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Rising Sun: A Transformative Journey in Art and Democracy

Exploring Art and Democracy Rising Sun Book GDLOFT

At Kirkwood Printing, we're always inspired by the power of art and how it can provoke thought, challenge perspectives, and expand our own lived experiences. So, were honored to produce the Rising Sun Book, using Smyth Sewn with PUR glue, this captivating project by GDLOFT in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP), we couldn't wait to share the news.

A Transformative Exhibition

In this remarkable venture, two historic institutions, the African American Museum in Philadelphia and PAFA, come together to present "Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America." This multi-venue exhibition showcases new works by 20 celebrated artists, each responding to a critical question: "Is the sun rising or setting on the experiment of American democracy?"

A Timely Exploration

The artwork featured in Rising Sun delves deep into themes of equality, free speech, and the fundamental tenets of democracy. At a time when perspectives across the United States are markedly diverse, this exhibition invites us to engage with art that encourages self-reflection, challenges preconceptions, and broadens our collective understanding.

The Visionaries Behind GDLOFT

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Allan Espiritu, Founder & Creative Director and Kevin Kernan, the Principal at GDLOFT.  Kevin is a true multi-talent who wears many hats in the world of design. His partner, Allan affectionately refers to Kevin as the "business guy" of the dynamic duo. With a degree from Rutgers University, Kevin brings not only creative vision but also a strong foundation in the business side of design to the GDLOFT team. Allan also wears the hats of a tenured graphic design professor and department head in the Fine Arts department at Rutgers, Camden, where he once had Kevin as his student back in 2002. Their story is a testament to recognizing talent, as Allan speaks fondly about how he knew Kevin possessed exceptional business acumen right from the start. This intuition led to their incredible partnership that has thrived over the last two decades.  During our conversation, curiosity led us to inquire about the intriguing name "GDLOFT" and its origins.

(Left) Allan Espiritu, Professor at Rutgers University, Founder and Creative Director at GDLOFT

(Right) Kevin Kernan, Principal, Creative Director

Allan chuckled warmly and shared a bit of the backstory, which indeed has a touch of humor. He confessed that "GDLOFT" was the password for the Yale University server at the School of Arts during his time as a graduate student. His choice of this unique moniker was with a twinkle in his eye, as he always believed it might bring a smile to the faces of his professors at Yale University.

While the name may have been rooted in a touch of playfulness, GDLOFT has since become synonymous with creative excellence and thoughtful design. It's a reminder that sometimes, even in the most unexpected places, inspiration and innovation can emerge. Allan's choice of the name is a testament to his creative spirit and his penchant for finding unique perspectives in the world of design.

Behind every great design agency, there's often an interesting story. GDLOFT's journey from a Yale University server password to an esteemed design firm reflects the power of imagination and how a dash of humor can leave a lasting impression.


GDLOFT specializes in branding, strategy and design, and has a notable presence in non-profit and higher education design. They have a remarkable track record of producing outstanding books, and the "Rising Sun Book" only adds to their impressive portfolio.

A Complex Project with Two Museums

The "Rising Sun Book" project was initiated by Judith Tannenbaum, the Curator at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. As a long-time client, she presented GDLOFT with a complex challenge: creating a stunning book for a gallery show involving two separate museums. The timeline for this project was incredibly accelerated, spanning less than four months from inception to completion.

One of GDLOFT's strengths lies in their communication with their clients, focusing on conceptual, budgetary, and practical aspects of every project. They emphasize the importance of asking "why," ensuring that design choices have a purpose and meaning. Allan & Kevin’s creative vision for the "Rising Sun Book" is both subtle and deeply thought-provoking. The blind emboss on the cover, with the SUN sometimes legible and sometimes not, serves as a metaphor for how the sun, like democracy, affects everything and changes based on where you stand.

A Profound Collaboration

The "Rising Sun Book" is not just a book; it's a work of art, representing the power of collaboration between two esteemed institutions, talented artists, and visionary designers at GDLOFT. The result is a thought-provoking piece that reflects the complexities and nuances of the American democratic experiment.

The list of artists contributing to this endeavor is impressive and adds to the richness of the project. It includes Shiva Ahmadi, John Akomfrah CBE, La Vaughn Belle, Tiffany Chung, Lenka Clayton, Petah Coyne, Martha Jackson Jarvis, Demetrius Oliver, Eamon Ore-Giron, Alison Saar, Dread Scott, Rose B. Simpson, Sheida Soleimani, Renée Stout, Mark Thomas Gibson, Dyani White Hawk, Hank Willis Thomas, Deborah Willis, Wilmer Wilson IV, and Saya Woolfalk.

We applaud GDLOFT for their exceptional work in bringing the "Rising Sun Book" to life and for their commitment to creating art that challenges and inspires. This project is not just a book; it's a profound reflection of our times and a reminder of the transformative power of collaboration and creative vision. If you find yourself in the Philadelphia area, be sure to explore the "Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America" exhibition—it's an opportunity to immerse yourself in art that stimulates reflection and encourages dialogue.

The Rising Sun Book, designed by GDLOFT, is a testament to the creative collaboration between institutions, artists, editors, and designers. It serves as a visual and intellectual gateway into this thought-provoking exploration of American democracy.

We commend GDLOFT for their role in bringing this project to life, and we eagerly anticipate the impact Rising Sun will have on all who engage with it. If you're in the Philadelphia area, make sure to visit this extraordinary exhibition, it is open through December 31, 2023. It's a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in art that challenges and inspires, as well as to reflect on the profound question: Is the sun rising or setting on the experiment of American democracy?


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