In just five years, Kevin Bradley’s letterpress emporium the Church of Type has become a landmark destination for artisanal, slow culture Los Angeles. His Santa Monica shop has printed some 500,000 items, in editions from monoprints (his own art) to 200 (the minimum order) to as many as 10,000, from rock ‘n’ roll posters to wedding announcements. What makes this feat so impressive is that Church of Type is not only pretty much a one-man outfit, but it’s also 100 percent computer-free. “This is Gutenberg technology!” effuses Bradley, “not the soulless, cold black dot that is the pixel. Does the human hand really matter? Well, it had better, because I’ve invested my life in it. It’s old-school, but I’ve been trying to make it new for 30 years.”
Though he often did street fairs like the Abbot Kinney and Santa Monica festivals. He is, no pun intended, a tireless evangelist for this art form. In his persistent and impossibly disarming Southern accent, Bradley is relentlessly humble about his success and the impact he has had on the city’s makers-based landscape. “I’m just a hillbilly kid, and I survived this long, that’s a real success!” He jokes that he has “no idea” what kind of movement he sparked because he “never left the shop.” The Church of Type has been open to the public every day. “I’m a tour guide from 9 to 5,” he says, “and an artist 5 to midnight.” His personal work includes super large-scale like 10-foot pieces, taking advantage of what has been the biggest letterpress in L.A. at 10 x 4 feet, and creating literary works laid out in his fonts, which exist as both images and stories, which he calls “screenplays.”
Now at the end of February, Bradley will pack up his church — er, shop — and its 30 tons of equipment and inventory, and head home to Tennessee (not quite to his hometown, but close). Bradley doesn’t see it as the end, just one end among many in life, the kind that that clears the way for a fresh start. Like so many before him, he didn’t intend to even stay as long as he did. A year, maybe. That was in 2012. “I was on my own when I got here,” he recounts. “I didn’t advertise or anything, I just hung out my shingle and got to work. I was discovered here while I was still discovering the city.” He had known Annie Adjchavanich (who had been working with La Luz de Jesus and various indie-art outlets) from their Washington, D.C. days at the Corcoran, about 25 years ago. Through her, he met the late, great gallerist, publisher, and collector of Lowbrow art, Greg Escalante, along with his cohorts like Craig Stecyk and Paul Frank. “Those guys were amazing,” he remembers. “So welcoming. I love every single person I met here.”
But his lease is up March 1st, and he’s really leaving. If you’ve never been or if it’s been too long, this is your last chance to see what it’s all about and to pick up some art from the archives. He’ll be in the shop every day until he leaves. Though he’s too tired from all this packing up to throw himself a party, he says “If you come by before the end of February, we’ll have a going-away shot of whiskey together!”
3215 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica (10am–6pm, Monday–Saturday, 12–5pm, Sunday, through February 28.
Top Image: Church of Type Robot series | Courtesy of Church of Type