Stories From The Press

The Mission School at Paulson Bott Press

By Rhea Fontaine
Chris Johanson at Paulson Bott Press.
Chris Johanson at Paulson Bott Press.

In a 2002 article for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, critic Glen Helfand coined the term “Mission School” to describe the work of Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Chris Johanson, and other young artists who were based in the Mission District at the time and drawing influences from graffiti, comic books, social activism, and the grit of urban living. Paulson Bott Press has had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of these artists, and as part of the press’s 20th anniversary, Pam Paulson and Rhea Fontaine sat down to talk about their experiences with the Mission School.

Margaret Kilgallen at Paulson Bott Press.
Margaret Kilgallen at Paulson Bott Press.


How did you first become involved with the Mission School artists?

Pam Paulson: In 1998, the Headlands Center for the Arts contacted us. They wanted us to collaborate with an artist to make a gift print. Margaret Kilgallen was one of the artists on their list. We knew about her work and liked it, so we chose her. Afterward, Margaret recommended that we work with Chris Johanson some day. When Chris came to us a few years later, he recommended Shaun O’Dell. All the Mission School artists were very connected to each other and supportive of each other.

Shaun O'Dell at Paulson Bott Press.
Shaun O’Dell at Paulson Bott Press.


Today these artists are celebrated, but what was your experience with them early on?

PP: The first time we went to Chris Johanson’s studio, I remember thinking it looked like a bombed-out building.  His studio had holes in the floor, and there was just debris everywhere. This is where he made his art.

Rhea Fontaine: They were young artists with no interest in money, and they had an openness to neighborhoods that were considered more fringe.

Chris Johanson at Paulson Bott Press.
Chris Johanson at Paulson Bott Press.

Margaret and Tauba Auerbach—their early work seemed to share something.

RF: They were both influenced by sign painting, typography and book arts early on. When Margaret was getting her MFA at Stanford, Tauba was an undergrad there. And like so many other fans, Tauba was influenced by Margaret’s work. Tauba’s first job out of college—and I think I remember her saying it was much to her parents’ dismay—was sign painting at the New Bohemia Signs shop in San Francisco. She loved it, and it influenced some of her early text-based and calligraphic paintings. When we were working with her on our second collaboration, she announced that she had quit the sign shop and was going to pursue painting full time. It was a very big moment for her.

Tauba Auerbach at Paulson Bott Press.
Tauba Auerbach at Paulson Bott Press.

How did the Mission School come to such prominence?

RF: There were some key players who were nurturing that talent and promoting it here and also outside the Bay Area. Jack Hanley Gallery was a big part of that, as well as the Luggage Store Gallery and Adobe Books—Chris Johanson met his future wife and fellow artist, Johanna Jackson, at Adobe Books, by the way. But the attention that Margaret Kilgallen and Barry McGee received for their really innovative styles was key. They began a movement without even knowing it. Of course, all of these other artists that we’re talking about now were working in the Mission at the same time, like Alicia McCarthy, (who we’re so excited to have worked with finally).

Alicia at Paulson Bott Press.
Alicia McCarthy at Paulson Bott Press.

They all came from very different backgrounds, didn’t they?

RF: Tauba Auerbach had creative parents, so she was raised around art and went to Stanford. Chris Johanson was more self-taught. He was part of an earlier punk/skate/zine scene that influenced younger artists like Tauba Auerbach, among so many others. So they’re coming from completely different worlds, and I think they’re both true to the worlds they’ve come from.

PP: Alicia McCarthy was born and raised in Oakland, and she’s also a musician, and part of a multi-genre community that many of these artists worked in. She has a really mischievous soul. Her dad works on cars, like Tauba’s dad. I think she grew up around people putting things together and taking them apart, and just saw everything as a component to something else. So when she worked on found objects, I think she had just a real eye for that material.  That unites her with Johanson and the rest of the artists. When she was working with us, for instance, she saw the scratched back of an old plate, and that’s what she wanted to use in one of her prints.

 

How did Clare Rojas become involved with the Mission School artists?

PP: She was a fan of Barry and Margaret’s and met them back east. She had a passion for their work, and she was a musician too.

RF: She sent them some of her recordings, and they fell in love with her music.

PP: Margaret died in 2001 from breast cancer, a few weeks after giving birth—she was only 33. Some time after that, Clare moved to San Francisco. She saw a real need to help Barry with his daughter Asha—and then things fell into place.

RF: They got married.

 

Clare Rojas at Paulson Bott Presss.
Clare Rojas at Paulson Bott Presss.

Talk about Jack Hanley. He seems like a central character in all this.

PP: He had a gallery in the Mission at the time. He’s a musician too. As long as I’ve been in the art world, he’s had a gallery.

RF: Jack likes taking risks on people who most galleries would never have paid attention to.  He has a real eye for talent.  I can remember Jack supporting artists in legal battles over graffiti charges.  A lot of these artists were really living a hand-to-mouth existence back then.

 

But then Jack moved to New York in 2008?

RF: Yes, now he has a gallery in the East Village. It was a big loss for the Bay Area when he moved. He showed a lot of New York artists here. He’s always been very avant-garde.  He was one of the people who suggested we work with Keegan McHargue.

PP: Now the Mission School artists have spread out, and they’re refining their work and growing up.

 

It’s an interesting time for art that’s rooted in resistance.

RF: As an artist matures and wants to continue being a working artist—there is this dance that needs to happen between their work and the institutions that support them. That’s an interesting thing to navigate for artists who’ve built legacies out of shunning the system. The show by Barry McGee at the Berkeley Art Museum a few years ago was really interesting. Just looking at his installation, you could feel him grappling with being in a museum space. There’s an ongoing and constant tension in the work of all of these artists, a conflict that you can’t help but feel.

 

“Celebrating 20 Years” at the de Young Museum

By Rhea Fontaine

de Young 20 years PBP
On July 16, “Paulson Bott Press: Celebrating Twenty Years” opened in the Anderson Gallery of San Francisco’s de Young Museum. The show celebrates the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts’ acquisition of the Paulson Bott Press archive, which includes more than 500 prints from more than 40 artists. Featured artists in the exhibition include: Tauba Auerbach, Mary Lee Bendolph, Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Martin Puryear, and Gary Simmons.

“It was wonderful to see a few of our former master printers on the day we first saw the exhibition at the de Young,” says Co-Founder, Pam Paulson. “Looking back and remembering all the talented and dedicated people who have been a part of our story is humbling. Each person involved with the press has contributed their unique gifts and enriched the prints we have produced and our capacity to get them out in the world.”

Gallery Director, Rhea Fontaine adds, “We are grateful for the opportunity to share our archive with a wide audience through the Achenbach acquisition and programming at the de Young.  To know that our artists, many of whom are minorities and women, will be a part of this visual history and legacy is thrilling for us.”

 

Pictured from left to right: Rhea Fontaine, Pam Paulson, Alexander Groshong, Sam Carr-Prindle, and Renee Bott.

Paulson Bott Press: Celebrating Twenty Years

By Rhea Fontaine

Paulson Bott Press in the Studio

Founded by Pam Paulson and Renee Bott in 1996, Paulson Bott Press celebrates 20 years of intaglio fine art. Having launched the studio with a series of prints by Chris Brown, the press has gone on to work with numerous renowned and emerging artists.

Paulson, who has a background in fine art, began her printing career in San Francisco, California. “I wasn’t a printer, but Kathan Brown at Crown Point was looking for people who had the capacity to think on their feet and physically manipulate things and who knew enough about art not to be stupid with the artists,” Paulson says. “Once I had done a couple projects at Crown Point, I was completely hooked. I was watching other people make things. It was a puzzle that you had to figure out, and it was glorious. I loved it. I make things all day, and what really connects me to art is making things. That’s what I am supposed to do.”

Renee Bott was a colleague of Paulson’s at Crown Point. “Pam had the big picture, the broader vision, while I like having the pencils in the right place: I like order,” Bott says. “She was very optimistic from the outset. I’m the one who said, ‘Okay, if we’re going to do this, we need to order a press, and it should be made this way. When I started working as a printer and working with artists, I felt like I was home. I was home. I had arrived.”

Paulson Bott considers every print that gets ripped up, or kept, as a record of what the press is doing and has diligently documented the work with a time capsule that plots history. This includes the process of working with established artists like Martin Puryear and Ross Bleckner and younger artists like Tauba Auerbach and Clare Rojas. This year, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts acquired the archive of Paulson Bott Press.

“We started this from the very first day,” Bott says. “We understood that if we created something, we wanted it to have a legacy. When there is a catalog raisonné of the work that we’ve made, we want to look back and see a strong vision.”

To celebrate the acquisition, the Foundation will host a commemorative exhibition at the de Young Museum’s Anderson Gallery featuring 20 artists who have worked at the press, including Tauba Auerbach, Mary Lee Bendolph, Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Martin Puryear, and Gary Simmons.

“We are interested in a broad platform with a mix of artists,” says Rhea Fontaine, Paulson Bott’s gallery director. “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.” The press will concurrently celebrate its catalogue with a retrospective on its Twitter and Facebook pages. Follow the conversation under the hashtag #20years20stories.

The show at the de Young will open next month on July 16, running through October 23, and can be viewed with general admission access.

Tickets can be purchased online or at the museum.

Bold Statement

By Renee Bott

The first time I met Louisiana Bendolph was 10 years ago when she and her mother-in-law Mary Lee Bendolph came to the press in 2005. Both are quilters from the tiny hamlet of Gee’s Bend in Wilcox County, Alabama. The women of Gee’s Bend entered the spot-light in 2003 when their quilts were exhibited at the Whiney Museum of Art. Since that show, their quilts have traveled to numerous national and international venues.

Louisiana stands about 5 foot 4. She is patient and demure and a tiny bit shy, but you can immediately detect strength in her stature.

SFO 2
Louisiana Bendolph in the Paulson Bott Press studio, 2005

The stories Louisiana tells of her childhood are vastly different from mine. I am two years her elder, and I remember well the 1970s and my benign day-to-day routine growing up in the suburbs of Boston. Lou’s accounts of those same years reveal a life of hardship that is difficult for me to fathom. She spoke about leaving school to help harvest her family’s cotton crop. They plowed and planted with the help of a donkey. When she talks about her life as a daughter, wife, mother and quilter, her deep connection to her family is evident. Louisiana’s origins give her a straightforward practicality that guides her in times of trouble.

Over the past 10 years, we have done three print projects together. She works in solid colored cotton piecing her work together at the sewing machine. Her compositions are bold and forthright, but her asymmetrical lines are poetic and reveal a complex approach to her art.

Louisiana Bendolph-New Generation
Louisiana Bendolph, New Generation, 2007

Lou is not afraid to show us her strength. In New Generation, a print she made in 2007, she uses a confident composition of ivory, orange and brown. Alternating colored stripes radiate from a central brown strip. As the title suggests, Lou comes from a new generation of quilters who aim to move beyond the cultural obstacles of their communities’ past.

Her strength includes a willingness to speak frankly about what she believes. In 2007, I watched an unwavering Lou spontaneously take to the podium at a U.S. State Department dinner in Washington D.C. In front of 500 spectators, she thanked her mother and the women in her life, and she thanked the Arnett family for their contributions to her community. Louisiana continually champions the quilters of Gee’s Bend, traveling and speaking to audiences all over the world.

SFO 1
Randy Colosky, Jenn Doyle Crane, Justine Topfer, Don Farnsworth and Tallulah Terryll at Magnolia Editions, 2015

Thinking of Lou’s strength and resolve to usher in a new generation, we are pleased that her print New Generation has been chosen to be replicated in tile for the new terminal at the San Francisco International Airport as part of the San Francisco Art Commission’s public art program. The terminal will open to the public on November 13th of this year.

We are grateful to Justine Topfer from the art commission for choosing Lou’s work, to Don Farnsworth and Tallulah Terryll for making the tile, and to Randy Colosky for his help with the installation.

Work

By Pam Paulson

Over the past decade, we have worked with four of the quilters from Gee’s Bend, making numerous prints from quilt tops sewn for this purpose. Two of the quilters, Louisiana Bendolph and Loretta Bennett, along with curator Matt Arnett, joined me in Asheville, North Carolina, last fall to take part in a panel discussion about the translation of quilt to print.

During the panel, Lou and Loretta described their first quilts, made at about age 12. Loretta liked making quilts, and Louisiana did not. Both felt that quilt-making was a practical skill, passed down mother to daughter, whose purpose was to keep the family warm during the winter. Neither saw the practice as art, but as part of the work they had to do alongside farming and cooking.

ashville group shot
From Left to Right: Juile Caro, Matt Arnett, Louisiana Bendolph, Loretta Bennett, Marilyn Zapf & Pam Paulson
Ashville WWC gallery with LOU Loretta and Julie
Warren Wilson College Gallery

Warren Wilson College and the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design (CCCD) in Asheville cohosted the exhibition Gee’s Bend: From Quilts to Prints. The show was cocurated by Julie Caro, professor of art history at Warren Wilson, and Marilyn Zapf, assistant director of CCCD. Caro has designed two courses around the quilters of Gee’s Bend: “African American Art: Gee’s
Bend” and “Art History Practicum: Gee’s Bend.” Part of the curriculum included planning the exhibition and teasing out all the layers of transformation; quilts to print, quilter to artist, craft to art, unknown to known.

ashville CCCD wall shot MLB work
Prints and working proofs by Mary Lee Bendolph at the Center for Craft Creativity and Design, Asheville, NC

Warren Wilson began as a school for farm children whose parents could not easily afford a college education. It was designed to allow students to earn their tuition by working: facilities crews, farming crews, and cooking crews took part in the daily labor of running the campus while attending classes. Today, the students get to pay tuition and work; there are landscape crews, plumbing and electrical crews, weaving crews, cattle and pig crews, etc. The idea is to take responsibility and build community by learning the work required in any enterprise.

I joined one of Julie’s classes off-site at the Black Mountain College Museum, which happens to be across the street from the CCCD. We watched a short film from the 1980s about Black Mountain College. It existed from 1933 to 1957 and was a precursor to alternative institutions like Warren Wilson, which is just a short drive over the hill. The film consisted of interviews with a few principle figures from the college explaining its truly democratic ideals. The teachers were the owners and the student had a voice on the decision-making council. John Dewey’s principles of education were the mainstay of the interdisciplinary philosophy. Building community was paramount. Everyone toiled to run the campus, build buildings, and design curriculum. Work equalized the residents.

Josef and Anni Albers fled Nazi Germany directly to Black Mountain College and joined the faculty. The Albers’s Bauhaus ideas helped Black Mountain become an incubator for the American avant garde. Experimental art, music, dance, writing poetry, and science attracted faculty and students. Faculty included Buckminster Fuller, Robert Creeley, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, Ruth Asawa, and Walter Gropius. Students included Robert Arneson, Allan Kaprow, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Rockburne, Elaine de Kooning, and Cy Twombly.

ashville BMC bld with quilters
Former Black Mountain College campus

Later that day, Marilyn Zapf took us to see both campuses. Black Mountain is now a boy’s camp, but many buildings remain, modernist structures in sharp contrast to the nearby woodsy cabins.
The discipline of work, the autonomy of enterprise, and the responsibility of completion resonate in all of these places. In the Paulson Bott Press studio, Gee’s Bend, Warren Wilson, and Black Mountain, the practice of work for a common goal becomes a habit that frees us all to push further creatively.

 

The following day, we were interviewed on NPR by Frank Stasio. You can listen at http://wunc.org/post/artistry-rural-alabama-meets-art-world.

ashville public radio
Louisiana and Loretta at the Asheville public radio station