When two people start a business they don’t often think about the historic perspective. That would seem a little grand. So it’s counter intuitive that two women as modest as Pam Paulson and Renee Bott would think about their work in this perspective from the outset. However, they both knew that the work they would produce at their press, the collaboration between master printers and renowned artists would be of interest to curators, collectors, historians, and artists at some point in the future.
In this interview we asked founders Pam and Renee and Gallery Director Rhea Fontaine’s perspective on the press at fifteen.
Q: Now that you have been in existence for fifteen years, there must be a substantial archive.
That’s true. We consider every print that we rip up or keep to be a record of what we’re doing. Along with that, we document the projects. We have a time capsule that plots our history. We started that from the very first day. We understood that if we created something, we wanted it to have a legacy as we move forward.
Q: How does the idea of the archive, with all of its evidence and documentation, influence your process?
Perhaps it helps us to be even more careful about whom we choose to work with. When there is catalog raisonné of the work we want to be able to look back and see a strong vision.
Q: How have the projects changed over the last few years? How has your thinking changed?
When we consider whom to invite now, we start by asking ourselves the question, where does this artist fit into our overall program as it moves forward?
We are interested in a broad platform with a mix of artists. We don’t want to be predictable, and we are very focused on artists who add to the conversation in the realm of the work that they are doing, not just what we are doing.
It’s very difficult to invite someone to come and spend two weeks with us and then work hard, long hours every day if it’s someone whose work you’re not totally excited about.
Q: Let’s talk more about the process in the studio. When an artist comes here, one of you is assigned to them?
Renee and I take turns being in charge of a project.
There is always a master printer in charge to streamline decision-making and communication. When you are building a print, it is like building a house. You don’t want a carpenter doing plumbing before it’s ready.
It’s like one chef in the kitchen and a bunch of sous chefs. Things get delegated throughout the project. I may do the color; Renee’s making the decisions about the plate-making. You always find the strongest person or the person that’s right for the job.
For example, a younger printer might end up working in the acid room, allowing the master printer to be with the artist. Critical communication happens right after you’ve pulled a print. Decisions are made: What are we going to do next? How are we going to do it? Especially with an artist who has never made prints before, it’s a teaching process. So you want to introduce concepts and ideas in a way that they can see how it’s going to help them get to where they want to go.
It’s a really tough thing, because we’re trying to keep the artist busy and engaged, but there’s a lot of technical work to be done. So the printers are really juggling. It demands a lot of energy.
Q: I want to know more about the collaboration with the artist.
Often we visit their studio and discuss what ideas they have.
When they come here, we ask them what size print they’d like to make and narrow it down to a few images or ideas. Then we cut a piece of copper and stick it in front of them and say, go at it, one-way, or the other.
Most artists have done some thinking before they come here. It’s not like they walk in with a completely blank slate, because that’s not usually comfortable for them.
Q: But that idea could utterly change?
And sometimes their ideas are so fixed, it takes a few days to work through to something that works with the etching process.
There is a moment when they’re actually looking at the proof you pulled, rather than the idea that’s in their head. And they start responding, and that’s when the process really starts moving.
When Pam and I go to their studio and see what’s up on their wall and start talking to them about it, that’s when a lot of things start to click. It’s pretty rare that people come in and we have no idea what they’re going to do. And yet, in this last project with Tauba Auerbach, she had a bunch of ideas that we had not discussed. Every day it was a different surprise.
We went through so many different ideas, and she’d test one for a day or two or occasionally three to see if we could get the results that were satisfying to her.
Q: Other surprises?
Then there was also Radcliffe Bailey. We showed him sugarlift, and he took off his shoes. He stuck his foot in the sugarlift and walked across the print. We had never seen someone do that before. We were washing his feet trying to get the ink off—just like Jesus.
Chris Johanson came in and said, “I want to make the ugliest print I can make.” He did all these hard zigzaggy marks on five or six plates. Then when we put them all together, it was kind of a beautiful thing.
Q: What about the future?
It is about staying true to our instincts.
We’ve learned to rely on good relationships.
And that means making time to communicate with people, all kinds of people.
There are two sides, the commerce and the artists. I feel very strongly about keeping the artists in your heart. We would not be here without them. You have to try and be humble