Stories From The Press

Gary Simmons: An Account of Time

By Renee Bott
Bonham Marquee 2012 and Chandelier Spin 2012

Some ideas take years to cultivate. Printers need a patient side.
In 1997 Paulson Bott Press was a year old.  We had several projects underway and were enjoying the exhilaration of starting a new business and achieving some success. In November of that year, Pam and I left our first studio in Emeryville for our second trip to New York to visit some artists.  Gary Simmons was the first person on our list; we had arranged to meet in his studio on a cold November morning.

Gary’s studio was located on one of the many floors of a vast studio building in Chelsea. At that time he had an exhibition up at Metro Pictures. He said the next few years were extremely busy for him, but he would consider our invitation to come to the east bay and make prints.

In the years that followed, I was fortunate to see several of Gary’s exhibitions and installations. I always appreciate it when I experience a transcendent art moment. By this, I mean a moment when I connect to the work in a way that makes me want to remember what I saw, to remember how I felt when I stood in front of that piece. Gary’s installation at the Contemporary Museum of Art in San Diego in 1997 was a moment like that.

Directly across from the main entrance to the museum, I could see his work on the far gallery wall. I didn’t hesitate; the force of his work pulled me in. I paused before his installation Gazebo.  It was a breathtaking, larger than life drawing of a gazebo on a dark charcoal wall with Gary’s signature “erasure” of the chalk drawn structure.  It was like a wild wind had encircled the porch. Or perhaps it was a fading memory. Rife with historical references the work conjured southern mansions and formal tea along with echoes of the long civil rights battles still being waged today.

Gary Simmons: Gazebo, 1997

Years later, in the fall of 2010, I picked up Gary from the Anthony Meiers Gallery in San Francisco. He and his assistant folded themselves into my Mini Cooper and we headed over to our studio in Berkeley for lunch and a tour of the press. He was serious about our invitation; it just took him a while to get around to accepting it.

Starlite Theatre 2012

Gary was immediately at ease in the studio, experimenting with everything available to try out on a copper plate.  With his presence the studio instantly had a different energy, the printers curious and watchful, eager to engage with this thoughtful and talkative artist.  It is a great feeling to be involved in the moment of an artist’s creation. Discoveries are being made, mistakes are happening. The trial and error of working with a new medium gives way to something new and magical. 

In November of 2010 Pam and I once again climbed the stairs to his New York studio.  We were in town to see the Armory Fair. By that Friday afternoon, we had already seen a whole lot of art and our feet were tired. The studio was pristine.  The walls were carefully arranged with his latest work, completed and ready to ship to Simon Lee in London for his opening there.  After the pandemonium of the art fair, Gary’s quiet studio was uplifting, like walking in to a cool cathedral on a hot summer day in Rome.  Pam and I sat down and admired his ghost ships and deck chairs. This was, hands down, the most exciting art we had seen in New York that week.

Gary worked at Paulson Bott Press for a week in the fall of 2011 and completed three prints. He came back for a few more days in January 2012 and completed the project, making three more images.  The first three prints reference Kubrick’s film The Shining.Two of the prints taunt us with the repeated type written line “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  The third, a large six panel piece depicts two ominously swinging turn of the century chandeliers from a scene of the hotel’s interior. Another related image is a spinning classical chandelier from a still of Hitchcock’s masterpiece Marnie . Simmons has a fascination with horror movies and related material including theater marquees, which are the subjects for two more of his prints. Images of the Bonham and Starlite marquees shimmer as if blinking out for the final time as they disappear from the American landscape.

Last month we returned to Gary’s studio to sign prints. We were delighted that the discussion touched on ideas for future projects. Gary explained that the process had led him to think about his mark making differently. That he had enjoyed the experience of spending more time in the space of making his drawings. Some things just take time.

All Work And No Play, 2011
All Work Reversal, 2011


15 Years: Part 2

By Kenneth Caldwell

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.

-Kenneth Caldwell

Pam, Rhea and Renee in the gallery, 2006

Q: Now that you have been in existence for fifteen years, there must be a substantial archive.


Renee Bott:

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.

Paulson Bott Press showroom

Q:    How does the idea of the archive, with all of its evidence and documentation, influence your process?


Pam Paulson:

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?


Rhea Fontaine:

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.

Pam and Renee with Ross Bleckner


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.

Radcliffe Bailey

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.


Chris Johanson

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



Christopher Brown at John Berggruen Gallery

By Kenneth Caldwell

Christopher Brown continues to be a distinctly American artist. He depicts large and small scenes of life as it is lived, or partially remembered, in this country. Yet his scenes are grounded in one specific moment. Brown uses paint to allow for ambiguity and distance. Despite his masterful use of color, his pieces often feel cool. His interpretation of the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination is at least one layer removed from the event and so no longer as horrific. There have been bucolic backyard scenes, toy logs and farm animals, trains, and soldiers that stir memory but not passion. The imagery is highly personal to the artist’s life, yet accessible to many viewers because of its familiarity. The reworking of the paint, the smearing, smudging, and scraping, allows each viewer to build his or her own narrative around the frozen moments. Most of his work is representational, but no more prescriptive than the work of abstract artists.

Christopher Brown, Blue Road, 2011; Oil on linen; 30″ x 40″; Courtesy of the artist and John Berggruen Gallery

Each new show promises an examination, or sometimes reexamination, of imagery that holds special resonance for Brown. In the current exhibit at John Berggruen Gallery (through March 17), most of the paintings depict the near-ubiquitous weekend cycling tournament up a mountain (feels like Marin to me), the horse race from the unlikely view of someone behind the dirt kicked up by the animal’s hoofs, and a few stray images of ancient red coat soldiers, sailboats, and family trips to the snow.

Christopher Brown, Peloton, 2011; Oil on linen; 48″ x 60″; Courtesy of the artist and John Berggruen Gallery

In the recent cycling series, dozens and dozens of thin circles merge into a near abstraction, like Monet’s water lilies. Amidst the hard and monotonous work of pedaling up a mountain are the bright jerseys of the riders and friends and hundreds of shades of green hills. One jersey was worked so beautifully I thought it resembled a miniature Rothko. Brown captures the tension between the vulnerability of the hard-pumping rider on a thin machine and the steep and dangerous curve. Half a redcoat soldier walking in the mud is not grotesque, but like a partial memory. When focusing on a ship’s great billowing sails, swaths of paint look like an angel’s wing. But I was most drawn to a smaller piece entitled “Blue Road,” in which a family or group of friends has stopped along the road to entertain themselves with a snow fight. Instead of resembling mounds of white, the drifts recall the eerie blue of gigantic glaciers. Brown’s paintings can take you anywhere, even back to the ice age, but more likely to your own past.

Celebrating 15 Years: Part 1

By Paulson Fontaine Press

 By Constance Lewallen

At Paulson Bott Press, instinct, and even passion, directs the selection of artists. This is how the press came to work with the women from the Gee’s Bend, Alabama, quilt collective. A quilting center since before the Civil War, Gee’s Bend is known for colorful, quasi-geometric designs that, although based on historical American and African examples, appeal to a modern art sensibility. The highly successful multi-museum tour of Gee’s Bend quilts organized in 2002 by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, brought international fame to this small, rural community. Pam Paulson happened to see that exhibition when it was presented in New York at the Whitney Museum of American Art and fell in love. When she showed the catalog to her father, he suggested the press invite the quilters to make prints.  
Long story short, Pam and Renee Bott were able to interest two generations of quilters –Mary Lee Bendolph, whom Pam calls “ the heart and soul of the Gees Bend quilters,” and her daughter-in-law Louisiana Bendolph.

Gee’s Bend, Alabama, circa 1937; Mary Lee Bendolph, Past & Gone, 2005


Once they had a commitment, Pam and Renee needed to figure out how to capture the essence of Gee’s Bend quilts in an entirely different medium. They bought sewing machines so that the women could compose their prints by piecing small quilt tops. The elder artist followed the tradition of using worn clothing that she believed carried the presence of the former owner, while Louisiana Bendolph preferred new, bright, solid-colored fabrics. After the artists and printers chose the best designs for prints, the printers made impressions of the quilted pieces with soft ground. Pam remembers, “Each time we pulled a proof there was a hallelujah or a praise Jesus. Often in a quiet moment Mary Lee would break into a gravelly soulful rendition of a church song accompanied by Lou’s rhythmically syncopated clapping.” A second project included two more quilters, and, like the first, resulted in a dazzling array of images—evoking such modern masters as Paul Klee and Stuart Davis but with a spirit all their own. While it’s true that etchings and quilts are two different animals–obviously the prints have no texture or functionality–the designs translate magnificently from one medium to the other, and, like quilts, etchings are hand-made and in their own way evoke the hand of the maker.

Thanks to their experience at Paulson Bott, the quilters now think of themselves as artists. And, they appreciate that through the distribution of their graphic images their work has become appreciated by a wider public.

Mary Lee Bendolph in Paulson Bott Press Studio

I begin with the Gee’s Bend project, because it demonstrates the press’s approach: the artist’s vision comes first; Pam and Renee then find a way, even if it means inventing and developing new techniques, to realize that vision. For Chris Ballantyne, it was printing on Gampi (translucent Japanese paper) and affixing the color prints to plywood so that the grain showed through (an effect the artists was using in his work at the time). For Isca Geenfield-Sanders, Renee, along with Don Farnsworth of Magnolia Press,devised a method of putting a digital image directly onto a copper plate without using
 a darkroom.  And, when Radcliffe Bailey returns to the press next year, they hope to use some of the techniques they mastered in creating a recent series of the artist’s monoprints, which combine sewing, chine colle, printing, dying, and collage. Conversely, Bailey is applying the new tools he learned at the press to his studio work. In other words, at Paulson Bott, artists not only benefit from the broad dissemination of images that multiples afford, but they are expected to approach the medium creatively, to explore, with the master printers as guides, the medium’s unique characteristics. Most importantly, as noted in the cases of Gee’s Bend, and Bailey, just two examples among many, printers and artists working collaboratively can arrive at new techniques and methods that expand not only the possibilities of printmaking but of the creative process itself.

Chris Ballantyne, Untitled Berm, Pool, Submerged Rocks, Cliff, 2004

From the beginning Renee and Pam have worked with local artists, recognizing that the San Francisco Bay Area has a vibrant and varied art scene that too often is not adequately acknowledged. They have built strong relationships with such established Bay Area artists as Squeak Carnwath, Christopher Brown, Hung Liu, and Deborah Oropallo, but also support the region’s emerging artists like Kota Ezawa, David Huffman, Shaun O’dell, and Tauba Auerbach, whose careers they have helped foster. The press also collaborates with such prominent, national figures as Martin Puryear, Caio Fonseca, and Kerry James Marshall. There is no house look – something the owners agree is to be avoided. Styles range from Greenfield-Sanders’s charming figurative domestic scenes, to the cartoon realism of Mission School artists Chris Johanson and the late Margaret Kilgallen, to the abstract cosmologies of Ross Bleckner. 

Isca Greenfield-Sanders, Blue Suit Bather, 2006

Located in a sun-filled studio and gallery in Berkeley, Paulson Bott Press has established itself as a leading intaglio press and publisher, not just on the West Coast, but nationally. Their prints are now found in major museum collections across the country, including the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York; the National Gallery and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., among many others.

While we can’t predict what’s to come as Paulson Bott enters the next phase, based on its history we can be confident that it will be both surprising and, somehow, just right.

Tauba Auerbach Embossment Paintings

By Kenneth Caldwell
Tauba Auerbach in the Paulson Bott Press studio

Tauba Auerbach does not accept the obvious.  She likes to experiment, even to invert. During her recent visit to the press, she created a series of monoprints in which she focused on what the press does, on its power, rather than on how it fuses ink with paper.  Her goal with the monoprints, as with much of her work, is to capture evidence of process.

Tauba began by embossing paper.  She wasn’t trying to mimic her fold paintings or any other work. She visited a hardware store and purchased a number of ordinary items, including a wire grid, a rubber mat, textured plexiglass, and chicken wire. She then ran sheets of paper through the press over these objects to create grids, parallel lines and patterns.

The raking color seen in the prints is the result of using an airbrush at an oblique angle against the ridges created by the embossment. She would spray a few layers of paint, wait for them to dry, and then proceed. In some cases when the paper got wet, it began to undulate. Auerbach wanted to record that change, which resulted in a topological record.

Eventually the paper was gently flattened.  Similar to her fold paintings, the undulations disappear as physical forms and remain recorded in the paint.

Tauba Auerbach, Embossment Paintings, 2011

As she commented in the interview in OKTP, she often destroys a large number of pieces before finding one that works. In the case of these monoprints, she kept only 14 of 30.

In these new works, Auerbach is not trying to exert control over certain elements. The joy is in the experiment. She is comfortable with the idea of the piece, and she either accepts or rejects the finished work. The absence contributes to those that remain.