid you have to break free of the forms, so you have have to go straight into wood, and then you can move around.


So every poster is different?
There are slight imperfections that come and go here and there, and that’s part of the natural process of printing from wood. They’re all unique, but I have quality standards so I don’t let any of them get too bad, and that’s part of the beauty of the process — you can see wood grain here, and I think it’s important to have some of that.

You’ve got posters of Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash. Who are some of your favorite Southern icons?
You’d have to go back to Davy Crockett and Colonel Sanders. Col. Sanders was the man. He was cool. I don’t’ know if you know his story. When he went nationwide, he made him pay him $1 million in cash money because he didn’t believe in stock, but his employees all got stock, and they ended up making more money than he did. He was just old school and cool. And some of the country music greats: Hank Williams, George Jones and Tammy. I’m still Southern, but I’ve gotten my head out of the south here lately.

What’s your writing process like?
It just comes to me. It’s magical. It’s all magical. I sit around and think about things, and I keep notes and write stories. I focus more on the legend and myth. It’s all based in historical fact, but it’s more of an oral tradition of storytelling that came through in the mountains. There’s legends and myths about everyone who’s ever done anything. I try to research and get it right, which may or may not be true. Often the legend and the myth are greater than truth anyway.
I guess those stories are born into us from being in the South, and I’m happy to fly my Tennessee freak flag on the west coast for a little while.



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