Although Aardvark Letterpress and Fine Art Editions is just twelve miles inland from Santa Monica, the journey can easily take over an hour to complete. The press is located just a few blocks away from Mc Arthur Park. An area of Los Angeles where dualities often collided, as gang members and police officers alike have commented violent acts silhouetted against the natural beauty of the area and the outlines of luxury condos just a few blocks further east. In this neighborhood and honestly in any other, Aardvark is a jewel, an example of the innovation and hard work behind a successful American dream as well as the quality and beauty of a handmade, hand printed item.
Before Aardvark was a press it was a typography company with an employee named Luis Ocon. An expert typographer and linotype operator who had emigrated from Mexico to pursue a better life, Luis jumped at the opportunity to purchase the company in 1978. With a great deal of foresight Luis decided within two years to change the focus of Aardvark to printing and purchased his first press. As the computer was radically altering the world and making hard type quickly become obsolete and antiquated, Luis was establishing Aardvark as the premier letterpress shop in the Los Angeles area and so ensured the longevity of his business.
Brooks Ocon, master pressman, designer and Luis’ son, emphasizes the quality and possibility of the letterpress process in both commercial and artistic practices, and his expertise is heightened by the shop’s extensive facilities including a linotype machine, two Ludlow typesetting machines along with their Chandler and Price and Heidelberg presses. This equipment combined with the expertise and knowledge of their staff reflects in how Aardvark creates letterpress work that fully exploits the physical qualities and dimensionality of the process.
As the company decided to focus a portion of their energies and resources to fine art publishing, they did so with the hopes of introducing these same qualities to the work of fine artists. Their first project a series of prints based on the 54 card deck of loteria began as a celebration of Aardvark’s 30 anniversary. But once the project was begun, the brothers realized they were doing something that was unique in its own rights and certainly within the spectrum of printmaking within LA.
The popular Mexican game of chance, so common place, so iconic serves as a perfect symbol for both the cross-cultural diversity of LA as well as for the collaborative process of printmaking as a whole. The press selected LA based artists and designers asking each to create a new interpretation of a selected card. Here is relief printmaker Dave Lefner’s classically nostalgic card number 23, El Inverso, and comic strip creator Sammy Harkham’s cool and refined card number 26 Domingo.
Dan McCleary’s card number 0 Le Calavera reflects his skill as a draftsman and Cristia Pedron’s number 38 El Tiroteo reflects on her abilities as a designer to a give form and poetry to something as unattractive as the reality of a drive-by-shooting. As the press is working on continuing and extending this project, they are making clear a process that could be seen as vintage is indeed as relevant as ever.