In a Digital World, There’s Something Radical About The Church of Type

Smack in the middle of a bustling stretch of Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, wedged between a framing shop and a patisserie, sits a house of worship unlike any other. It has no steeples or stained glass windows, no pews or crosses. The higher authority revered here? Pots of ink, rolls of fine French archival paper, and myriad letters in the form of tiny lead blocks, big metal plates, and intricate hand-carved wood fonts from hundreds of years ago. A couple of hulking vintage Vandercook printing presses—Cadillacs of the trade and prized possessions—also take refuge among the 30 tons of gear strewn about the place.

Welcome to the Church of Type, equal parts letterpress print operation, retail poster shop, art gallery, and fever dream-inspired carnival fun zone. But most of all, it celebrates the centuries old technique of printing à la Gutenberg, using handmade, hand-set lettering and rough-hewn, folksy imagery. The presiding minister of madness is one Kevin Bradley, a loquacious 53-year-old Tennessee artist prone to wearing a coonskin cap (“I was born in Greeneville,” he says proudly, “home of Davy Crockett!”) and blasting arcane Johnny Cash recordings throughout the shop.

The Church of Type is plastered floor to ceiling with posters, handbills, and signage—some for corporate clients such as MTV, Ralph Lauren’s Double RL, and Mattel Toys, while others are original art pieces by Bradley. There are concert posters for musicians both obscure (give it up for the Labiators) and renowned (Cash, of course, but also Hank Williams, the Ramones, Tammy Wynette, and Lucinda Williams), signs for BBQ joints, artwork for a Jack Daniels whiskey campaign, and album cover for a superlimited-edition KFC promotional vinyl album called The Nashville Colonel and His Fabulous Band. Masked Mexican wrestlers fight for space among the bins of prints, too. And then there are dozens of images of robots, Frankensteined together using letters from the type collection Bradley has amassed over the years.

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Chris Alexakisart