Interview conducted by Natalie Ayala (Pitzer).
Grendl Löfkvist is a Bay-area based printer and craftsperson. Löfkvist is Education Director at Letterform Archive, where she teaches type history and theory at the Archive’s yearlong postgraduate certificate program in type design, Type West. She also is an instructor at City College of San Francisco, and teaches calligraphy at the San Francisco Center for the Book. Grendl has ink in her veins: she was an offset press operator for 20 years, and she serves on the board of directors for the American Printing History Association’s Northern California chapter. Her interests include the study of printing as a subversive “Black Art” and she’s always on the lookout for bizarre or macabre print, type, and lettering lore (she is a bit of a goth). redstaragitprop.org clovenhoofpress.com
Considering that politics play a huge role in your art, why did you choose letterpress printing as your choice of medium? Especially when political mobilization often calls for the quick reproduction and distribution of images/text and the letterpress process, in my experience, can often take longer than anticipated.
I originally trained as an offset printer and took up letterpress as a hobby (a “Busman’s Holiday,” as it were!) When we closed our offset shop at the end of 2015, letterpress was the tool I had left. But the letterpress artwork I do these days doesn’t require a super fast turn around. And I keep a stock of prints on hand that I can bring to protests to distribute.
Could you explain your artistic process? Specifically when it comes to production, as some of your pieces look almost digitized (due to the use of saturated color) but are made with wood type. For example, your broadside prints which say, “Save the Earth! Kill Capitalism!” and “BERN Baby Bern!”
I almost always design letterpress pieces on press. Both those prints (and others I’ve done that aren’t on the website) were made using layers of color applied to the type with a brayer instead of with the inking rollers of the press. I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a letterpress print project and NOT changed something during the production process! That’s the thrill of designing on press. Of course, you’ve got to be flexible. Sometimes “mistakes” have led me to some really cool discoveries. And sometimes, they just end up in the recycle bin!
Could you describe your experience teaching type history and theory? Especially what you mean by, “the study of printing as a subversive ‘Black Art’?” (Link to TypeCon2020 profile where this is quoted from: https://www.typecon.com/speakers/grendl-lofkvist)
I’ve been an instructor at City College of San Francisco since 1999, where I’ve taught a variety of courses including Print Production for Graphic Designers, Letterpress Printing, Calligraphy, Bookbinding, Basic Typography, and Graphic Design History. All these courses have informed my experience as an instructor in type history and theory, which I currently teach at Type West/Letterform Archive. City College has actually been a wonderful place to teach, just in terms of the student body, which is diverse in many ways (socioeconomic, cultural, age range, gender, sexual preference, etc.). The questions and requests of this student body have prompted me to explore teachings in Graphic Design History that look outside of the traditional “Canon” which focuses on white men almost exclusively. I’m currently a member of a loose group of GDH instructors nationwide who are exploring alternatives to this Canon. In terms of printing as a subversive “Black Art,” one can look to the challenges to (state, religious, etc.) authority posed by the print production process when it first emerged. And that’s what printing was called at first, the Black Art, it was thought of as the devil’s work. (And as a longtime press operator, I can assure you that it’s true! ;>) One never knows what will happen during a print run, so many devils in the details that can go wrong on you…!) In 2008, I had the privilege of attending an exhibition in Puebla, México, on historical women printers whose contributions have been suppressed. It was a great exhibit, curated by Marina Garone, that opened in multiple locations in Puebla at once on International Women’s Day. This also impacted me greatly and prompted me to bring that hidden history into the classroom.
Having been an offset press operator for 20 years and both an educator and an artist, what have been the lessons and challenges of working with letterpress/type art? Especially with your experiences of working in collectivist print spaces such as Inkworks Press in Berkeley.
Letterpress is such a different beast! As a press operator at Inkworks Press, I focused on production, not design. I saw myself as a manufacturer, not as a “creative.” I got into letterpress as a hobby, and although it shares many of the basic elements of the offset process, this time all aspects of both design and production were on me. By the way, I don’t really consider myself an artist, in some ways I am “anti-art” in the Constructivist sense that I would prefer to use art as a weapon for social change, as opposed to seeing art as another capitalist commodity, for sale to the highest bidder, as entertainment for the ruling classes. That attitude hasn’t stopped me from making skull prints, though!
Considering the current pandemic, do you have any recommendations for continuing to make art with limited access to resources? How would one continue to create type art with no access to “traditional” materials such as ink, wood/metal type, presses, etc. Has the pandemic changed how you personally create art?
Even children in war zones and refugee camps make efforts at play. Creativity seems vital to our humanity even under challenging conditions and limited access to resources. Personally, I am fortunate to have several printing presses in my basement workshop, so the only way the pandemic has changed my work has been in shaping the content. But for others seeking to print, perhaps look to relief processes that have been around for thousands of years under a variety of conditions. Today, potato or eraser prints using stamp pads, relief carving onto linoleum blocks and printing using a wooden kitchen spoon, stencils, hand lettering, calligraphy, etc. are multiple ways to create letterforms without a press or fancy equipment.
Do you have any recommendations of goth artists/artwork? I saw on your website bios that you identify as a (bit) goth! Personally, I’m extremely into Punk and have been trying to find more artists that incorporate goth/punk aesthetics and concepts into their work!
I am a huge fan of medieval artwork and music (Hildegard Von Bingen, for instance, and I also like early music like the Cant de la Sibilla). I love artwork like the Ars Moriendi woodblock prints, Memento Mori, also Victorian-era funeral announcements and gravestone carvings. I also love medieval calligraphy. I will forever be in awe of the scribe(s) and illuminators who worked on the Metz Pontifical. That calligraphy is so perfect, it’s like a machine. As far as contemporary practitioners go, I recommend the calligraphy of Ward Dunham, Linnea Lundquist, Oriol Miró.
Gothic, expressive, powerful. I like the artwork of linoleum and resingrave artists like Barry Moser, his Frankenstein artwork is amazing. (I’m more of a metalhead than a punk, although I used to volunteer for Epicenter Zone back in the day. Metal artwork for the most part is pretty cheesy, but sometimes I like that, in a “guilty pleasures” kind of way! Like the Mercyful Fate album covers, for instance.) And every year, I do a postcard for Day of the Dead/Halloween.
That’s my personal Gothic indulgence. Some of these can be seen on my Cloven Hoof Press site.