Connect with us

Lifestyle

Inside L.A.'s oldest letterpress printer beloved by celebs, from Oprah to Jon Hamm

Published

on

Inside L.A.'s oldest letterpress printer beloved by celebs, from Oprah to Jon Hamm

Surviving in an obsolete industry as long as Aardvark Letterpress has requires fundamental elements of entrepreneurship. Skill, dedication, creativity and professionalism are essential. General manager and co-owner Cary Ocon returns to another theme that’s kept what’s now the city’s oldest letterpress print shop running since 1968.

“Dumb luck,” he says.

Brothers Brooks and Cary Ocon on the floor of Aardvark Letterpress.

A test negative taped to the window of Aardvark's office.

A test negative taped to the window of Aardvark’s office.

Advertisement

The lack of pretense and polish here belies the pedigree of much of Aardvark’s client base. Entertainment, fashion, art and other creative industries converge at the unlikely corner of 7th and Carondelet streets overlooking the southwest edge of MacArthur Park. Both basic and technically complex, making letterpress goods is a process that involves the physical act of pressing inked plates onto paper using mechanical presses in a manner that literally leaves a deeper impression.

A look through samples of artful work imprinted with boldfaced names and known entities from Apple to Rihanna’s Fenty Corp. to Valentino to Billie Eilish reveals the many layers of exceptionalism at work that inspire trusting partnerships. When actor and producer Jamie Lee Curtis established her production company Comet Pictures in 2019, “Aardvark Letterpress helped me start off with a strong logo and design,” she shares via text message. “I’m grateful for their expertise and guidance.”

In addition to relying on Aardvark to help shape their professional image and branding, people come here for a richly tactile experience. Personally printed matter made with this level of care has a way of inspiring connection and celebration.

“Cary and the team at Aardvark represent that sadly disappearing sector of tradecraft in the current culture,” actor Jon Hamm says via email. “Singularly, almost maniacally, devoted to one thing, they practice an attention to detail that is as precise and exacting as it is gorgeous in its finished quality.”

“We were typographers before we were printers,” Cary says, pointing to the hulking Intertype brand typography machine dating from the early 20th century that stands in one of the shop windows. With its complex movements that cast lead into a mold to form letters, leaving piles of shavings that get repurposed, it’s the original piece of equipment Cary’s father, Luis Ocon, obtained when he bought Aardvark Typographers 56 years ago in its previous location on Grand View Avenue.

Advertisement

The atmosphere is earnest and soulful, imbued with the makings of a one-act play setting and populated with a cast of characters. Gently sarcastic Cary handles overall management duties, while technically minded Brooks Ocon is the hands-on printing expert, alongside laser-focused master printer Bill Berkuta. Derek Pettet, a friend of Cary’s since the fourth grade, adds to the familiar dynamic.

Brooks Ocon aligns a block for printing.

Brooks Ocon aligns a block for printing.

Master Printer Bill Berkuta prints an order for a customer.

Master Printer Bill Berkuta prints an order for a customer.

Advertisement

Another moment of good timing came in 1988 when Brooks went to run an errand at H.G. Daniels art supply store on 6th Street. He couldn’t find what he was looking for, so he was directed to McManus & Morgan Fine Art Paper nearby. Brooks noticed a “for lease” sign in an adjacent storefront inside the detailed 1924 Spanish Colonial Revival-style Westlake Square Building designed by architect Everett H. Merrill. It struck him as an ideal place for Aardvark to put down new roots, and his father agreed.

“This was the original art district,” Cary notes, referencing the erstwhile concentration of art schools in the area. Otis Art Institute (later renamed Otis College of Art and Design), the ArtCenter School (ArtCenter College of Design) and Chouinard Art Institute, which was the predecessor of CalArts, were clustered within blocks of each other before relocating to their respective campuses. Multiple art supply stores catered to the student population.

The initial period of Aardvark Letterpress becoming a studio whose services are prized among glitterati clientele like Oprah Winfrey and art galleries and fashion houses, however, was not so smooth.

Print of deceased founder Luis Ocon at Aardvark's entrance.

A print of founder Luis Ocon at Aardvark’s entrance.

A view of Aardvark from South Carondelet Street.

A view of Aardvark from South Carondelet Street.

Advertisement

A self-taught newspaper Linotype operator who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico City, Luis Ocon’s purchase of Aardvark Typographers from his former boss Ken Matson coincided with the early adoption of computerized typesetting. “The business just started to nosedive because no one’s doing metal type anymore,” Cary explains. A customer suggested they learn to print in order to adapt to the changing times. “We got our first press and stumbled our way through letterpress printing,” Cary recalls.

While Cary was earning degrees at UC Berkeley and the University of Minnesota and then embarked on what would be an unsatisfying law career, Brooks and Luis were “struggling” to keep Aardvark afloat. Patriarch Luis, who passed away last year at the age of 86, was their stepfather who raised them as his own after meeting their mother, Helen, when Luis and Helen worked at the Holland House Cafeteria in what was Britts Department Store across the street from the Original Farmers Market. (The Ocon brothers also have two sisters and a half-sister.)

Decades before exclusive event planners trusted Aardvark Letterpress to create exquisite wedding invitations and noted artists such as Shepard Fairey partnered with the team on limited edition letterpress works, the business was hyper-local. Mariachi musicians would walk in on a Monday morning needing a fresh supply of business cards after a busy weekend promoting their talents.

Advertisement

Otis Art Institute in its original Westlake location accounted for the occasional job, and Gary Wolin, who still owns the century-old McManus & Morgan, referred customers who needed to print on the specialized papers he sold. The simpatico, closely connected businesses remain neighbors after Wolin downsized within the same building. (Newer tenants in the recently renovated property include taste-making firm Commune Design and Hannah Hoffman gallery.)

“We were a secret among graphic designers,” says Cary, who joined the business full time in 1998. Otis alumni would remember the old school print shop down the street, where the 1920s stencil-painted ceilings, multiple Heidelberg, Germany-made production presses, sturdy wooden drawers full of brass type in hundreds of fonts and other tools still serve as a portal to a pre-digital era.

One of Aardvark's six Heidelberg presses, vintage printing machines that apply designs directly to paper.

One of Aardvark’s six Heidelberg presses, vintage printing machines that apply designs directly to paper.

Because cultural tastes and trends have a way of being cyclical, toughing it out eventually paid off. Cary points to Martha Stewart’s championing of letterpress stationery as part of the reason why a revival came around in the early aughts. Aardvark was ready to meet new demand. “Again, it was dumb luck, because we had all the ability to set type.”

In this analog environment computers are used to manage workflow, and a processor upstairs transfers digital design files to make polymer plates used for most jobs. (Aardvark turns to A&G Engraving in Vernon to fabricate photoengraver metal plates for select projects and fine art prints.) This team’s expertise remains unrivaled in L.A. To mix inks, for instance, Berkuta refers to the color recipes on his well-worn Pantone fan deck and then relies on his eye and experience. “I’m weighing it in my head,” he says about getting the ratios right.

Advertisement

“I have collaborated with the team at the Aardvark studio adjusting plate pressure, ink colors and translucency to achieve sublime effects that no other medium can deliver,” artist Fairey states via email.

A linotype detail.

A linotype detail.

A Marilyn Monroe print on foil.

A Marilyn Monroe print on foil.

Advertisement

“I consider the invitations, menus and other objects they provided for our wedding to be works of art. Turns out 100 years of experience is worth something!” Hamm adds.

Despite the accolades, Cary is upfront about the challenges of sustaining this artisan enterprise. “To even print a simple business card, it’s much more labor intensive, so we can’t do it for 50 bucks,” he explains. To keep evolving, he’s preparing to launch Aardvark Printworks, a collection of letterpress art featuring imagery such as artists’ renderings of L.A. landmarks.

“I didn’t appreciate what we were doing,” Cary reflects about his earlier relationship to Aardvark Letterpress’ niche trade. “I see how it does move people.” Even if the family has yet to devise a clear succession plan for the future, the Ocons are proud of their legacy. “It’s something special. We’re thankful we can keep going,” Cary says.

Their impact reaches beyond Los Angeles. “I value a family business that keeps the craft of letterpress, an important printmaking tradition, alive and accessible to L.A. artists and businesses,” Fairey echoes.

Advertisement

Lifestyle

Françoise Hardy, renowned French singer-songwriter, has died at 80

Published

on

Françoise Hardy, renowned French singer-songwriter, has died at 80

The French singer and actress Francoise Hardy wearing a fur coat in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. Milan, 1960s (Photo by Mondadori via Getty Images)

Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori via Getty Images/Mondadori Portfolio Editorial


hide caption

toggle caption

Advertisement

Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori via Getty Images/Mondadori Portfolio Editorial

Françoise Hardy, a renowned French singer-songwriter, actress and model, has died at age 80, according to reports. Over her career, she released more than 30 studio albums and appeared in over a dozen films — and enchanted the likes of Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Bob Dylan, who wrote a poem for her that appeared in the sleeve notes of his 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan.

“Maman est partie,” her son Thomas Dutronc wrote on Facebook Tuesday, which translates to “mom is gone.” He shared a photo of her holding him while he was a baby.

Advertisement

While the exact cause of her death was not disclosed, Hardy had battled lymphatic cancer since 2004, and also had laryngeal cancer, according to Variety. In an interview with the French magazine Femme Actuelle in June 2021, she shared that she had been diagnosed with a tumor in her ear, and that her health had become so poor that it took her more than five hours a day to prepare food that she could swallow. In that interview, she also argued for the legalization of assisted suicide in France. The same month, she gave an interview by email to The Guardian because speaking had become so difficult.

The French Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, wrote a personal tribute on social media Wednesday: “French icon, singular voice with a fierce tranquility, Françoise Hardy rocked generations of French people, for whom she will remain anchored in life’s moments,” he wrote. “For me, she is my entire childhood. “Message personnel” [Personal Message], listened to on repeat by my mother in the car. Or “Puisque vouz partez en voyage” [When You Leave on a Trip], which I sang with my sisters: they were Hardy and I [singer Jacques] Dutronc.”

Hardy was born in 1944 in Paris, during an air raid in the Nazi-occupied city, and was raised there by her single mother. Hardy received her first guitar at age 16 as a present from her largely absent father, and immediately began scribbling down songs.

Hardy came to fame when she was still just a teenager; she became France’s It Girl in 1962 at age 18, when she released a song she had written called “Tous les garçons et les filles” [All the Boys and Girls]. Nearly instantaneously, she became one of the most popular figures among France’s so-called “yé-yé” generation – “yé-yé” like the “yeah, yeah,” choruses of anglophone acts such as The Beatles.

Advertisement

The melancholic lyrics of “Tous les garçons et les filles” belied Hardy’s immense appeal. “All the boys and girls my age walk along the street two by two,” she sang mournfully, her blue eyes flickering out from beneath her dark bangs. “But I go alone along the streets, my soul in pain … because nobody loves me.”


Françoise Hardy “Tous les garçons et les filles” | Archive INA
YouTube

Unlike other yé-yé singers, Hardy built a lasting musical career. In distinct contrast to the sunny tunes performed by many of her peers, her songs often kept a pensive edge. She recorded in English, Italian and German as well as French, and employed a mix of her own songs as well as those written by other songwriters.

A fashion icon, she became omnipresent on French magazine covers, and was photographed by the likes of William Klein and Richard Avedon for Vogue and other publications. Bob Dylan refused to go onstage during his first concert in Paris in 1966, until he was sure that she was in the house.

Advertisement

She also appeared in films including Château en Suède (1963), What’s New Pussycat? (1965) and Grand Prix (1966). Later in life, Hardy began writing books, ranging from titles on astrology to fiction. Her autobiography, Le désespoir des singes…et autres bagatelles [The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles], was first published in 2008. In 2012, she published her first novel and an album that shared the same title, L’amour fou [Crazy Love].

In 1967, she began a relationship with fellow singer Jacques Dutronc; their son, Thomas, was born in 1973. The couple married in 1981 and separated seven years later, though they remained legally married until Hardy’s death.

Hardy told All Things Considered in 2018, before her final health decline, that she was still excited to make new music. “I cannot resist to the temptation of a beautiful melody,” she said. “It’s one of the things which make me really very happy. And if a musician offers me a beautiful melody, I cannot resist.”

Continue Reading

Lifestyle

North Texas pastor gets 35 years for stealing $800,000 in church properties

Published

on

North Texas pastor gets 35 years for stealing $800,000 in church properties
A North Texas pastor is on his way to prison after stealing real-estate from three churches in a property deed scheme. Dallas County prosecutors on Monday announced that Whitney Foster, a pastor leading True Foundation Non-Denominational Church, was sentenced last month to serve 35 years in prison for the charge of stealing more than $300,000 in property. Foster, 56, who was previously convicted of identify theft and arson, had been leading the…
Continue Reading

Lifestyle

'Horror Movie' questions the motivation behind evil acts

Published

on

'Horror Movie' questions the motivation behind evil acts

William Morrow


hide caption

toggle caption

Advertisement

William Morrow

Paul Tremblay’s Horror Movie is a peculiar horror novel that takes a refreshing look at the haunted film subgenre, while also eliminating the line between novels and movie scripts.

Dark, surprisingly violent, and incredibly multilayered, this narrative is a superb addition to Tremblay’s already impressive oeuvre that shows he can deliver the elements fans love from him — while also constantly pushing the envelope and exploring new ways to tell stories.

In June of 1993, a small group of young people got together and spent a month making a bizarre horror movie titled Horror Movie. With one camera, a skeleton crew, a script that broke a lot of rules, and almost no budget, they managed to make their film after a few setbacks and plenty of blood and accidents. While the film was never released, three scenes and a few stills were made available online, and they became the stuff of legend over the years, collecting a cult following and sparking a frenzy of speculation, online debate, and conspiracy theories.

Advertisement

Now, 30 years after the original, unreleased film was made and after all the drama —psychological and emotional as well as legal — that ensued, Hollywood wants to make a big budget version and release it. The man who played “The Thin Kid,” perhaps the original film’s most iconic and mysterious character, is the only surviving cast member, and they want him to reprise his role. He still has the mask he used in the movie, and also the scars the filming process left behind. He remembers the strange things that happened on the set, the brutality that quickly became normalized while they shot dark scenes, and the chaos and destruction the film brought to all of them. Still, he agrees to help with the reboot. As things move forward and he deals with directors and movie people, the past comes back to haunt him — but “The Thin Kid” pushes forward, as always.

Reading a Tremblay novel is entering a universe in which confusion and ambiguity —”My answer was not no. I didn’t say the word ‘yes’” — reign supreme. Horror Movie is no different. In fact, this might be Tremblay’s most Tremblay novel to date. For starters, the author once again eschews the traditional novel format, this time in favor of a mix of novel and screenplay in which one bleeds into the other frequently, switching chapters and effortlessly taking readers from past to present and back again. Also, the screenplay itself is unique in format and makes the reader part of what’s happening, constantly shattering the fourth wall an acknowledging that the events are communal, that we are there, witnessing what the characters are witnessing and feeling the same sense of dread and anticipation that they feel.

While the structure of this novel is unique, the narrative itself is very easy to follow — until it’s not. The story is there, but with many purposeful holes. We know bad things happened while the movie was being filmed — accidents, injuries, extreme violence that occurred with consent — and that the whole thing ended up in court, but we don’t know how or why. And the author holds those secrets until the very end, which, as with any other Tremblay novel, holds a few surprise twists.

Most importantly, this is a narrative that questions the motivation behind evil acts. During the filming, The Thin Kid is horribly tortured: The kids who keep him hostage throw things at him, put out cigarettes on his body, and cut off part of his pinky finger. Some of that happens for real, partly to make it look convincing on screen and partly for reasons that aren’t too clear. There are several unsettling moments in this novel, and at the core of each of them are people acting horribly just because they can. Tremblay’s work has often interrogated the nature of horror and bad behavior, but never as clearly and he does here.

While Horror Movie is the kind of creepy narrative that can be enjoyed without much thinking, it’s also a multilayered novel that almost demands intellectual engagement. Besides the way the author studies awful behavior, the story also explores the unreliable nature of memory. The Thin Kid, now the adult who narrates the novel, is self-deprecating and unreliable. He remembers things a certain way, but knows that his memories might not be accurate: “We laughed. I think we laughed, or I choose to remember we laughed. I think we’re in more control of what we remember or what we don’t remember than we assume.” This purposeful lack of certainty is designed to keep readers wondering, and it succeeds at that.

Advertisement

Horror Movie is strange and unsettling in the best way possible. This is a novel that’s also a screenplay, but the story all blends together perfectly. Tremblay’s unique voice and chameleonic style have made him one of the leading voices in speculative fiction, and this is one of his best novels so far.

Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on X, formerly Twitter, at @Gabino_Iglesias.

Continue Reading

Trending