New York Types, A Letterpress Art Show
Letterpress is back in a big way. For the analog deprived, New York Types is the event to celebrate the art of conversation through Gutenberg’s gift. A New York Writes Itself letterpress exhibition, New York Types opens tomorrow at the Art Director’s Club gallery in NYC and runs through January 5th. The first of a new ongoing series of creative productions fueled by the people of New York, the event is a collaboration of Leo Burnett New York, ADC and a crew of dedicated artists. We took the time to talk with ADC’s Director of Development and letterpress artist Peter Kruty of Peter Kruty Editions about the event and the importance of the craft.
Brett Rollins Director of Development, Art Director’s Club of New York
The main tenet of the ADC is to “judge advertising art by the same stringent standards as fine art.” How does New York Types elevate New York Writes Itself to a whole new level? The Art Directors Club was founded 91 years ago to do just that, and since then our mission has expanded to serve all of the creative industries: advertising, design, illustration, photography, interactive. That’s why we feel the ADC’s partnership with New York Writes Itself makes so much sense! It’s all about the creative process, and how the kernel of a great idea can start with any New Yorker and develop into part of a full-blown multimedia experience. So, New York Types will be a very exciting piece of that puzzle: we hope the gallery exhibition will be tactile, social, fun and inspiring.
How important is the art of letterpress to the advertising profession?
Letterpress is definitely an important element of the creative fields, one that many people enjoy, but that doesn’t get the exposure of many other aspects of the industry; we’re thrilled to showcase it for that reason. Aesthetically, it feels like a throwback to an earlier, pre-digital era—so it’s interesting that we’re seeing a lot of young creatives, in our Young Guns award program for example, exploring it. It feels timely. Peter Kruty Letterpress Artist, Peter Kruty Editions
How did you go about selecting your part of the script?
When I looked to select scripts for our prints I choose those stories that I thought had very strong visual imagery. Since our studio is oriented toward artist’s fine print editions, we are committed to creating along with the artist’s with whom we collaborate, the strongest most arresting images we can. This often involves editioning hand-painted, collaged or in other ways ‘manipulated’ print techniques, resulting in what are often called variable editions.
How did you use the craft of letterpress to bring your selection to life? How do the pieces speak to the pulse of New York?
Something very interesting about this print suite was that we had to work within and react to the requirement that all of the prints be on the chosen bright commercial yellow stock. A primary technique we employ to bring visual grit and organic character to the prints we make, our in-house style if you will, is to print half-tone photographic imagery and shaded drawing originals over an acrylic painted background, either a flat of clear acrylic or a colored acrylic. This gives the photopolymer plastic plate half-tone imagery a chance to print super clean on textured stocks and renders all of amazing detail within the plate. The yellow commercial stock, however, we soon discovered could not be painted—it simply crinkled. We had to improvise other approaches such as dousing the image with solvent or printing over flats of white ink to get the clarity and grit. We got some great results with this, which is what is nifty about being pushed out of your comfort zone with materials and reacting to new materials to advance your printmaking.
We think this combination of grit and clarity is the perfect expression of the pulse of New York.
We dealt with some imagery as abstraction, allowing the viewer to draw whatever connections to the printed texts their minds alighted on. How does a text about an old disrobed street performer releasing ‘milk’ relate to a strange wooden sculpture abstractly printed in the likeness of a spine? That’s the fun of abstract linking. Some of the other prints were more literal in the relationship of text and image. That seems also very New York, sometimes obvious, sometimes obscure, just the way life and meaning go here in the big, sometimes shiny, sometimes ‘rotten’ apple.
We’ve recently seen a resurgence in appreciation for the craft over the past few years. Why do you think this is? Is it the hands-on experience, the allure of the unplugged, the meticulous time and effort?
The craft of letterpress is back strongly because the hands-on analog nature of letterpress is the perfect foil to the bright, but cold world of virtual computer life—glowing, but intangible as the electronic landscape has become. Letterpress is essentially ‘relief’ printing. Everything we do is printed from a raised surface. This makes it officially the oldest form of printmaking. Other kinds of printmaking had to be discovered, such as etching and lithography, both of which required advances in technology. Letterpress, however, goes back to the primordial printmakers, the folks who inked their hands with white pigment and left prints on the cave walls 50,000 years ago.
The seductive part though, and a big part of why letterpress is thriving now, is that we can begin on the computer, doing all the construction work for the image digitally from high res scans of hand drawn originals or objects and then send the digital rendering data over to the image setter, convert to film and then to raised plastic polymer plates and voila, ready to set in the press and start inking some organic, crazy-powerful, textured, analog stuff—the best of both worlds, the painted hand on the cave walls and the billions of little 0s and 1s of our modern life too!
A big shout out to the New York Types artists who believe in the craft and the NYWI mission: Swayspace, Center for the Book Arts, The KDU, Peter Kruty Editions and Tarhorse Press.