Friday, January 23, 2009

"Proceed and Be Bold!" Letterpress Printer Amos Kennedy, Jr.

I had a chance to see the new movie Proceed and Be Bold! last night through the Ryder Film Series at Indiana University. The film is a documentary about "humble negro artist" Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., a letterpress printer who used to teach at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Once a computer systems analyst, Kennedy left that job in mid-life when he became fascinated with letterpress printing. Now he lives and works in Gordo, Alabama, where you can contact him (letters are preferred) about purchasing his work; he guarantees that "no two prints will be the same." His love of printing, subversive sense of humor, and artistic independence are evident in the documentary, which was made by Brown Finch Films, a Chicago-based filmmaking collaborative run by 3 young women: Laura Zinger, Michelle Kaffko, and Stacey Simcik.

There's a scene in the film where Kennedy is interrogated by campus police after mailing a postcard – one of his many provocative "nappygrams" concerning social justice issues – to the affirmative action office at IU, with the message "Affirmative action is a joke!" At the end of the interview, Kennedy says: "I think we've established what this is: this is ART. ART."

The film interviews a number of Kennedy's friends, collaborators, and family members. Some of my favorite comments are observations by Kennedy's parents, his son, and his friend Elena Bertozzi. The photo of the artist here comes from the website for Just Seeds, a Visual Resistance Artists' Cooperative.

As Kennedy puts it, "Now I just make stuff, that's all. And I tell people that want to do art that they should just make stuff."

Proceed and Be Bold! is a terrific film for focusing on artistic independence, innovation, and the revival of letterpress printing. It is also a testament to playful, insightful artistic collaboration. Click on the film's title to see a trailer; it's showing through the Ryder again tonight.

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