By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – March 6, 2017) — Bumping in to internationally known printmaker and textual artist Amos Paul Kennedy at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe was a welcomed coincidence. And spotting him among the people at the O’Keeffe museum was easy: he was wearing his trademark pink shirt and overalls, a style that communicates more than his personal chic, but also his calling as a printmaker.
When I approached him and said, “I’ve driven an hour to hear your presentation tonight at the Palace of the Governors,” he smiled and asked where I drove from. And after a brief conversation, I thanked him for his art. He politely stated, “I’m not an artist, per-se, but a printer.”
And though I would respectfully disagree with him concerning his work (I firmly hold that his craft is art in that is has form, balance, meaning, color, composition, etc.), I do understand his deference not to be called an artist. The title artist is often divisive, creating a rift between the “fine artists” and the “applied artists.” And being that Kennedy is an applied artist—his work has application to everyday life through printing, the aesthetic results are no less stimulating.
After our meeting I headed to the Palace of the Governor’s Print Shop and Bindery to get a sense of the printing process. Nestled in the plaza, the 400-year old courtyard has been the literary heart of Santa Fe long before Billy the Kid was imprisoned on the property. The Print Shop is both a museum and working press, creating award-winning books and posters . The museum portion of the shop houses old printing presses and the press of noted woodblock artist, Gustave Baumann. On the other side of the shop is the working press. As I entered, print curator Thomas Leech approached. We chatted a few moments, then Mr. Leech handed me a couple of the newly printed posters. One of the posters had Thomas Jefferson’s quote about the freedom of the press, a fitting gesture concerning the current state of the media in the US.
After my conversation with Leech, I headed to the Paul Amos Kennedy lecture. In an amphitheater of around 300 people, Thomas Leech introduced Kennedy. Kennedy in turn introduced the new documentary made on his life and printing process, Proceed and be Bold. In the documentary we learn about Kennedy’s life from his humble beginnings in Lafayette, Louisiana to his work as an IBM programmer to his rise as a leading printmaker. The documentary can be seen in full on You Tube . After viewing a portion of the documentary, Kennedy answered questions. It was here that the printer became a preacher of sorts, providing sage-like sagacity with with wit and wisdom. From the question and answer portion of his presentation we learned that “when you buy local art you help the community” and that “through generosity we exist as human beings.” Kennedy also fielded question about his craft: “it was a calling;” and does he have a favorite quote he printed: “Always choose happy” . He concluded his presentation with comments on his work at the Minnesota Center for Books and Arts and his new press in Detroit, Michigan, The Detroit Printing Plant .
After the lecture, a room was opened to purchase prints. As I browsed the posters I saw quotes that highlighted civic responsibility, the value of reading and books, quotes by civil rights leaders, and quotes highlighting coffee. From them, one can humorously conclude that Kennedy is a reader-activist who stays up late printing, needing coffee to keep him cogent. I’m sure my thoughts are not too far off the truth. In a room full of people, Kennedy sat patiently as he signed the posters, offering more insight into his use of quotes and the printing process, proving that he is truly a perceptive printer.
The Santa Fe History Museum has a small exhibit of Kennedy’s prints on display, part of a series on Rosa Parks. The exhibit runs through June 2017 .
Photo captions: 1) Brian Nixon and Amos Paul Kennedy. 2) Always Choose Happy by Amos Paul Kennedy. 3) Amos Paul Kennedy signing posters. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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