Stories From The Press
It was a treat to have Squeak Carnwath return to our studio this past February. She came in with a sense of comfort and confidence as if she were simply picking up where she had left off. Though Squeak is a self-described “painting chauvinist,” she is also a highly adept and creative printmaker. The revelry and material play that characterizes her paintings is also evident in her prints. Like several of her Bay Area peers (Chris Brown and Hung Liu for example), Squeak fully embraces the physicality of the intaglio process, with its drawing-like potential to continually add and subtract information. Her prints employ a wide variety of processes and means of mark-making. During this project, the plate-making involved hardground, softground, scraping, burnishing, sanding, sugar lift, aquatint and some playful chine-collé. Her heavily layered approach to building printed images yields an ink density and visual richness that parallels the sensuous, satin surfaces of her paintings.
|Pam Paulson proofing in the Paulson Bott Studio, 2011|
|Squeak Carnwath in the Paulson Bott Press Studio, 2011|
One of Squeak’s greatest strengths is her ability to share her inner emotional world in a way that is remarkably generous and relatable to others. She has consistently managed to touch on themes and issues that affect most people with a specificity that lends them significant weight and resonance. The work serves as a record of her fears, desires, musings and the ongoing self-knowledge she’s gained through the bittersweet solitude of the painting studio. Though her work has an overt stream-of-consciousness style, I was surprised by just how diaristic it really is.
One afternoon towards the end of the project Squeak said that she felt envious of some of her fellow artists who had additional activities and passions outside of their art studios, whether it was making music, playing sports, writing, or dancing. Who hasn’t wondered at sometime what their life might be like if they had made different choices, made different priorities, pursued other interests, and worked at different things. From this discussion she came up with the phrase she included in the print Light: “I wish I did something else (in addition to what I do) but I don’t.” This musing, however, wasn’t an expression of regret so much as an acknowledgement of the decades of focused dedication she’s given to painting.
Squeak was also preparing to undergo major foot surgery and was lamenting the nuisances of aging when she casually turned to me and informed me that she’d be purchasing a gun to give to me, so that I could shoot her like a lame horse when she became too frail or senile to live with the degree of dignity she desired. After a short silence she burst out laughing at my slack-jawed expression before adding, “But seriously, do it.” This mix of existential dread and humor spills over into the work in a mixture that is simultaneously serious and amusing.
These paradoxes within her work help foil one-dimensional readings of her art. The sweetness of her pastel palette and the child-like imagery frequently belie the gravity of her themes and ideas. The candelabra, while a symbol of creation and a source of illumination, also serves as a memento mori. It resembles some of her older motifs, such as the vinyl LP, in which there is an anticipated end. Yet her attitude towards fleeting beauty and our temporality is not as fatalistic as it may seem. In Not Known, she encourages the viewer to “thrive in the unknown and unknowable.” This simple statement nicely encapsulates what it means to be an artist; to live in a perpetual state of uncertainty, doubt, and near-limitless choice. Despite the black humor and occasional morbidity, there is an underlying optimism about our capacity to flourish in a world of constant unpredictability.
Paulson Bott Press interviewed by Jamie Alexander in SFAQ Magazine
Everything about working with Ross Bleckner is glamorous. Our new release of nine chromatically brilliant flowers and three mysterious, dark rondos serves as a perfect backdrop for the story of how Pam and I met Ross and convinced him to make prints with us in our first studio in Emeryville, California.
In 1998, Paulson Bott Press was just two years old. We entered the print publishing scene in 1996 with the release of four color etchings by Christopher Brown.
|Renee Bott hold the victory “V” over Pam Paulson’s head. Emeryville Studio 1997|
As huge admirers of Ross’s work, we decided to invite him to our studio. I found an address for him by sleuthing the Internet and wrote a letter introducing myself and asking if we could meet. I explained that Pam and I were going to be in New York in two weeks. The days passed and we never heard back from Ross. Time was running out. Katrina Traywick, our sales director at the time, was quick to point out that everyone in New York has their phone numbers listed (even famous people), and sure enough, I found his phone number in the white pages. Two days prior to our departure date, I called him.
|Katrina Traywick at the computer while Renee works with Radcliffe Bailey, 1997|
Ross had no idea who I was, since he had not received our letter. I quickly explained. He was very sweet and friendly. He told me that we could meet at his opening atLehmann Maupin that coming weekend in SOHO.
On the plane to New York, Pam and I were chatting excitedly about our upcoming adventures when I flipped open Vanity Fair to a page with a photo of Ross. There he was, beautifully dressed in a tuxedo, drinking a martini at a fundraiser. I thought, “He is so glam. How can we possibly approach him?”
I remember how we carefully planned our arrival at the gallery for 4:30 pm. We were a few minutes early and found Ross preparing for the reception. I introduced myself and he shook my hand. Suddenly there was a video camera in my face and my whole introduction to Ross was being recorded for history’s sake! I’m sure I was underdressed for the occasion. I do know that I was able to secure a meeting with him at his White Street Studio for the next day. Mission accomplished.
That opening was perhaps one of the most memorable nights I had in SOHO as it used to be. Having worked at Crown Point Press for several years, we had the opportunity to meet and work with many of the art stars in attendance that evening: David True, Alex Katz, Eric Fischl, Gary Stephen, and Bryan Hunt, to name a few. Absolute Vodka was sponsoring the event, and several tables were set up around the gallery with fanciful vodka creations.
The next day at the White Street Studio, Ross was astute and quick to quiz us on our mission. Why make prints? Why with you? When Pam and I left, we were trying to weigh the outcome of the conversation.
It took about seven months to convince Ross to make the time to visit us at our Emeryville studio in 1999. Every time I called, he never said no. So I kept calling.
Ross Bleckner, Leader Sequence, 2002, Color Aquatint Etching,Published by Paulson Bott Press
The first time we worked together, Ross completed ten stellar prints. He has come back three times over the last twelve years and has completed fifty editions with us. Each time he works with us, he sweeps us away with his New York energy and glamor.
|Renee enjoying the glamor!|
Berkeley is considered by many to be a bastion of the Slow Food movement. Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and other local stars have challenged our need for speed. At Paulson Bott Press, we can relate. Making etchings is a methodical endeavor. The process demands tenacity. We often sow the seeds for projects years in advance. Once the artist is in the studio, we carefully tend the task of making the prints. Sometimes the idea emerges right away and we refine, and other times it’s more trial and error. It’s Slow Art.
Our experience with the artist Kerry James Marshall is a case in point. When I first heard him speak, I was amazed. ( If you ever get a chance to hear him, do!) Renee and I had just begun to publish prints when we flew down to San Diego in 1997 to meet Kerry and invite him to work with us. I remember my enthusiasm for his painting and for the visionary path he intended to carve through art history. I also recall my dismay when he didn’t immediately agree to come to our studio that fall. We kept at it.
Last year, 13 years after that initial invitation, while the dust was still settling in our new shop, Kerry finally came to Paulson Bott Press. Kerry was working on the installation of two murals, “Visible Means of Support: Monticello” and “Visible Means of Support: Mount Vernon ” in the atrium of SFMOMA, and we had the chance to collaborate.
We began with a very ambitious large image. As a young man, Kerry had tried etching. He had in mind a myriad of intaglio techniques that he would use to create the print. We started with a softground drawing of the basic image, then added successive plates (with aquatints, spitbites, sugarlift, and drypoint) to flesh out the color, value, and density. “Vignette (Wishing Well)” relies on a smorgasbord of techniques, including chine collé and hand painting, and it is a testament to patience. The print comprises six plates made over a two-week period.
During the first week, we were working towards a brightly colored image. Kerry introduced the idea of shaped plates to reinforce the structural components in the print. We all had fun wielding the metal nippers to cut the pieces of copper that were needed. While we were proofing, the color direction changed, and some plates were abandoned.
The multiple tinted greys required the plates to be inked “a la poupée” (several different colors inked on each individual plate). Four printers work 2.5 hours to ink and print a single print, and it takes an additional 1.5 hours to print hearts, chine collé them, and hand paint the prints before they are ready to be signed.
A single plate can go into the acid numerous times before reaching a final state. This is true of each plate making up the larger print as well as the single plate prints. “Untitled Woman” was rolled with hardground drawn on and etched nine times before we pulled the OKTP.
Slow Art is an apt description of what goes on at the press. Even when we are running around in a frenzy, we cannot go faster than the process’s inherent physicality, we cannot rush the steps and stages and the resonance of the image and our understanding of what the artist wants. It took awhile for this project to take root, and once it began to grow, it flourished. I hope you will be able to take a moment and spend some time with Kerry James Marshall’s exceptional work.